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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Speculation On Vigil Replacement Heats Up; Political Fireman James B. Lewis A Possible; Goodwin Still In The Game, Plus: Just What Is The "Crisis?" 

James B. Lewis
Speculation is spreading like wild fire over who will replace Treasurer Vigil if, as expected, he becomes the first elected official in NM history to be impeached when the State House convenes in extraordinary session this Friday. And a familiar name is topping the list that the Alligators are compiling in these apparently waning days of the Vigil regime.

James B. Lewis, currently the chief administrative officer for the city of Albuquerque, could get a call similar to the one he received over 20 years ago; a call that his services are needed to replace a scandal plagued Treasurer. It happened in 85' when Treasurer Earl Hartley was forced to resign and Governor Anaya called on Lewis to fill his shoes. He did that and more, winning a four year term in his own right in 86' to become the first, and so far only African-American, to be elected to statewide constitutional office.

Now, yet another Governor finds himself in need of a political fireman, and there is none with more experience than Lewis. The 58 year old Roswell, NM native confirmed to me late Tuesday that if he gets that call "it is something I will seriously consider."

New Mexico could do worse, much worse. Lewis has seen it all and done it all. He has extinguished the flames of La Politica for decades and has also navigated the stormy seas of Washington D.C. where he worked in a top job in the Clinton Department of Energy at the same time Big Bill was Secretary of that department. Lewis was elected Bernalillo County Treasurer twice in the early 80's. In one campaign I covered I remember he was advised not to show his face in the media for fear of turning off White voters. Times have changed.

Later, Lewis would serve as chief of staff to legendary Guv Bruce King and make a run for mayor of ABQ in 01', only to lose to Marty Chavez, who appointed him to the city's top job, a pressure cooker that suits the cool temperament of Lewis, who also did a two year military stint and served as a criminal investigator after getting a masters degree in public administration.

LEWIS ON THE RECORD
Sandia Mts.
We spoke via phone from his expansive 11th floor office at City Hall at the end of another of his 12 hour work days and as he pondered the towering Sandia Mountains and skies dripping red from a late Fall sunset. Lewis agreed that New Mexico does indeed face a constitutional crisis. "Joe, the crisis is that if there is no elected or appointed Treasurer and a deputy is left to run the office, there is s no accountability or responsibility to the people. That can not stand," declared Lewis who said he agreed with the Guv's decision, disclosed here Tuesday, that he will go ahead and declare the office vacant upon any Vigil impeachment, even though his authority to do so is not clearly spelled out in the constitution.

I asked the Gallup High grad whether he was prepared to seek the Dem nomination for Treasurer in June 06' because most Dems want any Vigil replacement to help them hold the seat for another four years, not just the year left on Vigil's term. He indicated he would make the run if appointed.

Lewis is credited with being a wily politico, a highly-competent administrator and a man of compassion and unquestioned integrity. The critics hit him for being too bureaucratic and not an innovator. He has nothing left to prove and is earning over $125,000 a year. The Treasurer's job pays $85,000, plus he would have to commute to Santa Fe. On top of that, he would be under the microscope and under immense pressure to restore the reputation of the disgraced office and do it without making a single mistake. Not exactly a bed of roses.

But Lewis's home state is hurting and it may be hard for him to resist the call, if it comes. Sacrifice, discipline and putting others ahead of yourself are the key attributes needed by the people in their next state Treasurer. That's territory familiar to New Mexico's James B. Lewis.

DON'T FORGET JAN
Sec. Goodwin
Meanwhile, back in the City Different, the politicos were not ready to dismiss the chances of state tax Secretary Jan Goodwin of becoming the next Treasurer. We were the first to pop her name when it looked as if Vigil would resign, rather than go down like a flaming Zozobra. Some insiders say Big Bill wants to keep her around to deal with the Legislative Finance Committee and such. But she did seek the Dem nomination against Vigil in 02' and, like Lewis, gets high marks as a top-level public servant.

Of all the choices the Governor has had to deal with in this largest scandal in state history, picking between Lewis and Goodwin might be his most difficult, but most pleasant choice.

YOU WANT A CRISIS? YOU GOT ONE

We're getting a little long in the tooth with today's blog, but I want to post these comments from one of my Treasurer Alligators who details exactly why the word "crisis" is not hype when dealing with what our state faces in the Treasurer scandal.

"The crisis isn't about making investments, it's about issuing state bonds. Bond underwriters and bond attorneys have to issue formal decisions as to the tax free nature of the bonds, the financial health of the state and the fiduciary responsibility of those involved in the issuance of the bonds. How can they approve a bond issue if the state Treasurer's office (with an indicted Vigil) is the fiduciary for the state? Investment firms are tracking this very closely. Morgan Stanley was getting copies of the federal court hearings. This situation by itself should be enough to impeach Vigil. By getting himself indicted he puts the state's finances at risk." wrote our tapped-in Gator.

Had to get that in because it's the kind of stuff you get nowhere else. Thanks for reading all the way down here. I enjoyed bringing it to you and I'll look for you again tomorrow. Meanwhile, e-mail me your news and comments from the link at the top of the page.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2005
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