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Monday, March 05, 2007

Pete's Apology: Enough To Call Off The Dogs? What About Heather's Stonewall? Iglesias Prepares Testimony; Preparing A Race Too? And What About Manny? 

Sen. Domenici
That apology by NM GOP U.S. Senator Pete Domenici was like a fig leaf that covered the most vital parts, but left plenty of skin exposed for Democratic marksmen if they choose to continue the hunt. But Domenici has acted and that's a start. Still twisting slowly in the wind is ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson who continued to stonewall reporters Friday, but will soon face the pickaxes of the majority U.S. House Democrats who will begin chipping away at both that wall and Wilson. (Iglesias is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday at 8 a.m. NM time and before a House subcommitee at noon NM time.)

The Pete apology, unprecedented in his 34 year senate career, came Sunday as former Republican U.S. Attorney David Iglesias prepared to tell the nation Tuesday that the senator and ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson pressured him in two separate October phone calls to speed up indictments in the corruption investigation of the construction of the ABQ Metro Court building and other projects; an investigation targeting former state Democratic powerhouse Manny Aragon.

Domenici's apology (his complete statement here) followed advice offered to him on your Friday blog by a senior Democratic Alligator who speculated that such an apology could call off the dogs starting to bark for an ethics probe of Domenici. He admitted to making the call and inquiring about the probe, but maintained he applied no unethical pressure on the prosecutor to come with indictments.

"The worst case scenario for Pete is senate Democrats trying to convince him to retire or face an ethics probe. If they choose not to do that, then they will be content to let Pete go and focus their wrath on Wilson who is much more vulnerable anyway. There is a big reservoir of goodwill for the senator. He has drawn down the water here, but it may be enough to get him off the hook," offered our seasoned source who first floated the apology option.

Can it be said that Domenici, 74, cut and ran when it came to Heather? They are really in separate boats as Iglesias is saying they made separate pressure-filled phone calls to him just weeks prior to Heather's re-election which nearly ended with her defeat. How could Pete have helped her? By stonewalling with her and going down for the count? Loyalty is one thing; suicide is another. One question that could be pursued is whether Domenici and Wilson communicated with each other before placing any calls to Iglesias. Meanwhile, there are already reports that a citizens group is ready to file an ethics complaint against Wilson and Domenici if Iglesias names them Tuesday.

ET TU, HEATHER?
Rep. Wilson
With Domenici out of the closet on his phone call, will we be hearing something similar from Heather? And what will Iglesias now tell Congress about those calls? He told the Washington Post he "accepted" Domenici's apology, even though it was not offered specifically to him. Will his Tuesday testimony before a House subcommittee soften Pete's involvement and harden Wilson's? After all, it was Wilson, not Domenici, seeking re-election and who would have directly benefited from courthouse indictments. That will make it all the more plausible to her congressional foes that she used a heavy hand that could be the basis for an ethics investigation, and Democrats hope, the end of her congressional tenure.

CONGRESSMAN IGLESIAS?

There was a political story line gaining traction over the weekend regarding any political ambitions of Iglesias who is not, as we blogged last week, a native of Gallup, NM, but of Panama who was raised in Gallup. We quoted the jokers last week who ribbed that perhaps he might switch from R to D and run for Wilson's seat in '08. Lo and behold, the Alligators started surfacing to tell of Iglesias actually making feelers on that front or, depending on who was doing the talking, the Dems making overtures to him.

With the state Democratic party doing such a poor job in recruiting for the congressional seats, the Iglesias speculation took on an air of believability as incredulous as it may seem on the surface. How badly Heather is damaged will determine the number of potential candidates.

WHAT ABOUT MANNY?
Aragon
And what about Manny Aragon? Once again the former state senate leader finds himself smack dab in the middle of La Politica. He is widely reported to be the target in the alleged courthouse caper. The legal beagles say Manny's lawyers have been given a gift horse and can and should argue that any indictments would be grounded in politics not the law.

There was also the race card in play, with some ABQ South Valley operatives noting that if it is finally determined that Wilson made a phone call that crossed the line it would not help her cause in some heavily Hispanic wards that still have warm feelings toward Manny. But what about Pete? "He is not the one they will be after," explained one operative who recounted how Heather tanked in the Valley last November, winning her seat by a district wide total of less than 900 votes. Domenici's seat in '08 is not yet in play by a first-tier Democrat.

Unless Wilson makes a move, we all await Tuesday and I-Day--Iglesias Day--to see if he delivers more surprises and also to assess the mood of the majority subcommittee Democrats. You don't have to be psychic to sense that we could be closer to the beginning than the end.

JOLLY STEVE PEARCE


If you're keeping score--and who isn't?--GOP southern NM Congressman Steve Pearce was the winner of the PR derby in one of the most memorable weeks in state delegation history.

While two of the three R's in the delegation were consumed with Iglesias, Dems Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman were not scoring any points either as the latest blow to Los Alamos Labs had them looking a bit off their game.

We noted Pearce's quick statement last week denying any contact with Iglesias which kept the focus squarely on Wilson and Domenici. On Friday the conservative lawmaker struck a note of odd jocularity. He offered commentary on the brewing scandal and its entertainment value, comparing it with the Anna Nicole Smith saga. What was more striking was Pearce not offering any strong remarks in defense of his two colleagues, but then there could be a U.S. senate seat up for grabs someday soon and someone is going to have to get the Republican nomination.

Pearce has always been the media stepchild among the three GOP NM reps, but with Wilson looking very much like damaged goods and Pete disheveled as well, Pearce's stock, unlike those in the Dow Jones industrial average, was definitely on the rise last week.

THE BOTTOM LINES

ABQ Journal columnist Jim Belshaw felt this fouled-up pic from the New York Times was too good to pass up and he passed it on to us. The headline writer will definitely be put on probation for this one. The Repubs are probably saying not so fast, that's what it really looks like...We haven't intentionally neglected the 2007 NM Legislature; it's just that the compelling political stories have been elsewhere as capitol reporter Walt Rubel notes: " With apologies to NASCAR fans, covering the New Mexico Legislature is a little like watching a stock car race. For those who aren't big fans of the sport— it's pretty dull until there's a crash. And, there haven't been many yet this session — a little rubbing is all." Writes Rubel.

We still have two weeks for some pile-ups, so stay tuned.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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