Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Final Frontier For Spaceport: Tax Vote Today, Plus: Courthouse Caper: Manny's Mood; Guv Returns Tainted Campaign Cash, And: Even More NM Politics 

Today's tax vote on the Spaceport is not as big a gamble for Big Bill as the one he took back in September 2003, but if Dona Ana county voters today were to nix a quarter cent increase in the gross receipts tax to help finance the Spaceport, it would be a blow to his political standing here and on the Prez trail. That's not expected to happen for the same reason the Guv won ((by just 195 votes) that '03 constitutional amendment vote to increase education spending from the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund. Like then, many Republicans support this tax.

The R's have the reputation of never liking a tax they meet, but they split in '03 when Senator Domenici supported Bill's tax and then-GOP Chairwoman Ramsay Gorham opposed. This time, the Dona Ana county GOP chairman is supportive of the Spaceport tax as is Dona Ana GOP County Commissioner Kent Evans. Opposition has been left to conservatives and populists not in the public arena and who lack the funding to run an aggressive campaign. The Guv's backers have the help of a professional consulting firm--Santa Fe's Victory Group.

A low turnout of 10 to 15% of the electorate is expected (perhaps 12,000 votes). Less than five percent of the 97,000 registered voted early. If Governor Richardson carries the day, the news will be greeted with a yawn. But if there's a fluke and the tax goes down, the gubernatorial standing would shrink. The polls close at 7 p.m. Results will be here after 7 p.m. tonight.


Where is the lion of yore? So ask the political Alligators about former state Senate Democratic powerhouse Manny Aragon who has been mum since he was indicted last week on corruption charges in the Metro Courthouse scandal. A political associate of Manny's checks in here with the news that he has not heard from Aragon and he isn't aware of anyone who has.

"I heard Manny was at his personal cabin in Chama. I know his family is concerned for his health because of the stress of this. Manny is no longer in public life, and I don't think he feels a need to make a statement. It may be something he wants to handle on the personal level," said the Aragon insider.

Manny's foes, of course, see the silence as a sign that the lion is wounded and unable to defend himself. But he will have many defenders, including his lawyer, 62 year old David Cunningham of Santa Fe. I've asked several attorneys about Cunningham, but most had not heard much about him. He is from New York, but has practiced in NM since 1983. Perhaps the legal beagles can email us and tell us more about him and what kind of style we might see as he aides Aragon.


Blog reader Alan Schwartz is worried that NM Attorney General Gary King's decision to "cooperate" with the feds on the Manny case could mean this:"

"My concern would be that Gary's "cooperation" turns out to be immunity from state prosecution...Manny could cut a deal in exchange for testimony on kickbacks on other projects (assuming that actually happened). Manny then takes the role of former NM Treasurer Michael Montoya and some minor player gets thrown under the bus a la Vigil." Worries Schwartz.

AG King has not granted anyone state immunity and is trying to avoid what some analysts called the mistake of former AG Madrid who indicted key witnesses in the Treasurer scandal on state charges which they say fouled up Vigil's federal trial. Vigil was eventually found guilty on one corruption count and has been sentenced to over three years in prison. Montoya negotiated a plea bargain and has yet to be sentenced.

Also on the legal beat, I was a step behind on who ABQ criminal defense attorney Randi McGinn is representing in the courthouse deal. I blogged Monday that it was unknown, but the ABQ Journal reported back in November that she is representing former District Court Judge John Brennan. She says Brennan is not a target of the federal investigation, but has been interviewed by authorities.

The Feds are leaking to the media that more indictments may come in the investigation into the construction of the Metro Court, the ABQ District Court and the Metro Jail. Brennan, you'll recall, resigned from the bench when he was busted for cocaine possession and drunk driving.

One thing is for sure. If you are a criminal defense lawyer in the ABQ area with a half-decent reputation, you should have a client in the courthouse caper. The rumor mill still has a gaggle of politicos and lobbyists "lawyered up' and waiting for the other shoe to drop.


Big Bill's no-holds-barred fund-raising for his '06 Guv re-elect (he raised an astounding $13 million in a state with less than two million people) has him donating money to charity from key figures in the Metro Courthouse scandal, some $35,000. Ironically, the Guv has been one of the most vocal advocates for ethics reform, but how many times has he had to give up tainted money? Quite a few. Probably no impact on his Prez campaign, but it is not going to hasten the Legislature to change ethics laws when they see the Guv repeatedly caught in the trap that no-limit, no-questions-asked fund-raising sets.


Want better ethics in New Mexico politics? Strengthen the two party system here. The Republicans have been flat on their backs, stricken with factional infighting and a party that became the playground for lobbyists and political operatives who have failed to move the GOP in a moderate direction to attract Hispanics and conservative Dems. That's why we've reported on it since we started this blog back in '03. A strong, moderate Republican party, unblemished by self-dealing, will mean more parity with the Democrats which will make politicos on both sides of the aisle mindful of watching their p's and q's because they will have potential competition.

Ethics in politicians is is a lot like capitalism; if it's in their self interest, politicians will be more ethical which in turn will benefit the community at large.

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