Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Scandal Trumps Special Session; Our Continuing Coverage And Call For Reform, Plus: Blog Readers Send Memo: New Mexico Is Loved And Deserves Better 

Senator Rawson
It didn't take long for the treasurer scandal to insert itself into Big Bill's agenda. The Guv is calling a special Legislative session for October 5 and 6 to provide New Mexicans relief from high heating and gas bills. But Senate Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson, a Las Cruces Republican, immediately called on the Guv to place the matter of State Treasurer Robert Vigil on the session agenda. Vigil still has not stepped aside, in spite of his federal corruption indictment and the urging of Big Bill. The longer Vigil lingers, the louder the cries will grow for his impeachment. The safe-keeping of New Mexico's millions trumps any special session. (Here is the entire 30 page FBI affidavit filed in the treasurer case courtesy of the Santa Fe New Mexican.)

Maybe we are grumpy like a lot of others involved in politics, but until we are reassured that we have a functioning state treasurer's office, a special session seems gimmicky and irrelevant. If rebates are the centerpiece of the energy relief, couldn't it wait until January? As for gas prices, why not just cut state taxes overall since we are running a surplus in the hundreds of millions?

Like Hurricane Katrina nationally, for the time being the treasurer scandal has pushed aside politics as usual. In fact, a special session doesn't really seem very special at all.


The State Investment Council (SIC) e-mails in that it has no 'watchdog' role over the investment practices of the treasurer as mentioned on yesterdays blog: "We are an investment arm, not an auditing one. The SIC is in charge of growing and protecting New Mexico's Land Grant, Severance Tax, and Tobacco Settlement Permanent Funds. These funds are in a completely different pot than the operating funds under the oversight of the treasurer who makes short term investments. The treasurer has neither the opportunity nor ability to invest the Permanent Funds under SIC's care, nor the power to pay brokers fees on investments made by the SIC."

We're glad to set the record straight. The NM Board of Finance, whose members include the governor and the treasurer, does have oversight responsibility over the treasurer's investment activities. However, in light of the scandal, increased scrutiny of the SIC is in order. The Legislature and Governor unwisely decided it can invest directly in private business ventures. Two years ago the very first such venture blew up in SIC's face. Also, the threat of politics deciding who gets the investment cash remains high. For now, the Governor and Legislature ought to halt all SIC private business investments. In fact, the law allowing it needs to be repealed and pronto.

New Mexico does not need to be making risky investments with taxpayer dollars accumulated over 100 years. Suffering another fraud or ethical blowup will further erode the public trust, the creditworthiness of our state and our image in the eyes of the nation. Business leaders need to be in the forefront in proposing this change. We urge the current members of the SIC to lead the charge.


One thing I have re-learned from the treasurer scandal is that people love New Mexico. They don't just like it, or tolerate it, they truly love it, and today, judging from my overflowing e-mail box, they are hurt, wounded, angry, discouraged, but determined to have politics that complement the magnificent natural settings that define us.

People are not selfish either. The blow to the body politic administered by the scandal has them talking about the future and their children, and what we collectively are leaving to them. Blog reader and ABQ attorney Alan Wilson sums up much of the feedback.

"The treasurer refuses to go on leave, or resign, never mind the impact it has on the state's creditworthiness. This comes on the heels of an ABQ school administrator refusing to leave his post after a DWI, and tacit support by APS in his decision. We have the administrator for Bernalillo county government claiming an exemption from law and decency, and denigrating police officers (if the tapes tell the truth), but he won't resign or go on leave.

Our police department mimicked the criminals and stole private property from their own evidence room, only to be supported by our chief (two of them), mayor, city council, DA, and AG who all announced that we should let bygones be bygones. All this in just the last year. None of these officials, including those who take no steps to rectify the bad acts of other officials, bring honor or respect to themselves or their offices. They all contribute to the increasing disgust the citizens have for their own government. They present no role model for a young New Mexican to follow."


Well said, Alan. His last line is the money line: "They present no role model for a young New Mexican to follow." If any good can come of the scandal, it's that it will inspire, not turn away young New Mexicans who will say, "I can do better." We know they are out there. We anxiously await their arrival on the doorstep of our muddied but still beloved La Politica.

Thanks for all the thoughtful e-mail this week. I will try to post more of it in the days ahead. Send me your news and comments from the link at the top of the page.

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