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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Game On: Judge Paves Way For Recall Election Of ABQ Councilor; Rest of Council On Hot Seat On Setting The Date, Plus: Judge Problems In Foley Case 

Don Harris
There wasn't a need for the judge to say much, so he didn't. In his legal opinion, shared by most political observers, the ABQ City Charter was clear--organizers of a recall election targeting NE Heights City Councilor Don Harris had submitted the proper number of petition signatures to launch the recall and there was no need to get more. With that late afternoon ruling from Bernalillo County District Court Judge William Lang the game was on--ABQ will have its first recall election since 1989. Immediately, Harris foes moved to put heat on the city council to schedule the recall for the regular October 2nd city election when four councilors, bond issues and city charter amendments will be on the ballot. But the timing of the recall election could get interesting.

According to the pro-recall forces, the city council must call the election by October 18th. If the council calls a stand alone recall election for residents of District Nine, the reall advocates say it would waste up to $100,000 of taxpayer money. But politicos say Harris could push for a special election because turnout would be lower than at the regular election. They say a lower turn-out special election would make it harder for recall supporters to get the magic 2,401 votes they will need to boot Harris out of office and have Mayor Chavez appoint a replacement.

Harris, an attorney who sought a district court judgeship before winning his council seat, has been voting with a bloc of five other councilors to provide the six votes to override some mayoral vetoes and otherwise put the needle in the 11th floor. That bloc would like to keep Harris around, but will they risk voter outrage and maybe their future wrath if they throw a break to Harris and go for an expensive special election? Recall organizers fired a warning shot that will be of interest to the councilors, especially those mulling over 2009 mayoral runs.

"Prompt action by the City Council to place Mr. Harris’ possible recall item on the regular election ballot in October will avoid the cost to taxpayers of more than $100,000 required for a special election." Said the "New Mexicans for Democracy" group opposing Harris.

ANALYSIS AND CONTEXT

If councilors go for an election date other than October 2nd, they will be giving Mayor Chavez a big opening as he will argue, with likely success, that the council is playing politics and wasting tax money to boot. Harris could throw in the towel and decide to ask fellow councilors to set the election for October 2nd, perhaps upping his chances at losing the recall, but nipping in the bud an issue that could blossom into yet another reason to kick him out of the council seat he won in a 2005 special election over GOP incumbent Tina Cummins. Last night, citing that '05 victory, Harris told TV news: “I have nothing to fear" and is prepared to fight.

Harris has had three ethics complaints filed against him. Two of them have been sent to the Ethics Board for investigation. The complaints relate to Harris' reporting of some $30,000-$50,000 of campaign contributions and whether they were spent for his personal use. Ironically, much of the money in question was raised for Harris at a fundraiser sponsored by Mayor Chavez back when the two were political allies. That now seems like a long time ago.

More info on the Web--The Keep Don Harris site and the RecallHarris.org site.

THE FOLEY FOLLIES (CONT.)
Rep. Foley
The Foley follies in Chaves county continue, with the possibility arising that the State House Minority Whip will have his trial on disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges heard by a non-Chaves county judge. The Roswell Record has the details on the legal machinations, all of which is bad news for the hot tempered Republican. Foley said the charges came about because he lost his cool over the way his son was being treated at a basketball game, but now observers statewide are eying the judicial process in Chaves county for signs of political favoritism from the bench. It woudn't take much stepping out of bounds for the Judicial Standards Commission to get a wake-up call. With the scopes trained on them, bringing in a judge from another jurisdiction would seem the wise course for those presiding over jurisprudence in rough and tumble Chaves county. We'll soon have more on this ongoing story.

WINTER'S HOT SUMMER

Back on the ABQ beat, the back and forth continues in that surprisingly active campaign for the District Four City Council seat as incumbent Republican Brad Winter continues to fire cannonballs at foe Paulette de'Pascal. But his latest shot fell short. He circulated an email from a de'Pascal backer he claimed was evidence that city transit director and longtime politico Greg Payne was abusing his position by working for de'Pascal on city time. But Winter produced no solid proof, and the story died a natural death on the newspaper and television newsroom floors. Now comes a de'Pascal supporter returning fire, questioning Winter's recently stated public interest in becoming the new superintendent of the Albuquerque Public Schools. "Does Winter plan on resigning his council seat if he gets the APS job, and which job does he really want--Super or Councilor?" emails a de'Pascal backer.

Most neutral observers we asked pegged Winter a very likely re-elect winner at the start of his campaign, leaving them wondering just why he is turning up so much heat on his unknown foe and creating a contest where there might not have been one, or one that Winter should have kept on ice until September. But we don't mind--Brad and Paulette are providing relief for the summer doldrums, if not doing much to break real news.

THE RINGER

We chuckled when one of the entries to this week's free lunch blog contest came from ABQ Dem State Rep. Al Park. Fat chance we would be buying him lunch for guessing who the candidates were in the 1982 northern congressional Dem primary. After all, Park has parked well over 100 grand in his election account. The contest is for "The People."

Now we learn that Park is the son-in-law of Geroge Perez, one of the four candidates in that long-ago primary. As one emailer noted: "He better have got the quiz right or it would be a week on the couch." Park did not bother telling us he was married to George's daughter, Jesscia, (an attorney like husband Al) when he entered the contest, so we still say send him to the couch. Or as an alternative, how about bringing in House Speaker Ben Lujan, who Al and others tried without success to oust in a palace coup last year, and let him render judgment on our contest ringer. That couch might look pretty good compared to Ben's judgment.

This is the home of New Mexico politics--www.joemonahan.com--where the races are framed. Email your latest news, comments, analysis, gossip, and enchilada recipes from the link at the top of the page.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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