Thursday, September 07, 2006

Armijo Lawyering Up; Sources Say Court Challenge To Stay On Ballot Coming; Plus: Should R's Re-Focus? And: The Blogs And The Papers 

Supemes To Get Case?
Jeff Armijo wants his day in court, and that day could come as soon as today, according to sources close to the Jeff camp. The Dem state auditor hopeful has been the object of snickers and derision for his waffling ways, first getting out of the race and then saying he's back in. But legal and political experts aren't laughing at his apparent court challenge. The consensus I'm picking up is that he has a decent shot at overturning Tuesday's decision by the secretary of state to deny him a place on the November 7 ballot.

"There is a long history of candidates withdrawing by letters directly to the secretary. I would expect that history to be presented in any court challenge, and it may be one of Armijo's strongest arguments," analyzed ABQ attorney Pat Rogers, a former counsel to the NM GOP who himself has a long history of battling election access questions.

As a Republican, it could be argued Rogers would love nothing better than to see Armijo, facing allegations of sexual misconduct in two separate incidents, stay in the game and embarrass the Dems, but the analysis across the aisle was similar. Two attorneys for Dem ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez are also asserting, according to Ken, that they too think that Armijo's news release abandoning his candidacy on August 29 is not a legal withdrawal. Sanchez phoned in to report that based on his legal advice, he will not seek the auditor nomination at that special meeting of the Dem State Central Committee Saturday. That leaves Wagon Mound freshman State Rep. Hector Balderas, 33, as the leading possibility to replace Jeff.

Armijo can't rule out going for the Dem Central's nod. If he can get a decision on his case by Saturday, and if he were to lose, he would then have the option of competing with Hector. His chances would be poor, but many old timers populate the 360 member body and Armijo might generate more support than one would expect.


"District court is the first stop. After that, the case would go to the State Supreme Court as either side could appeal any ruling," explained lawyer Rogers of an ARmijo challenge. The five members of the high court are all Dems, so any ruling would be subjected to intense political as well as legal scrutiny.

The haphazard way the secretary of state was "formally" informed of Armijo's withdrawal--a fax of his news release from the Governor's office, is a first. Secretary Rebecca Vigil-Giron maintains that the release is "sufficient evidence" for her to declare a vacancy and allow the Dem Central Committee to name a replacement.

But Vigil-Giron's office, whose views are being supported by the attorney general, has no other example of this kind of withdrawal being executed. It appears all of them have been done by letter or a direct phone call to the secretary.

Jeff reversed his Aug. 29 withdrawal at a late afternoon news conference Tuesday, setting off alarms at the upper echelons of the NM Dem Party, but many neutral observers are now concerned about the long-term consequences of the confusing withdrawal rules and welcome a court determination. The secretary of state's office is a political position, and absent any explicit legal instructions, his or her power remains unchecked. That is especially troubling when a candidate has already been confirmed the nominee by voters, as Armijo was when he won the June primary election.


Armijo may be a deeply flawed candidate; he may cause damage to the Democratic ticket; his candidacy may lead to a Republican takeover of the auditor's office, but we have a Supreme Court to not only render judgments that bring order to present chaos, but to issue rulings that prevent future chaos. Whether Armijo is eventually allowed on the ballot or not, the Legislature, after the courts make sense of this, will have a chance to rectify the outcome. They have clearly left a gaping hole in the law.

All this brings us back to the responsibility of he parties to better vet their candidates. Armijo's candidacy was the subject of endless concern long before the sexual allegations developed. The party and its leadership could have done something about it, but chose not to. And it's not as if they did not have an example to go by. ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil was a candidate four years ago who also gave fits to the Dems, but those concerns were set aside and look what you have today.

The best outcome for the D's would be the failure of any court challenge by Armijo, but the best outcome for Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico is a well-reasoned court decision that explains just what the rules are today and provides clear direction to lawmakers on what they need to do to get this derailed section of our election code back on track.


It's not just the Dems having trouble with the auditor spot. Some R' s are grumbling that the state party seems more concerned with investing in a long shot takeover of the secretary of state's office which the Dems have held uninterrupted since 1929. Party support has poured into the campaign or R contender Vickie Perea, leaving her with as much as $150,000. But R auditor candidate Lorenzo Garcia and R Demesia Padilla are not getting the same kind of love. Garcia has just ten grand in his bank account. Padilla has hit the $100,000 mark, but largely through her own efforts. Disgruntled R's think it's time to switch focus and challenge the Dems hold on the offices that current events give them a better chance of contesting.

If you look at this from the neutral corner, you might agree. Corruption is caused, in part, by a lack of competition. The R's are railing about the shenanigans in Santa Fe, but will their campaign strategy for the important statewide financial offices match their rhetoric and hyperbolic Web sites? It's a fair question at a pivotal moment in state history.


ABQ Trib political reporter Kate Nash recently tackled the issue of blogs and whether they compete with the "mainstream" media. I think she came up with the right answer. Here are some excerpts.

SANTA FE - I might as well just go ahead and set my alarm clock to blast me awake the moment Joe Monahan posts his dispatches online. Because invariably, in the next few hours, I know I'm going to hear, "Did you see Monahan's blog today?"

Indeed, it seems that's a question that frequently gets the mornings started here in the Capitol press room among us political reporters...The blogs are here to stay. And they're changing the way we cover politics--in general, I'd say, for the better.

Although not everything on a blog is attributed to a person with a name, the information is usually a thread that's got something to it. And that's a place for reporters to start.

Monahan said his blog is "the front page, the entertainment page, the sports page and the editorial page all rolled into one."

In part because bloggers don't have to back up or confirm information the way traditional reporters do, there's a better chance we'll see good stuff on blogs from people who prefer not to be named.

Monahan, a former radio and newspaper reporter, has 35 years of New Mexico residency under his cap...and is a registered independent.

While some professorial types might worry bloggers will replace newspapers, I'm not worried. They aren't the competition. But they keep us on our toes, tipping us off to other stories we ought to be looking at--especially during election season.

Some good points there. And it's hard to see how most of the blogs could exist without the newspapers and their full-time staffs providing endless political fodder.

I will update events on the Armijo case and other breaking political news from now through the weekend, so don't touch that dial.

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