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Monday, September 19, 2005

New Mexico Rocked By Treasurer Scandal; Dems Reel; R's React; Will Vigil Quit? Can Goodwin Make It Good? Who's To Blame? Plus: Big Bill's Test 

New Mexico Democrats were dealt a massive body blow when two of their state treasurers were displayed before TV cameras in a classic "perp walk." Authorities revealed an extortion scheme that went far beyond the usual nickel and dime corruption that has pestered politics here for centuries. The scope of the scandal immediately sent top D's into damage control, finger-pointing and pondering of the political price the electorate could charge for the alleged wrongdoing of Treasurers Vigil and Montoya. And while the Republicans moved to take advantage of the gift-horse, they too were not without fault in the case of the on-the-take treasurers. Here's the exclusive details from the top insiders.

CAN GOODWIN MAKE IT GOOD?

Sec. Goodwin
"We knew all was not right, but looked the other way," said one top D, who was one of several already floating the name of NM Taxation and Revenue Secretary Jan Goodwin as a replacement for Vigil.

"The bad news is that Vigil may stay and fight. If he seeks reelection, which I don't think he will do--but you can't rule it out--it would be a nightmare. The best thing is for him to go, to resign, so the governor could appoint Goodwin and we could get out from under the cloud," detailed one top Dem.

Goodwin ran for treasurer in 2002, losing in the Dem primary to Vigil 42% to 35% with Bernalillo County Commissioner Ken Sanchez garnering 23%.

"Jan could have won that race by going negative on Vigil about charges floating around then, but she played good Democrat and lost. She has outstanding credentials and little negative press as a cabinet secretary. It would be a no-brainer for Bill to go with her, but the immediate problem is Vigil and his intent so far to remain," analyzed our Dem.

BIG BILL'S STAKE

Late Sunday Big Bill called for Vigil's resignation. The Vigil-Montoya case could be in the courts well into 2006. If Vigil remains on the job he will be a handy target for the GOP. And that has the Guv's forces concerned. Already his national foes, working to slow down his presidential drive, are saying this case shows "corruption is nipping at his heels." The treasurer scandal could also eat into what is expected to be a significant margin of victory in his 06' re-election bid, just what the doctor did not order for a healthy start of a national campaign.

While the R's could naturally benefit from the scandal, not all of them are rejoicing. "New Mexico politics is way out of balance. We didn't even run an opponent against Vigil in 2002 and in 1998 we ran a guy against Montoya who was really a Green Party member. Our recruitment has been pathetic. Even if we do not win races, if we contest them vigorously it puts fear into the opposition and that curbs the graft and corruption in a state," analyzed a Republican loyalist.

"GOP Chair Allen Weh argued that is was "76 years" of Democratic" control responsible for the extortion scandal, but when the R's look in the mirror they will see their own divisions and laziness has contributed to the mess they are blaming on the D's," argued an observer with no dog in the fight.

Others believe the scandal fed into an already anti-incumbent mood established in the wake of the poor government response to Hurricane Katrina and skyrocketing energy bills. "A pox on both their houses is what I am hearing from a lot of voters," observed one Alligator in a warning to all incumbents.

WHICH WAY OUT?
Speaker Lujan
But what of the matter at hand, Vigil's high profile and what it says to NM voters? "If it continues to inflict major Dem damage, the governor is going to have to move further and so is the Legislature. They would have trouble impeaching him before the criminal case is resolved, but (House) Speaker Lujan may have to let Vigil know that if he stays impeachment is the end game. That might be the subject of a call the Fourth Floor makes to Ben," reported a Santa Fe wall-leaner.

That's the politics of the matter, but what about policy? Why was an alleged ten year kickback scheme not uncovered sooner? Where was the Legislative oversight, the state auditor, the state police, the attorney general, the press? All of whom had inklings of a problem. What about the State Investment Council? Where were those guys? The ugly mess points to an obvious need for much more scrutiny of state investment dollars.

Everyone takes a hit on this one, but it's the current governor and legislature who have the responsibility and power to restore public confidence in an oversight system drenched in apathy and self-dealing. To paraphrase former Governor Dave Cargo: "People in New Mexico love their politics, but they don't like running their government."

GRATUITOUS BLOG PHOTOS

Once in a while we post a photo of a lovely female to illustrate a story and, as usual, it triggers cries of chauvinism, like this one from longtime New Mexico newsie Janet Blair: "A good chunk of your readers are women and some of us can be a little sensitive about your habit of gratuitously inserting pix of over-developed females. If you are going to try using sex appeal to attract readers--which is unnecessary, I might add, you should throw in some Chippendale types occasionally to balance things out. Of course, you could always pilfer some of the shots of the male firefighters out of the AFD Hunk Calendar, too. Give the other half of your audience something to look at.."

OK, Janet. This Chippendale's for you. Now back to work at Metro Court, minus the fireman calendar.

Email me your news, comments and juicy tidbits and keep the politics coming. Thanks for the company. See ya' tomorrow.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2005
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