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Monday, August 28, 2006

Auditor Angst: Blog Report On Armijo's Problems Confirmed; Dems Cornered; R's Salivate; The Inside Story Is Up Next 

Chairman Wertheim
The New Mexico Democratic Party and its chairman, John Wertheim, are under maximum political pressure as the candidacy of state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo begins to implode and threatens to cast yet another ethics shadow over the state's majority party. Allegations that Armijo made unwanted sexual advances towards two young women in two separate incidents, a story first referenced here, but initially dismissed by the chairman as "unsubstantiated and unattributed rumors in the blogosphere," have now been confirmed by the Albuquerque Tribune. Reacting to our blog, the chairman went further out on the limb and asserted: "Jeff Armijo will be the next auditor of the state of New Mexico."

Maybe so, but Wertheim started singing a different tune when the Tribune Saturday followed up on our report in a front-page spread.

A 21 year old woman told police she was doing volunteer work for Armijo at his home on August 3 when Armijo removed her from her chair, removed some of her clothing, held her down on the floor and inappropriately touched her, though she told him to stop. She then called the police, reported the Trib which also reports on a similar incident in 2003 involving Armijo and an 18 year old woman.

"The Democratic party will not tolerate sexual violence of any kind" Wertheim said of the incidents, one of which is under review by the Bernalillo county district attorney.

Armijo is denying any wrongdoing, saying an investigation will clear his name and that his candidacy will continue.

Is this a prelude to Armijo's withdrawal? Wertheim pushed, but did not shove: "It is premature for me to pass judgment on the allegations in these police reports today, without further consideration..."

But what is going to have to be rendered by Wertheim is not a legal judgment, but a political one. By that standard, he seems in peril of falling even further behind the curve.

THE ANALYSTS WEIGH IN


"It is extremely damaging and probably a fatal blow to Armijo's candidacy given the backdrop of corruption charges facing the two ex-Treasurers. The public is simply fed up. It is hard to see how the Democrats keep Jeff on the ticket, especially with the stakes so high in the (Madrid-Wilson) congressional race," analyzed veteran Democratic pollster and blog analyst Harry Pavlides.

If Armijo did drop his candidacy the Democratic Central Committee would name a replacement. The deadline for doing so is September 12.

Republican Bruce Donisthorpe, another of our blog analysts for the 06' election cycle and a former top aide to the late Congressman Joe Skeen, said his political instincts tell him, "this is game set and match."

If Armijo doesn't get out, Republican Lorenzo Garcia is likely the next auditor. There's also impact on the Madrid-Wilson race. Heather could benefit as she is already running on state ethics problems. It's a political nightmare. Wertheim can't pull back fast enough. His first reaction was to go into the bunker, but the bombs are falling and the bunker is busted. They need to act," argued the R expert.

Still, New Mexico has shown a broad tolerance (some might say bizarre tolerance) for alleged or proven ethics lapses on the part of their public officials which is giving the Armijo camp hope that this too shall pass.

LORENZO'S LUCK

The man who stands to benefit the most from Armijo's woes is GOP auditor candidate Lorenzo Garcia, but in a phone interview from an ABQ GOP rally Saturday, Garcia was careful not to gloat. And why should he? Why get in the way of your opponent self-destructing?

"The Democratic party is going to have to make a decision on this. It will have to play out. It could be resolved or it could drag on." Garcia told me.

But R Garcia was quick with a possible replacement if Armijo goes away--the Democrat who lost to Armijo in the June primary--Rio Rancho's Tom Buckner.

"Tom would be a great candidate. I respect him. We would have a vigorous debate but the voters would be the winners, regardless of who won our contest," said Garcia.

THE BOTTOM LINES

As the titular head of the party, the Armijo problem, as we blogged last week, will end up on the desk of Big Bill. What will he do, if anything, over charges that could taint the entire ticket, even as the retrial of ex-Treasurer Vigil soon plays in the background?

What of the sexual nature of the charges and their particular impact on female voters? And what about his Presidential bid? The national press always likes a dishy sex angle. It is not a pretty picture. And throw in a bomb from the R's who are charging that the Guv advanced Armijo's candidacy because he really wants a weak state auditor so oversight of the executive is weakened.

The Guv and Chairman Wertheim had the opportunity to nip the situation in the bud months ago, even before Buckner started ringing the bell and the Democratic labor unions refused to endorse Jeff. They are now left in a puddle of their own political miscalculation, facing the prospect of turning over the auditor position to the GOP for the first time in 40 years and, more importantly, further endangering a Democratic congressional candidacy that could be crucial to their party assuming power in the United States government.

With all due respect to Chairman Wertheim, none of this is a "rumor of the blogosphere." This is cold, hard reality. The voters must judge who is the best person to serve as the ethical and financial watchdog over billions of their dollars. Political parties were formed to assist in that task. The moral of the Armijo-Wertheim-Big Bill tale is that failure to act is an action.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
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