Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Dysfunctional Democrats: Chaos Erupts As Armijo Re-enters Auditor Race; Party Moves To Cut Him Off, But Courts Could Decide; It's A Blogger's Paradise
If there is a definition of a "Bloggers Paradise" Tuesday September 5, 2006 had to be that day. But for the New Mexico Democratic Party it will likely be remembered as "The Day from Hell."
Never mind the opening day of the re-trial of ex-Dem Treasurer Robert Vigil on corruption charges whose new twists and turns rivaled the spectacle of Katie Couric debuting as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Even "The Re-trial of the Decade" couldn't compete with what unfolded under finally rain-free skies accompanied by lukewarm temperatures at an ABQ NE Heights park.
Jeff Armijo made his stand, rebuking his August 29th withdrawal as the Democratic nominee for state auditor and defiantly declared he is back in the race, and if that makes a "select few politicians nervous, so be it."
Well, it wasn't a select few that broke out in hives upon hearing the news flashes in the minutes following Jeff's 4:45 p.m. announcement. It was the entire Democratic leadership structure and its statewide candidates. The statement was a brief three minutes, but Jeff smoothly managed to get off his money line: "I am a victim of a horrible political scheme." He exclaimed.
Hey, Jeff. You're not alone, the entire state has felt that way for decades.
While Jeff pointed out the nervousness of his fellow Dems, he too appeared jumpy, bouncing back and forth and repeatedly deflecting inquiries with "no comment." But there was plenty of comment from the powers that be, including the NM secretary of state and the attorney general's office, both occupied by Democrats.
REVERSING THE REVERSAL
Moving to avert a candidacy marred by two separate allegations of sexual misconduct and which Armijo was supposedly persuaded to abandon after meeting with Big Bill, the secretary and AG, along with NM Dem Chairman John Wertheim, called out in unison: "We heard you the first time, Jeff. They claimed Armijo, who made his announcement just fifteen minutes before the deadline for a candidate to withdraw, could not backtrack, that the press release he issued following his Big Bill sit-down was a legal abandonment of his auditor bid and there was no turning back the clock.
"No matter what Jeff Armijo says or does, he already officially withdrew his name for State Auditor a week ago. His actions on that day created a vacancy on the General Election ballot."
So declared Chair Wertheim, or maybe we should say so "wished" chairman Wertheim, as the issue may be headed to court if Jeff's Tuesday stand-up in the park turns out not to be his last stand.
With that in mind, the chairman baited a trap he hopes Armijo will bite on:
"Although I am personally disappointed that Jeff has gone back on his word, officially, he is welcome to go before our State Central Committee on September 9th just like the other candidates vying to fill this vacancy, and attempt to get his name back on the ballot."
Of course, if Jeff enters the auditor race at the Central Committee it would be an admission that there is indeed a vacancy in the auditor position, detracting from a court claim that he never really withdrew.
No one was calling Wertheim clever for this maneuver, but neither was anyone overestimating the emotional tranquility of Armijo whose political behavior is as predictable as a Florida vote count.
BILL'S DIVORCE DECREE
Meanwhile, up where all family arguments end, and often begin, Big Bill, according to my insiders, was preparing to depart the Land of Disenchantment for yet another diplomatic venture, This time for far away Sudan where a native New Mexican working for a Chicago newspaper was being held hostage. He probably wishes he could take Jeff with him and parachute him into Darfur. Instead, Bill had his spinners issue this Armijo divorce decree:
"The Governor is very disappointed that Mr. Armijo is attempting to go back on his word and selfishly put himself before the Democratic Party.
"The Governor agrees with the legal position of the Democratic Party Chairman, who is moving forward and asking the State Central Committee to select a replacement candidate who is responsible and committed to running a campaign based on the highest ethical standards."
Come back from Sudan soon, Guv. The party is just getting started.
That "party" will be the aforementioned Saturday Central Committee confab at which 360 top Dems from all of our fretting Four Corners will gather to name Armijo's replacement. State Rep. Hector Balderas of Wagon Mound, who has been in the race since Jeff said he was getting out, was holed up in a friend's law office frantically making calls to committee members, hoping to create an air of inevitability. Depending on who was counting, he had lined up at least 65 and maybe 90 votes.
While Hector was hectoring his fellow Dems, intrigue surrounded ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez who was also doing the ring-a-ding thing over the weekend, but gave his fingers a rest Tuesday to talk with none other than Jeff Armijo's dad and also with cousin Marty. That would be ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, cousin to Jeff. What were they brewing up? According to His Honor, relaying word through a Dem operative, he "fully backed the Governor" and had urged Jeff to stay out of the race.
I won't go into the Twilight Zone theories floating around about that little chatfest for fear of again being dubbed "genetically conspiratorial" by my old friend Bruce Daniels at the ABQ Journal who, by the way, is right on the mark. Suffice it to say that by late evening whatever personal political gain was to be had by jiggling around with Jeff's fortunes was dissipating and a unified front seemed to be developing that Balderas had to be the man, or else there might not be any plan. Sanchez phoned in today to say he is abandoning his candidacy, citing legal advice from his two personal attorneys who he said told him: "There is no vacancy." Sanchez added he is not supporting anyone for the Dem nod.
But all was not unity in the Armijo camp, with one of his in-the-know sympathizers reporting that Jeff's lawyer was "livid." The second allegation of sexual misconduct is under review by Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenberg and if official charges do result, broadcasting them on a three network pre-game show was not the way to obtain the best legal outcome.
The perky DA, also a Democrat, and an expert at under-the-radar operations, was having her cover busted by some Armijo advocates who questioned why she could not quickly resolve what they say is a simple "he said, she said" case. "Indict or a dismiss!" They cried.
Well, they say a DA can indict a ham sandwich, but this one is filled with political indigestion.
FEELING THE HEAT
After using up most of my cell phone minutes, I decided to get reckless and go over the limit and fired a heat-seeking missile at Dem Land Commissioner candidate Jim Baca. After all, if an Armijo candidacy somehow arises, it would be Jim B., involved in the tightest statewide contest with R Pat Lyons, who might be in the most ticklish situation.
"To disavow or not to disavow." That was my question. Not worthy of Shakespeare, but fitting enough for my purposes.
"I believe Jeff has withdrawn from the race and it is up to the Central Committee to name a replacement," Baca said, practically parsing every syllable.
Would you support Armijo if he did make it on the ballot? "I'm not ready to go there yet." He replied. I bet. He's probably more prepared to go to the Sudan with Big Bill.
Baca was downright chirpy compared to a top Dem operative who answered my call in a forlorn voice and softly uttered: "I am not prepared to talk with you, Joe. I'm too depressed. But the political instinct is irrepressible and after promising free Prozac I had him handicapping the probable outcome of Jeff's Mess.
"Balderas is the likely nominee. If Jeff chose to run, he would get support from Socorro (where he has many family members) and pockets of Valencia county. Balderas must get proxy votes from around the state because a lot of people will not travel to ABQ for the committee meeting."
But, as we said a thousand words or so ago, that may be academic since Armijo would likely be losing his legal argument if he agreed his withdrawal was really a withdrawal and decided to dance at Central.
Another operative, more perplexed than depressed, was more confident. "Keep in mind that the vote at the committee is an open vote, not a secret ballot. There may be some brave talk from Jeff's supporters now, but how many of them are going to go public and vote for him? He's done," declared the D.
SUING WITH THE SUPREMES
It ain't over until the fat lady sings or, in this case, until Jeff throws in the towel and declares he will not bring a lawsuit to stop a new nominee from going on the ballot; a suit that would likely go directly to the Supremes. No, not Diana Ross and the gals, but the NM State Supreme Court. There, things could get tricky.
Doesn't a candidate have to file a document directly with the secretary of state to make an "official" withdrawal? When did a press release faxed over to Secretary Rebecca Vigil-Giron by the Guv's office (as happened in this case) become a binding legal notification? And, can't a guy change his mind?
Whatever the ultimate outcome of the Armijo candidacy, the Democrats are going to do their best to conduct a separation operation. It may be like one of those Siamese Twins deals; the separating goes alright, but some of the parts won't be working as well as they used to. The lengthy procedure is already underway with the Big Bill and Wertheim statements. Up next could be a resolution by the Central Committee urging Jeff to accept the new nominee; that they will not support his candidacy if one develops, and that he should really just go home and book himself a long cruise courtesy of the travel agency he owns.
THE BOTTOM LINES
Yep, you finally reached the bottom of this thing. If you are feeling weak, feel free to take some vitamins. But what about the 21 year old woman who is making sexual misconduct allegations, the August 3 charge that Armijo says is part of a "horrible political scheme?" My sources tell me she was a student at TV-I (Central New Mexico College) and did campaign volunteer campaign work at Armijo's home where she charges she was pinned to the floor and touched improperly by the political hopeful. Armijo is an elected member of the governing board of the college. His people say the intern once worked with another politico who has an axe to grind with Jeff, thus "the horrible political scheme."
And what about Republican auditor nominee Lorenzo Garcia. He doesn't really have to say anything, just wait like a vulture in a pinon tree, hoping against hope that Jeff likes hanging out with lawyers.
No, I don't really know if vultures hang out in pinon trees. But after this particular Tuesday in La Politica, I have suspended all disbelief. How else to prepare for whatever comes next?
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2006
Not for reproduction without permission of the author