Monday, March 27, 2006
Cop Killing Enters Guv Race; R's Rip; Dems Score Sheriff, Plus: Rio Arriba State Rep Is Linked To NM "Love Chief," And: Schwartz Drops AG Bid
Move over Willie Horton. Make room for Michael Paul Astorga. You remember Horton. He was the criminal featured in one of the most explosive political ads of all time; the one in the 88' Prez campaign accusing Dem nominee Michael Dukakis of being weak on crime because convicted killer Horton had been given a weekend furlough by the administration of the Massachusetts governor. Horton committed rape and armed robbery while on the furlough. The charge is similar to the one contained in a missile of blame launched by the NM Republican Party at the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse in the aftermath of the shocking slaying of Bernalillo county Sheriff's Deputy James McGrane.
Astorga was on parole when he allegedly shot the deputy. He is also wanted for a November 05' ABQ murder. Will Astorga become Big Bill's Horton? The GOP Is going to give it a try.
The party lays blame for the lawman's death at the doorstep of Big Bill saying it was the Governor's parole board that let gangster Astorga free to commit the cold-blooded murder that left the state in shock.
"The parole board is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of, the Governor. It is Governor Richardson that put into place a board and a policy directed at releasing prisoners, rather than building new prisons," blasted GOP Chair Weh.
ABQ GOP NE Heights State Rep. Larry Larranaga, mindful of the R's historical advantage on the crime issue, went for the knockout:
"This administration does not look at the safety of the people of New Mexico. The answer is to adequately fund the prison system so that people that are unsafe to the citizens are kept behind bars."
Big Bill's office fired back that the GOP attack was "shameful" and that "the Republicans are using the murder of this officer in a desperate attempt to score political points." What else could they do? With public emotions raw, engaging the R's further would backfire. Besides, Astorga was indeed paroled and it happened on this Guv's watch.
POLITICAL TEMP RISES
Interestingly, the R's nominee for Guv, J.R. Damron, is apparently not ready to play, losing yet another opportunity to let people know there is an election this year. But Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, longtime nemesis of Big Bill, piled on with his fellow R's.
"If parole/probation officers don't conduct warrant checks on their clients, they need to start. I would hope the policy change was written yesterday. Unfortunately for us, it's too late." So White said in reaction to the news that Astorga had checked in with his probation officer, but the officer did not check and find out that a murder warrant was out on Astorga for the November 05' slaying.
As the steam built the sheriff later said he "wanted the fingerpointing to stop," but the proverbial cat was out of the bag.
All this pushed the buttons of some Dems who laid low knowing any criticism of law enforcement at a time of tragedy would be foolhardy. But behind the scenes their blood was boiling, especially at White who was the target of some undercover blog blasts.
"White is up for re-election this year and he played politics with the death of one of his own. The party attack was bad enough, but it's White's job to find the killer, not engage in partisan politics," complained a Dem ally of the Guv's.
Anothr D scored the sheriff for his hour long appearance Friday on Jim Villanucci's ABQ KKOB-AM radio talk show and his many TV news interviews. "Shouldn't he be investigating instead of interviewing?" He smacked.
The sheriff, former head of the Department of Public Safety under R Guv Gary Johnson, is popular and his re-elect prospects are good. He is unopposed for the GOP nomination and will face either Dem Jose Edgar Chavez or Geraldine Amato in November. However, he also has a political calculation. Astorga remains free, despite the largest manhunt in recent state history. If public enemy number one is still in hiding come election time, it won't be only the Guv and his parole board taking a hit, but the competence of the Sheriff as well.
Emotions on both sides are bound to cool, but you can already see the thirty second October TV spot featuring Astorga's mug with a pic of the Guv next to him. The history of the 1988 Presidential campaign is now required reading for the seekers of power in 2006 New Mexico. Don't say we didn't tell you.
LOVE AND THE LAWMAN
A love affair with a NM legislator cost New Mexico's top cop his job. That's what ABQ's KRQE-TV news reported weeks ago. It was a story never shot down by chief Charles Maldonado. And there's new development from Espanola. The Rio Grande Sun has explored the relationship between Dem Rio Arriba State Rep. Debbie Rodella and Maldondano. Based on cell phone records, the paper concludes that there was a significant relationship between the two. Whether it was a romantic relationship is left for the reader to decide.
At the time of his resignation, it was reported that the chief was quitting because the spouse of a legislator was threatening to go public about his affair. The husband of Debbie Rodella is Tommy Rodella, who resigned as a Rio Arriba magistrate judge after violating procedures, but is again running for the job. Neither Maldonado or Debbie Rodella are talking, but Debbie is actively campaigning for re-election.
DEBBIE'S DOOR KNOCKING
In light of the rampant speculation over the Rodella-Maldonado relationship I asked an Alligator of long experience in Rio Arriba to analyze Rodella's chances for re-election as she faces June primary opponent, former Rio Arriba county commissioner Moises Morales:
"She'll hold that seat for as long as it is politically useful for (NM House Speaker) Ben Lujan to support her. Which means some really bad stuff would have to happen for her to lose. And given everything that's happened in the last 14 months, it would have to be really bad.
Morales's base is solely in the northern part of the county. With the right person in the race, she would have been beatable, I don't think Morales is that person," analyzed our northern Gator.
So the saga of the "Love Chief" ends with his abrupt departure from the hot lights of La Politica, but Debbie battles on, apparently toward a successful conclusion.
In case you missed it, GOP attorney general candidate Bob Schwartz called it quits over the weekend, leaving former assistant U.S. attorney Jim Bibb of Santa Fe as the sole R contender for the party nomination. Schwartz says he is thinking about seeking a district court judgeship in ABQ.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
Not for reproduction without permission of the author