Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"It's The Phone Calls, Stupid": Dems Digest Email Super Tuesday; Can They Close The Circle On The Iglesias Calls? Details And Analysis Are Next 

Bush & Domenici
The Senior Alligator who told us that the U.S. attorney scandal was going to be like "Chinese water torture" had it right--only Tuesday it was more like a deluge. The story exploded with the Administration releasing to Congress emails that confirmed what most suspected; politics, not performance, played the crucial role in the dismissal of NM U.S. attorney David Iglesias and NM Senator Pete Domenici was up to his bocce balls in the scheming. If Democrats play it right, the emails could provide impetus to a just begun Senate ethics inquiry of Domenici as well as one that could begin in the U.S. House to examine the role of ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson in Iglesias's firing.

The emails more or less prove that Justice had at least misled Congress when it said the prosecutors were let go for performance reasons. Congressional headhunters will be after offenders at Justice and the White House. But what about Domenici and Wilson? I asked veteran Democratic political consultant Harry Pavlides for his best thinking on the matter.

"It's all about the phone calls they made to Iglesias in October and whether they asked him to speed up the indictments in the courthouse investigation. The emails could pave the way to show that those calls were unethical--that they were meant to interfere with he course of a federal investigation. But the Democrats are in danger of getting sidetracked. The public isn't concerned if Domenici called the President or Karl Rove; they are interested in whether there have been ethics violations. If they stray too much from that message, it will benefit Wilson and Domenici. You might say, "it's the phone calls stupid." weighed in Pavlides.

That courthouse investigation Pavlides referenced is said to involve prominent Democrats who, if indicted in October, could have given a big boost to Heather's re-election prospects. The indictments remain pending.

Other Gators agreed with Pavlides that while the emails reveal that Domenici even talked to President Bush about Iglesias, to deliver maximum political damage it all has to be linked back to those famous phone calls of Domenici and Wilson that Iglesias testified before Congress about and prove, Iglesias charges, that Domenici violated senate ethics rules.


The seemingly ubiquitous NM GOP lawyer-lobbyist and member of the U.S. postal service's board of governors, Mickey Barnett, made an appearance in email document dump. One shows him asking the White House in June '06 to set up a meeting with Justice so he could go after Iglesias. Barnett raised eyebrows recently when he revealed that FBI agents complained to him about Iglesias's performance.

Barnett was also a key player in that other recent NM Republican Movida. He, along with Domenici chief of staff Steve Bell, helped give birth to the Republican Guv candidacy of John Dendahl last year.

Barnett was excoriated by Republicans in 2004 when he fielded primary candidates against fellow R's in legislative races and was ousted by his party as GOP National Committeeman, but the Administration emails show Barnett and Bell continue to steer NM GOP politics as readers of this blog are well aware. Remember, we don't tell you how we would like it to be, we tell you how it is from the top political sources in NM and the USA.

As for Bell, the emails put his relish for political battle under the spotlight. After Iglesias was fired, the deputy White House counsel, William Kelley, wrote in a note that Bell was “happy as a clam.” Another e-mail said Domenici was “not even waiting for Iglesias’s body to cool” before getting his list of replacements to the White House. All this earned Pete another brutal editorial from the New York Times.


Even as the emails gave Washington Dems new ammo, Pavlides, in the game for over 35 years, as well as other Democrats, continued to lament their lot regarding Rep. Wilson, expressing upset that there is still no Dem candidate running against her, or even a first-tier contender waiting in the wings.

"You can't brand a candidate with a cold branding iron; you need to strike when the iron is hot. By not having a candidate they have already let things cool down; the need to get the fire going. Heather should be worried about an opponent; right now she can say or do what she wants to. Democrats can't depend on Washington. They have to do it here. " Pavlides argued.

In an interview with the Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call, your blogger was quoted as saying that the NM Dem party "was not doing its job" when it comes to the 1st Congressional district. Party executive director Matt Farrauto fired back in an email saying, "It is candidates that are missing that opportunity, although there are a lot of people chomping at the bit to run. But the missed opportunity is not an albatross that should be tied around the Democratic Party's neck. Apply your logic to the national level. The (national Democrats) could be said to have not done their job because there was no presidential candidate in 2005 to capitalize on the scandals and policy failures of the Bush Administration."

So declared Director Farrauto who works for outgoing party chairman John Wertheim who was handpicked for the position by Governor Richardson whose chief political aides are Dave Contarino and Amanda Cooper. Just in case you disgruntled Dems need some names to call.

After 38 years of failing to win the Democratic majority district, Matt's argument was falling on deaf Alligator ears as they pointed to Wilson's Tuesday morning appearance on KKOB-AM radio where she said her phone call to Iglesias was "entirely appropriate," again claiming that a constituent had contacted her expressing concern about the pace of the courthouse investigation and that's what prompted her call to Iglesias. There was no Democratic candidate around, however, to challenge her and ask the obvious questions.

--Who was that complaining constituent? Will you ask that they allow their name to be released and also show their initial correspondence that prompted your call? How is it appropriate to ask about a case whose disposition could have a dramatic impact on your re-election chances? And do not House ethics rules prohibit the kind of contact you initiated?

Heather could have all the right answers, but the Dems can't be sure until they have a credible contender to press her. Perhaps they are content to wait for a House investigation which may or may not happen.

Besides not having a prominent candidate able to respond to Wilson and weave themselves into the news narrative, the critics, who see a political party's role as developing and recruiting candidates, also pointed out that a hopeful in the arena today could be raising thousands of dollars in contributions from the liberal blogs and others reinvigorated about taking Wilson out after her narrow '06 victory.

Terry Brunner
In that Roll Call piece, Terry Brunner, state director for NM Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, said he is weighing a run for the Wilson seat. Here's a PDF of the article. Brunner told me Tuesday he received calls about the article, but he is not ready to commit. Lke the many other names being floated, he did not sound close to any decision.

Republicans are hoping the status quo will continue. One seasoned member of the party of the elephant took a shot at the Dems with this reasoning: "The Democrats can't get anybody to run against Heather because they can't find anyone in a position to challenge another candidate's ethics. They all have baggage and it would come tumbling out if they attacked her."

So what about Pete? He's up for a re-elect in '08 too. As we have blogged, the likely Dem game plan there is to wear the 74 year old down with investigations and more days like Tuesday that make him consider retirement. There are other scenarios as well which I will blog about soon.


Ask and you shall receive. In doing our profile of Robert Aragón and his candidacy for chairman of the Bernalillo county Dem party, we mentioned his opponent, Ana Canales, and reported we were unable to reach her. Today Ana emails in on her candidacy:

"I am a Hispanic woman originally from Texas...I decided to make New Mexico my home and have done so for the past 15 years. I am the executive assistant to Secretary Stuart Ashman in the Department of Cultural Affairs, was appointed by (Democratic) Chairman Wertheim to the Affirmative Action Committee and am serving as secretary of the Democratic Women of Bernalillo County. I was on Governor Richardson’s re-election campaign..In these three short years, I have been more visible than some people who have lived here all their lives...My goals for the party are...election protection, help the state House candidates and of course, fundraising. "

Thanks, Ana. By the way, Mel Aragón was Robert's uncle, not his grandfather as we initially blogged Tuesday.


How's this for a modern twist. Big Bill signs a bill very tough on smoking tobacco in public places on the same day the House approves a bill that allows the medical use of pot. Hey, who is going to enforce that smoking measure? Are bar customers going to call the cops on each other? in some New Mexico saloons, they may have to hire more cops to stop the fights, not the smoking.

As for the rest of the Legislature, it is breaking fast in the final days. The hard working trio of Steve, Walt, Heath and others have you covered. Rumor has it they are kept going by a big pot of spaghetti and meatballs that Steve Terrell continuously refreshes with strong seasonings that awaken the senses. Just don't put any medical marijuana in it, fellas. There's enough hallucinating at that Roundhouse already.


Let's talk politics Thursday morning at 9 a.m. on the state's largest radio station, 770 KKOB-AM, as I join morning host Bob Clark for context, analysis and perspective on all things La Politica.

Email your news tips and comments to the link at the top of the page. I'm Joe Monahan inviting you to join me again soon.

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