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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Likely New Dem Party Chair Scored For Lobbying; Olguin Responds, Plus: Waiting on The Feds For Two Big Stories, And: My Bottom Lines 

The coast appears clear for Michael Olguin to become the next chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, but some behind the scenes sniping is going on over Olguin's role as a lobbyist, particularly for the payday loan industry, and some foes have talked of coming up with an alternative candidate. So far, there have been no takers and Olguin is the odds-on favorite to take the leadership role when the election is held April 28th.

Olguin, 57, told me he had not heard of the concerns over his lobbying role until we rang him up at the Roundhouse Wednesday (Hey, we love spreading good news.) and while not brushing them off, he did not commit to abandoning lobbying if he assumed the chairmanship.

"If I were chairman, I would probably re-examine it to make sure there is no conflict-of-interest." He explained.

Olguin is a veteran power player, having served in the New Mexico House from Socorro from '84 to '98, garnering a reputation as a well-liked and effective lawmaker who capped his career as House Majority Leader. He was a loyal lieutenant to then-Speaker Raymond Sanchez. If Olguin had not lost his seat in '98 to Republican Don Tripp, he might have had a shot at leading the House. Instead, his ouster was a signal that the roof would also soon cave in on Sanchez who two years later lost his seat and the speakership .

THE OLGUIN FILE

While Olguin is taking hits over his lobbying, his main livelihood is his Socorro insurance business which he's had for 18 years. I first met him in the late 70's when he was an aide to the late NM Democratic Congressman Harold Runnels and I was working in D.C. For GOP Rep. Manuel Lujan. He says that his "political background and knowledge of the process" qualify him to succeed attorney John Wertheim as party leader.

"Fund-raising and party building are the crucial roles of a chairman," said Olguin who added that his history with the Legislature would also be an asset.

The lobbying issue is a touchy one because it was a major reason for the divisions that tore the NM GOP apart in recent years. When a faction of the party advocated legalizing drugs, lawyer-lobbyist Mickey Barnett, also then the NM GOP National Committeeman, was a paid lobbyist for the drug cause which was opposed by most Republicans. His faction also fielded primary candidates against fellow Republicans who his critics said would favor Barnett's lobbying clients. Critics of Olguin, while not fearing a division on that scale, nevertheless believe Olguin should follow the example of Wertheim and another previous chair, Light Guv Diane Denish, and not lobby while serving as party leader.

As for the titular head of the party, Olguin, who has served the last four years as chair of the Socorro county D's, says he has met with Governor Richardson and describes him "as supportive of my efforts." The Guv has also run up against critics of the payday loan industry who claim he has been too cozy with the business. Olguin is lobbying during the current session on a payday loan bill sponsored by Rep. Patricia Lundstrom. Efforts to get the bill passed last year failed and are being fought again this time by State Sen. Bernadette Sanchez who calls the measure "an industry bill."

HIS SECOND ACT

It's been a while since a native Hispanic New Mexican has been party chair and that is enlisting support for Olguin. "I am glad to see him emerge. I don't think the lobbying issue has any legs. I would be pleased to see a party chair who understands business as well as politics," commented Sisto Abeyta, a young Dem from ABQ's South Valley who is active in party affairs.

Olguin takes the criticism in stride acknowledging that "when you stick your head out there" there are going to be hits. It is his practiced political personality that seems to win him the most support. "He is well-liked, glib, knows the issues and understands party politics as well as anyone. He can also carry the ball for us in the media," analyzed one party veteran.

It appears Olguin will have a chance to prove the merit of those statements. Written off as "a could have been" after losing his House seat and a shot at the speakership, he now prepares for a rare second act on the stage of La Politica. He is already being reminded that there, the lights always shine brightly.

WAITING ON THE FEDS
ABQ Federal court
Still no official announcement on who will be the next U.S. attorney for New Mexico. While initial insider betting was heavy on Jim Bibb, the tide has now turned to ABQ attorney Charles Peifer. NM GOP Senator Domenici has submitted four names to the White House to replace David Iglesias. Domenici chief of staff Bell said don't expect the job to be a "political plum," a statement read as a zing against Bibb, who ran for attorney general last year as well as at Iglesias who won the job after also running for state attorney general, but whose performance is known to have disappointed Domenici. Peifer, 46, if he does get the job, is not expected to take over for several months as he closes out private law business. All this is courtesy of the legal beagles who are being kept busy on this beat.

And what about federal indictments in the investigation of the construction of two Bernalillo county courthouses? The Alligators pinpointed the end of January as D-Day for those, but nothing has been announced yet. The indictments are still expected, but you are dealing in "government time." And maybe the reports that the indictments would come made the decision makers take another look at the calendar.

SPACEPORT DEBATE II

Wednesday's blog noting that not all in Dona Ana county are happy about the prospect of paying an additional quarter cent in gross receipts taxes to finance the Big Bill spaceport, drew response from politico Josh Geise who took took note of pickets that recently greeted the Guv in Las Cruces:

"The state has already appropriated $100 million and will do another $25 million. Like most major infrastructure projects the local communities are asked to contribute matching funds to show local support. It makes no sense to fund the entire project with state funds when the communities up north will see little benefit.

"The "picketers"--if you can call one guy and his children picketers--are upset because they'd like to see the money go to basic services. They're missing the point of economic development. When the spaceport begins operation the tax base of Dona Ana county is going to expand providing better healthcare, education and other basic services." Argued Geise.

The tax election will likely be held in early April. It could be spirited as some will counter argue that the spaceport is akin to big road and other projects that may mainly benefit one area of the state, but a special tax is not levied on those living near the road.

Interesting sidelight: Governor Richardson late Wednesday announced he will "highlight his support for several multi-million dollar infrastructure projects in Southern Dona Ana County during a press conference Thursday in Las Cruces."

It seems Big Bill is already campaigning for an expected April tax vote.

NOT ALL LOVE FOR LYNDA

The day State Senator Leonard Tsosie resigned the insiders pinpointed Lynda Lovejoy as the obvious replacement for the Native American leader. Wednesday Big Bill proved them right as he named Lovejoy, a former member of the state House as well as the Public Regulation Commission, to the Tsosie vacancy. Last year Lovejoy unsuccessfully sought the chairmanship of the Navajo Nation in an election at which Tsosie was elected to the Navajo Nation Council. This northwest NM senate seat is designed for Indian Country. Some wanted a Pueblo Indian to take the position which would have been a first in state history, but we got another first in that Lovejoy is the first Native American woman to serve in the Legislature's upper chamber.

Lovejoy is not getting any love, however, from liberals who resent her comments on abortion and homosexuality during her recent presidential run and which were circulated against her on the Net. Here's how the New Times of Phoenix wrote her up: "I''m anti-abortion on an individual basis," she stammered, with more umms and ahhs than The Bird has room to reproduce. "But I know families whose children have gone through abortion . . . but personally I would not tolerate it except when a person doesn't have a choice."

Safe enough answer, despite the Navajo pol's near incoherence. But her remarks on homosexual rights made her sound like some 19th-century eugenicist.

"I feel the same way about that as I feel about abortion," spat Lovejoy. "I know we are all . . . some of our children are born with physical impairments and it's not the baby's fault. That person is special. I feel the same way about sexual orientation."

Welcome back, Lynda. But we don't think you will be getting too many invites to campaign for Big Bill in those liberal Dem prez primaries. By the way, the annual Indian Day celebration will be celebrated Friday at 8:30 a.m. at the New Mexico Legislature.

JOE'S BOTTOM LINES

Here's a Roundhouse funny on the perennial issue of cockfighting from House Minority Leader Tom Taylor. It looks as if a statewide ban on the controversial activity might actually pass this year and perhaps anticipating it, Taylor comes with a "cock retirement" proposal in the form of a House Memorial. Don't get too cocky if it passes, Tom.

Nothing official yet, but we are hearing that former ABQ Journal reporter Charlotte Balcomb Lane has signed on as the new communications director for the state Republican party. An announcement is expected Monday. The search continues for a new executive director...

See you here tomorrow for the Friday blog. Meantime, send your latest news via email from the link at the top of the page.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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