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Monday, January 15, 2007

Sources: Courthouse Indictments "At End Of Month," Plus: Too Much Money In Santa Fe? And: Heather: Poaching On Udall Or Not? 

Reliable sources now report that federal indictments related to the construction of two Bernalillo county courthouses will come at the end of January; that former State Senator Manny Aragon is definitely the target of one of the indictments; and to expect multiple plea bargains in connection with the corruption cases. They also say it appears the indictments will be announced by outgoing U.S. Attorney David Iglesias who will not be around to see the corruption case go to trial. The two corruption trials his office conducted in the case of ex-Treasurers Vigil and Montoya ended on a down note. Montoya copped a plea and Vigil ended up getting convicted on only one count, and even that could be overturned on appeal ..

Will there be a bunch of indictments of well-known political and lobbying names? "It seems it will be a lot of little fish being used to go after the big fish--Manny. There will be others indicted, but not a lot. Manny is the main target," reported one of our top-tier sources.

That means we should expect multiple plea bargains as the government tries to build a case against Aragon who served nearly thirty years in the Legislature and recently departed, under pressure, the presidency of NM Highlands University. He left with severance package that included a $200,000 lump sum, money he may now have to use to fend off a federal prosecution. The main evidence against him is a note from an engineering company involved in the construction of one of the courthouses that says "Manny--$50,000." Is that a bribe or a consulting fee? That question will be at the center of the legal battle to come and it's coming soon.

ETHICS ISSUES

Some wall-leaners are arguing that getting any ethics reform through the 60 say session of the Legislature tomorrow could be impeded by "an out of sight, out of mind mentality" now that the Vigil case has gone away. But if the courthouse case bursts into the headlines at the end of the month, as we expect, perhaps that will recharge the issue. Still, the state has a long history of resisting such reform and the odds are no better than 50-50 that anything significant will get done.

TOO MUCH MONEY?
Secretary Miller
Can the government ever have too much money? Even New Mexico's liberals have to be asking themselves that question in light of yet another record surplus ($720 million) brought about by robust oil and natural gas prices. Katherine Miller, secretary of the state department of finance, argues that the state should again place in reserve 10 percent of the state's annual budget,(over $500 million) not the traditional five percent. She says that insures that "recurring" expenditures can be funded in future years when the energy boom wanes.

What's missing is a commitment to not use all the money for recurring expenditures and give New Mexico taxpayers direct cash rebates to alleviate the pain of high energy prices as we did for the 2004 tax year. (The new State House Minority Leader, Tom Taylor of Farmington, is taking some baby steps in this direction, but will need to form a bipartisan coalition to get anything done.) The last we looked consumers here were still being socked with pump prices over two bucks a gallon and increasing utility bills to boot. Why are they not getting any more direct relief even as the state wracks up these immense surpluses? Other states, like Oklahoma and Alaska give money back to their taxpayers once the budget is balanced and sufficient reserves set aside.

No one is going to argue New Mexico does not have needs, but no one can argue that we haven't put billions of energy surplus money to work in the past five years to address those needs. Even if we gave a couple of hundred million bucks back to our citizens, we would still be wading in dough. In addition, our permanent savings funds are bursting at the seams.

Secretary Miller and the Legislature might want to remember that high pump prices have also been an "recurring expenditure" and that targeted tax cuts alone do not provide the relief taxpayers deserve and the state can afford.

HEATHER--POACHING, OR NOT?

Several emailers took issue with our take of ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson's recent tour of Rio Rancho snowstorm damage she took with GOP Mayor Kevin Jackson. We questioned where Dem Congressman Tom Udall was on that tour as he represents Rio Rancho, not Heather. It turns out that she does have two precincts and part of a third within the city limits, but Udall represents the remainder of f the 35 precincts in the northwest NM city. Congressional observers I quizzed still read the tour as a diss against Udall.

"(Republican NM Rep. ) Steve Pearce has a couple of precincts in Bernalillo county, but you don't see him using that as a way to horn in on Heather's turf," argued one with long experience who also said this issue was raised when Heather took a high-profile at the Cerro Grande fire in Los Alamos in 2000, all of which is represented by Udall.

"There is a new aggressiveness to Heather" since her close election, noted another observer, citing her change on Iraq war policy and the foray into Udall's territory.

As for Udall, it is his party, not Heather's that in now in the majority, although the executive branch is still controlled by the R's. And it is Udall who sits on the powerful Appropriations committee. Armed with that knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of the Congress, one presumes Mayor Jackson may be a bit more astute in the future.

"Udall should get some hot seats in the luxury suite (of the new Rio Rancho arena) for a hockey game," joked longtime NM politico Larry Ahrens.

As for Heather, don't expect the 'aggressiveness' to stop, not with another possibly close race for her House seat in '08 or a try for a U.S. Senate seat if the opportunity arises.

U.S. ATTORNEY: HOW IT'S DONE

There's been some confusion about exactly how the new U.S. Attorney will be chosen now that David Iglesias has been sent packing. (OK, I am the one who has been confused.) For the exact details on how the new guy will be selected we turn to a a lawyer who has dealt with the issue.

"The senior senator of the president’s party (in this case Sen. Domenici) makes the recommendation to the President. The President is required to nominate a candidate – presumably the one endorsed by the affected states’ Senator. The U.S. Attorney nominee appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, is voted out of committee, and, if not held up in committee, receives an up or down vote before the full Senate...A U.S. Attorney could be named on an interim basis by the President, subject to later Senate confirmation.'"

So the new U.S. attorney will have to be confirmed by the senate and that will be easy as long as he has Pete's blessing. Meantime, Domenici chief of staff Steve Bell tells the Journal those who think the appointment is going to be another "political plum" are wrong. Does that mean politico Jim Bibb's chances have diminished? We could know from the White House as soon as this week.

And a final note on this. Why does it have to be a "he?" Not one of the nominees forwarded by Pete to the White House was female, even though they make up a major portion of the legal profession.

I can already hear the cries of rebuttal: "No quotas, Joe!"

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