Tuesday, July 31, 2007

News Overload! ABQ Recall Moves, Pete Talks Ethics Probe, House Opens Heather Ethics Probe, Plus: Cheney To ABQ, And: Dem Finalist Disputes Report 

The delicate political question of when to schedule the recall election of ABQ City Councilor Don Harris was the subject of chatter coming out of city hall Monday. One idea said to be floating was to have a mail-in election, with no in-person voting for the recall. Some argued the City Charter states that a recall is a "special election" and can't be scheduled in tandem with the regular city election set for October 2nd. Council President Debbie O'Malley told me she will not be supporting the mail-in option and believes the recall election should be held at the same time as the regular city election--October 2nd.

Backers of the Harris recall argue it should be held October 2nd because it is convenient to all voters and would spare the city the expense of conducting a separate election. Politically, a recall held the same day of the regular city election would benefit their cause, observers say, because the higher the turnout the more likely the recall would reach the required number of votes necessary to oust Harris.

The mail-in election for voters in Harris' far NE Heights district should cost about $25,000, according to some city officials, but the recall backers say it would cost more. A stand-alone in-person election on the recall question has apparently been ruled out. That would cost $100,000 and it would have been the best political option for Harris as it would have attracted the fewest number of voters.


How would a mail-in election play politically? ABQ's prior experience shows they attract many more voters than in-person elections, with as many as 40% of voters sending back absentee ballots. While they recall supporters may be concerned about the cost of the mail-in, it could actually aid their campaign against the first term Republican lawmaker.

Mayor Chavez, citing fiscal reasons, is calling for the recall to be held at the regularly scheduled city election October 2nd.

It is an open secret that Chavez is not supportive of Harris who has sometimes joined with five other councilors to form a block against Chavez on the nine member body. If Harris becomes the first councilor to ever be recalled, the mayor, according to the City Charter, would get to appoint his replacement.

With the council set to meet August 6th and expected to shy away from a special in-person recall election, Harris, who faces a variety of ethics related charges, has longer odds in his fight for survival. As much as his colleagues may like to help him, spending $100,000 to give him a better chance at victory in a stand-alone special election would inflict political damage on the councilors voting in favor.


The Alligators checked in here late Monday night with official confirmation that Vice-President Dick Cheney heads to ABQ Monday to keynote the national Marine Corps League meeting in convention at the Marriott Hotel. No word on whether the VP will engage in any politicking or fund-raising while here which have been popular pastimes for him on earlier NM visits. Cheney's boss (does he have one?) also known as President of the USA, will also be in ABQ soon. Bush has a late August fundraiser set with Senator Pete Domenici.


The US attorney scandal has burst anew into the headlines and that has renewed the guessing game over whether the US Senate Ethics Committee will launch a full-scale probe into the affair and the role of NM GOP Senator Pete Domenici. The issue was on the mind of the state's senior senator on a recent visit to Farmington where he made rare, specific comments about the scandal to the Farmington Daily Times.

"I've been advised, and I think it's right...not to talk about my side of the story," he said, until the Senate Ethics Committee decides whether to take up the issue. If three of the six committee members vote to consider it, they will conduct a hearing in closed session. If not, "all that stuff that we've heard, that's gone, done."

The committee is equally divided between three R's and three D's. One of the Democrats is Colorado Senator Ken Salazar. Domenici recently signed up in support of Salazar's Iraq war legislation which doesn't set a deadline for troop withdrawal, but aims to create conditions that could allow for a drawdown of forces by March 2008.

A full-blown ethics committee probe coming before Domenici's 2008 re-elect bid is a hovering dark cloud, even though R's express confidence that he would have no trouble dispatching any of the three Dem candidates announced against him.

If the ethics committee conducted hearings and they were closed, as Domenici said they would be, it would spare him the embarrassment and video footage of testifying in public before the TV cameras.

Former New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias said Domenici pressured him to bring a corruption case against Democrats before the November 2006 elections. Whether the Senate Ethics Committee will expand what it is calling a "preliminary" probe into the real deal is one of the major questions surrounding Pete's quest for a seventh term.

As it approached Midnight Tuesday the Gators were working me hard with breaking news. (This is one long blog) One of them dropped the semi-stunner that fired GOP US Attorney David Iglesias has been scheduled to appear before a closed-door session of the House ethics committee on Wednesday to talk about the phone call he said Wilson made last year, allegedly to pressure him to speed up indictments in the courthouse scandal case. The Web site "Truthout" reports the House committee has opened a "preliminary" investigation of Wilson.

"David Iglesias, the former US attorney for New Mexico who was fired last year along with eight other federal prosecutors, will testify Wednesday before the House Ethics Committee about a phone call he received from Representative Heather Wilson (R-New Mexico), who queried Iglesias about the status of public corruption cases he was pursuing in the state.

In a brief interview Monday, Iglesias said he will testify in a closed-door session of the Ethics Committee about the call he received from Wilson last October. The committee has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that Wilson violated House ethics rules by calling Iglesias to find out about corruption cases involving Democrats weeks before last year's midterm elections. Wilson faced a tough reelection campaign last fall.

It takes a formal complaint by a fellow House member for an ethics committee probe to begin. The article does not make mention of such a formal complaint being filed. Perhaps that's why it is being called a "preliminary" investigation. Still, it is major news and could have a big impact on Campaign '08. Further details as they break.


Dem Party executive director finalist Art Terrazas, Jr. says the sources who reported here Monday that Terrazas headed up a Democrats for Pearce group in 2006 have got it wrong. Terrazas says he had nothing to do with any group supporting Steve Pearce, southern NM's Republican congressman.

"I take exception to the unfounded allegation that I was heading up a Democrats for Pearce group in 2006. This statement is completely false. I was never part of such an organization. From February 2006 to March 2007, I was living in Albuquerque and serving as the local Director of Communities United, a non-partisan non-profit organization...and did not, take part in any partisan activities...If Pearce had recruited a former member of the Democratic State Executive Committee why wasn’t this more public?” Terrazas declared.

The sources linking Terrazas, 27, to Pearce were well-known Democrats. I asked Terrazas if the sources had mistaken his personal support for Pearce for a group effort. He replied that he did not support Pearce's re-election personally or in a group effort. He added that he has had an official relationship with Pearce's office as an employee of the Anthony-Berino Economic Development Corporation. "We apply for funding from the federal government, and as a result I have had contact with his office." He explained.

Terrazas is one of a handful of finalists for the Dem ED position which is expected to be filled by party chair Brian Colón sometime in August.


What has been the most significant positive social development in New Mexico in the past thirty years? If pressed, we would probably vote for the dramatic reduction in the number of folks without jobs. The state reports that New Mexico has hit an all time record low unemployment rate. In June the unemployment rate fell to 3.2 percent. The previous record of 3.5 percent was set in February 2007.

Ironically, the news comes just as Intel is laying off over 1,000 workers at its Rio Rancho facility, and as the US Congress takes up a budget that could shave the number of employees at Los Alamos labs where 9,000 permanent employees draw paychecks.

But many remember the long-standing double-digit unemployment rates of the 70's and 80s that persisted into the 90's. An unemployment rate of 15% in many counties was considered normal. Today there is no county in the state with double digit unemployment and the complaining is about how undocumented workers are needed to fill many jobs.

The state has a long way to go in creating high-paying jobs, but the unemployment story provides a ray of hope that New Mexico's bevy of other stubborn social ills can some day give way to progress.

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