Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dems Move To Avert Crisis; Armijo Defies Governor, Then Reverses; Agrees To Meet; Replacement Names Circulate; King Reacts; In-Depth Blog Coverage 

Jeff Armijo
A defiant Jeff Armijo rebuked New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson Monday as the titular head of the state Democratic Party moved to avert a full-blown political crisis and asked Armijo to meet with him to discuss the future of his candidacy as NM state auditor. But Armijo, facing criminal allegations of sexual misconduct he has strongly denied, initially stuck his thumb in the eye {PDF} of the chief executive and said there will be no meeting. "I am too damn independent," he told the Associated Press. And in a statement sure to infuriate the Fourth Floor of the fabled Roundhouse, Armijo boasted: "I am on the path to victory."

But late Monday KOB-TV quoted Armijo as saying he will meet with the Governor today. The station also said the Democratic Party Central Committee has set aside time for a September 9th meeting, three days before the legal deadline for Armijo to withdraw and a replacement candidate to be named.

The shock waves from the Armijo events spread like an earthquake across La Politica, with Dem attorney general candidate Gary King, reached while en route to Artesia, telling me: "If Jeff refuses to meet with our Governor it will be taken as a sign that the allegations are true. I, and I believe the other statewide candidates, will have no choice but to disavow Jeff's candidacy," warned the Moriarty lawyer.

Armijo's defiance recalled the last political crisis NM Democrats faced when then-Treasurer Robert Vigil faced corruption charges and vowed not to resign. Vigil eventually relented, sparing the party the prospect of his tenure continuing into the election season. Top Dems are hopeful the same outcome will result in the Armijo affair, but the clock is ticking madly toward September 12.


From the upper echelons of New Mexican political circles came the informed and frank analysis: "If Armijo stays on the ballot, it will energize our base. We will be able to raise money for (GOP auditor hopeful) Lorenzo Garcia and we will win the office. Armijo will help us get our vote out and that could give us good news in the other down-ballot races and hopefully take a bite out of the Governor too," argued one veteran Republican operative.

Team Richardson wants Armijo gone, now. The gravity of the matter was brought home as Big Bill issued a news release, not from his re-election campaign, but from the Office of the Governor.

"The Governor is extremely troubled by the allegations. The fact that there are two different police reports with serious claims gives the Governor significant concern. The Governor hopes to meet soon with Mr. Armijo to discuss the allegations and decide whether he should stay in the race. The Governor believes elected officials and candidates should be held to the highest ethical standards," said the gubernatorial statement.

The political nightmare descending across the party is also seen pressuring NM attorney general and ABQ Dem congressional candidate Patricia Madrid who has been the subject of relentless hammering on state ethics issues from GOP incumbent Heather Wilson.

"They are in denial if they think this thing doesn't have legs. Heather will tie this in to the Vigil-Montoya Treasurer scandal and pound away. Every Dem candidate is going to have to move on this or they are going to get carpet bombed," analyzed a Senior Dem Alligator.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is reviewing the charges against the auditor hopeful, but says she will not have a judgment on whether the charges should go forward before the fateful September 12th deadline and most likely not before the November election. That forces a political decision to be rendered, not a legal one.


Rep. Balderas
While chagrined Dems wondered aloud how things could go so bad so fast in an election year they have dreamed of, they began circulating names for a possible Armijo replacement, hoping against hope that Armijo will crack under the pressure and get out.

State Rep. Hector Balderas of northern NM, not a CPA, but an attorney and respected voice of the new generation of thirtysomething New Mexican Hispanic leaders, is being touted by his supporters who say, among other things, a Hispanic replacing Armijo is essential or else it would appear in some quarters as if Armijo was being railroaded. Balderas is an ally of Governor Big Bill.

Another name making the rounds is that of ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez, who unsuccessfully sought the Dem 02' state treasurer nomination.


There was a glimmer of hope in that AP interview for Dems desperate to get Armijo to step aside. He did not completely shut the door on abandoning his now hyper-controversial candidacy.

"He strongly indicated he doesn't plan to withdraw." reported the news service. But strongly indicating is not the same as flatly rejecting the prospect of withdrawal as he initially did with that gubernatorial meeting. Insiders also said there could be behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Jeff's uncle has served as a Socorro city councilor and his aunt is on the Socorro County Commission. They could be enlisted to talk turkey to the embattled candidate.

But the prestige and power of the New Mexico Governor has been put on the line and he cannot be perceived as bargaining or pleading with Armijo. Time is short and the path out of this wilderness is growing narrower by the day. "If Armijo does not walk the plank in the next couple of days, Democratic politicians of all stripes will be jumping ship to save their own necks." Said another Alligator.

Gary King for Attorney GeneralArmijo has said he is good friends with ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil whose federal retrial is set to begin September 5th and presents yet another Democratic headache. Like Vigil, Armijo presents himself as defiant and tough-as-nails. But the future credibility of the state's majority party and the financial standing of the state of New Mexico are on the line.

Whatever the merits of the case against him, Jeff Armijo is now standing in front of a moving freight train conducted by the people of New Mexico. It is now his choice to either lay down on the tracks, or step aside and let the train pass unimpeded.

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