Monday, March 12, 2007
All Aboard The Big Monday Blog! A Stop At The Roundhouse, But Then Back Aboard the Runaway U.S. Attorney Train
Nice try, Santa Fe. But passing a state budget with a whopping 11 percent increase and sending historic minimum wage legislation to the Governor is just not enough to get you the lead story on this little ol' blog or in those other places where they still use ink to spread the blues. The political news cycle has become all-U.S.-attorney-scandal-all-the-time. But because we're nostalgic types, for old times sake we'll start out this Monday covering the final week of the NM legislative session. We won't dither too long at the Roundhouse. Just below we re-enter the house of pain occupied by Iglesias-Wilson-Domenici and an ever growing cast.
Since Big Bill stopped being Big Bully, the wheels of the Legislature have been grinding away with unusual ease. It's like a prix fixe dinner where you know what's on the menu and exactly what you're going to pay. Still, it showcases the Guv's penchant for diplomacy and how it can work in Santa Fe as well as in distant lands ruled by dictators. This diplomatic mission still has five days left, but it appears the 112 hostages (legislators) will be released and there will be no train wrecks.
The turning point may have been the Guv's give on last year's veto of a slew of building projects for the lawmakers. They restored the projects this year and the Guv agreed, making sure to eat his crow out of sight. As we approach the end game, the aforementioned whopper of a budget has been approved, the minimum wage bill soon will be, the cockfighting ban is a done deal and a renewable energy bill has made it through. Quite a record. Maybe Bill should run for President more often.
The quote of the session came when House Appropriations Committee Chair Kiki Saavedra quipped, "I'm scared too" after GOP ABQ Rep. Justine Fox-Young warned that the big budget could mean a future tax increase if oil and gas revenues fall. Well, being scared and having the fear of God (or the electorate) put into you are obviously two different things. In the early rounds, young Ms. Young was joined by 19 of her R colleagues in voting against the$5.65 billion budget, but by this weekend that little yell had turned to a whimper and the House passed the budget without debate. Without debate? Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico could indeed come to rue the day of the too big budget, but they are not going to listen to Republicans or Democrats who cry "we told you so" because in the end none of them did.
THAT BOX OF PANDORAS
The U.S. attorney scandal continues to unfold, creating a state of blogging bliss heretofore only approached when Jeff Armijo tried to become state auditor. But Jeff turned out to be a piker compared to David Iglesias. The former and fired NM U.S. attorney has, to use the inimitable words of former NM Governor Bruce King, opened "a box of pandoras." In that Greek myth (and also Bruce's) greed, vanity, slander and envy are let out of Pandora's box and unleashed on the world, leaving only hope inside. But hope that this affair will end sooner rather than later seems as likely now as Hercules showing up at the Downs at Albuquerque to clean the stables.
A good scandal, like a soap opera, needs fresh characters. And this weekend we got a boatload. Among those making stage debuts were GOP lawyer-lobbyist Mickey Barnett, Republican attorney Pat Rogers, GOP Chair Allen Weh and ABQ attorneys Randi McGinn and Paul Kennedy. Mickey emerged in the Sunday New York Times which also featured an interview with your blogger. (Now I can retire.) He said that FBI agents had been complaining to him about the performance of Iglesias. That leads to the question of why the FBI would complain to Barnett and not Justice. Was it because he has long standing ties to Senator Pete Domenici and White House political guru Karl Rove and the agents wanted political pressure put on Iglesias? It seems it's a question for the bloodhounds on the Senate Ethics Committee who have started a "preliminary inquiry" into the Iglesias firing and whether Domenici and ABQ GOP Rep. Heather Wilson tried to have him speed up indictments of Democrats being investigated in connection with the construction of ABQ Metro Court.
Rogers, a longtime political associate of Barnett and Wilson, revealed to McClatchy Newspapers that he had lunch with Iglesias before the November '06 election and complained about the lack of indictments in the corruption probe; indictments that could have helped Wilson in her tight race with Dem Patsy Madrid. And Chairman Weh told McClatchy that he put the arm on Rove to fire Iglesias at an '06 White House Christmas party. But after saying that, Weh later told the AP the decision to fire Iglesias had already been made by the time he whispered in Karl's ear. But Weh also confirmed he had spoken with a "liaison" to Rove as early as 2005 about dumping Iglesias.(Late Sunday McClatchy reported that Rove says he may have forwarded such concerns about Iglesias to the U.S. attorney general.)
The Rogers-Weh-Barnett cameos in this affair point to an orchestrated political effort to speed up indictments and to get rid of Iglesias if he didn't. Democrats say the effort peaked with pressure filled and unethical phone calls to Iglesias in October by Domenici and Wilson. Pressure from non-government sources to fire Iglesias is not the big deal. They have no official power over him, although they will now probably be dragged into official inquires. For Domenici and Wilson, who are part of the government, the issue of how they responded to the complaining is all-important. Meanwhile, the Justice Department, which has been insisting Iglesias was fired for performance, not political reasons, is looking more and more like a guy with egg on his face, with a leading Democratic senator now calling for the head of Attorney General Gonzales.
Also via the NY Times, we learn that trial attorney McGinn is defending one of those being investigated in the courthouse probe. The article did not say who she was defending. Former Dem State Senator Manny Aragon is known to be a primary target. In yet another sign that things ain't what they used to be, Democrat McGinn showed no hesitancy in taking a poke at Pete. “It’s given the public a look under the halo of St. Pete,” said McGinn of the scandal, invoking the moniker often used to describe the state's senior senator.
As for the senator, he was in no mood to spar with anyone. By week's end when he conducted a news conference with NM radio reporters, he had settled on a brief statement explaining that he would not be taking questions on the scandal. You can hear the weariness in his voice, and you can hear the clip here.
While McGinn was poking Pete, GOP attorney Kennedy confirmed that he is the lawyer for an accountant who went to the FBI to report the alleged courthouse shenanigans and which implicated prominent Democrats. That was news to New Mexico.
And it is future news of the corruption case that R's are hoping will quell this disturbance for Pete and Heather. Their ray of hope scenario has the feds announcing big-name indictments in the case soon, detailing an outlandish rip-off scheme so shocking it has voters asking: "David who?" But with aggressive counselors like McGinn on the warpath, the courthouse caper case will be portrayed as a Kangaroo Court convened to give the bum's rush to a bunch of Dems. Somebody call Orville Redenbacher. We need extra popcorn for this one.
YES, THERE'S MORE
What else can we say? Plenty, but we know you have a life so just a little more. How about the story line that Iglesias is an ungrateful reprobate who turned out to be an incompetent? Well, Iglesias was given a big break by Domenici and Wilson, but Republican political consultant Jeff Gardner says the congress folks did not sink their hooks into him until well after he paid his own dues, making the argument that while Iglesias was groomed by the GOP bigwigs, he wasn't incubated by them.
How about some more on the political chess game this scandal has put into play? You would need Bobby Fisher to figure it all out, but I pulled up a chair anyway with New York Sun reporter Ryan Sanger to figure out whose kings are under attack and whether escape is still possible. One name we did not mention who may want to play is that of former U.S. attorney John Kelly who was pushed into political oblivion when he lost to Heather in 2000. But he came back for a visit Sunday in the pages of the ABQ Journal. Is Kelly's Irish up enough to try to corner the Queen again? He joins a long list of possibles.
THE ODD COUPLE
Did we forget Steve Pearce? You know him; the guy who is supposed to stand as much of a chance of replacing Pete in the U.S. Senate as Phil Griego does of stopping a cockfight. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the future. The southern NM GOP congressman popped up with none other than Big Bill over the weekend, touring the ABQ veterans hospital and promising to ease the pain of those who fought for their country. Wasn't that Heather who also toured the hospital a couple of days earlier all by her lonesome? Just who is the front runner now for the GOP Senate nomination for Pete's seat? (If it becomes available, of course.)
Now, we're not saying Bill and Steve are knocking back shots together at The Bull Ring, but this is the second time the duo has been seen hamming it up for the statewide TV cameras, the first being earlier this year when they pledged to work together to fight the meth epidemic. What better way for an ultra-conservative Republican to soften his image than appearing with his centrist Governor in a bi-partisan lovefest? Hey, we're not going to hold it against them. After the news of late, we're glad to see a couple of fellas in politics actually having some fun.
MY BOTTOM LINES
Because you made it all the way down here, you deserve a juicy tidbit. Adam Feldman of Kentucky will be named the new executive director of the NM GOP, replacing Marta Kramer who recently left. What a time to come aboard!
Want in on the action? Drop an email from the link at the top of the page. Desea el politica vivo del la!
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
Not for reproduction without permission of the author