Thursday, January 05, 2006

It's Lucky Vs. Lewis: Ex-State Treasurer Throws Hat In Ring; Scandal Plagued Office Now A Featured 06' Primary Race; The Exclusive Details Only Here 

It's Lucky vs. Lewis for the Dem nod for New Mexico State Treasurer, an office embroiled in a historic scandal that has seen the indictment of two past treasurers and now being run by a caretaker appointed by Big Bill.

"I was driving to Atlanta over the holidays and I just got mad thinking about those auditing reports showing the incredible mismanagement," Lewis explained to me as he outlined his reasons for going after the job he was appointed to by Governor Toney Anaya and then won in his own right in 86.'

The 59 year old just finished a stint as Chief Administrative office for the city of Albuquerque. His resume includes stints as chief of staff to ex-Governor King and a run for ABQ mayor in 01.' He also served in the Department of Energy in D.C. under then Energy Secretary Big Bill and was elected Bernalillo County Treasurer. He has a reputation as a political fireman, able to quietly extinguish the flames of the numerous internal battles that are part of day-to-day governing.

Lewis will be up against veteran Santa Fe State Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela who has announced he will leave the Roundhouse to pursue his higher ambition. Varela brings to the table substantial expertise in government finance.

The scuttlebutt has been that Big Bill's camp was lining up in support of the Varela candidacy, but Lewis said don't believe it. "That's not what I have been told," he coyly offered.

The Roswell native says a strong base in ABQ combined with statewide name ID should give him the prize. But the Hispanic factor looms large. A majority of votes will likely be cast by Hispanics in the June primary but Lewis, an African-American, says he is not intimidated. "I think I can pick up some votes in my opponents legislative district up North. Forty percent of the people there did not vote for him," said Lewis as he prepared to take the battle to the heart of Varela country.

The corruption/kickback scandal that engulfed ex-treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya will play in the background during the campaign as their cases wind their way through the federal courts. "Ethics will be the obvious top issue," Lewis agreed.

There are no firm laws in our state governing campaign donations to the Treasurer. People who do biz with the office can and do give sizable campaign contributions. Lewis anticipates the primary will cost from $150,000 to $200,000 and said he hopes to raise the funds from a "sizable group of friends," but did not rule out accepting contributions from bankers and brokers.

Meanwhile, Lewis and other interested parties tell me that no Republican candidate has yet surfaced, despite the opportunity presented by the scandal under two Dem administrations. GOP leaders say they are working on that.


We've got banner races all over the primary ballot now. Another is State Land Commissioner where ex-commissioners Jim Baca and Ray Powell are squaring off. But don't forget LeRoy H. Garcia of San Miguel county. With a stint as county commissioner under his belt, Garcia has said he's in too. That complicates the Baca candidacy. A head-to-head with Powell with no other Hispanic would give Baca more momentum. Will Garcia be in this for the duration, giving Powell some ballast?

For his part, Powell is circulating this e-mail: "I received a call from Bruce Babbitt, former Governor of Arizona and two term Secretary of the Department of Interior under President Clinton. He called to pledge his support for my candidacy for Land Commissioner."

Powell did not mention that Baca was head of the Bureau of Land Management under Clinton and Babbitt, but was squeezed out over policy differences. Let the games begin.

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