Monday, July 16, 2007

The Unheard Of Is Heard: Foe From The Right Flirts With Domenici Primary Challenge; My Exclusive Coverage, Plus: A Bad Apple For Council Candidate? 

As I gently swayed in the hammock nursing an iced tea and using a well-worn edition of "The Great Gatsby" to swat away flies trying to make a home on my nose, I plotted a summer getaway. I had the "Gone Fishing" sign ready to post on yer little ol' blog and even cashed in a CD to top off the Honda's gas tank. We were outta here--in just one more day! But I got queasy when the iPhone kept vibrating. Suffice it to say, Dog Days of Summer or not, the blogging Gods pulled the plug on the getaway, providing a reason we couldn't dream up even if we had dosed that iced tea with Drambuie. That reason is one Spiro G. Vassilopoulos, a Republican considering running against NM GOP US Senator Pete Domenici in the 2008 primary. Got your attention?

No, it's not heat stroke. You heard right. This 54 year old political unknown is the latest in a long line of woes for the state's senior senator in this summer of his discontent. But things like that happen when you are forced to hire a criminal defense attorney as a result of a US attorney scandal; when you plummet to 51% approval in a poll; when you have to split with the President on the no-end in sight-war and when you back an immigration bill that enrages your GOP base as much as your Iraq switch.

Saint Pete probably thought the last Spiro he would ever know was Agnew. Surely he doesn't need another. Just the talk that this guy is weighing a long-shot primary challenge is damaging enough. "I will neither confirm or deny" was the response I received from Spiro V. when I put the question of a Pete challenge directly to him. The retired petroleum geologist, speaking from his ABQ South Valley home, described himself as "weighing his options."


Our Alligators add scripting to this latest political drama to envelop Domenici. They point out that Spiro V. spoke recently to a regular Republican breakfast and on Tuesday is slated to talk to an ABQ Republican volunteer lunch. Besides the meat and potatoes, those R volunteers can have a plateful of searing criticism of Domenici. Here's what we heard on Pete's Iraq switch from the oil and gas man born of a construction company father in Cairo and who in the 70's became a naturalized American.

"...It was pure poison for our guys in Iraq...because what Domenici said right here in Albuquerque was carefully listened to at the foreign ministry in Tehran. I spent 12 years in Iran...I understand the Iranian mindset...so what Senator Domenici said was totally inappropriate. This only emboldens them...Don't you think (Iranian President) Ahmadinejad and his goons are listening very carefully? Of course, they are. The price is going to be more blood in Iraq," slammed Spiro in what could be a major theme if he pursues a primary challenge.

While unwavering in his support of Bush, Vassilopoulos was not on board when the war started, saying he does not believe in "unprovoked wars" but "the chief executive" must now be supported. Spiro's foreign policy views are informed by his residency in Iran from ages 12 to 17. He then moved to Ohio where he graduated from college and later to NM because it reminded him of "where he grew up."

Did he mean our weather and desert reminded him of Iran or the New Mexican political system? Some days it could be either.

Spiro's other beef with the 75 year old Pete is on that immigration bill. While Pete sided with the Prez on the controversial measure that was rejected, Spiro was right at home on the right which flexed its muscle, giving the Senate an earful, forcing Pete to back off and further dividing the R's.

This whispered challenge to the right of Domenici, who is seeking an unprecedented seventh six year term, would be the first in memory. (Has there ever been one?) But it will take more than a few tongue lashings to give it ballast. Spiro V. made his green stuff drilling for the black stuff--oil. But he tells me he wants to find financial support among the Republican pooh-bahs he's consulting. Fat chance. If he is going to run, he probably can count on support only from some grassroots R's out of Domenici's line of fire. Crossing Saint Pete can mean a costly penance.

If Spiro dives in, another challenge awaits--getting on the June 08' primary ballot. He would need 20% of the delegates to the spring pre-primary convention to back him, and while that may not seem like a lot--probably amounting to 70 votes or so--it would be a political accomplishment of Herculean proportion. There's another problem. If you don't get the 20%, you can't circulate petitions to get on the ballot. In a little noticed move, the Legislature this year did away with the petition option, leaving candidates even more at the mercy of party regulars.

Vassilopoulos says he has been a resident of NM on and off since 1980, but more so in the past two years. He has only recently started voting here and is already feeling pressure not to get in the race. "I spoke with a prominent Republican who told me to forget it with a capital F." He said. But, he added, "I have always been a long-odds player."

Is this all a Midsummer Night's Dream? We'll see soon enough. Spiro will make a final decision at months end, but the mere fact that a Republican without any mental health problems and a healthy bank balance would publicly contemplate such a move against Domenici tells us all we need to know about the unsettled temper of our times.

If you're an ABQ city council candidate and you use the new taxpayer-funded campaign system, just what can you spend that money on for the October election? Councilor Brad Winter's campaign is raising a red flag over the purchase of a a nearly $3,000 Apple computer by his District Four rival, Paulette de'Pascal, saying it amounts to a personal purchase because she would get to keep the computer after the campaign. Similar concerns were raised last year when State Land Commissioner Lyons bought a new $30,000 truck with his campaign funds. (All city candidate finance reports are here.)

Candidate de'Pascal says she was "specifically directed" by a city attorney that her purchase was allowed. She forwarded the regulation backing her decision. However, she also tells us she has had "second thoughts" and is voiding the purchase and instead will lease the expensive computer, not buy it, so the campaign can discuss issues that "really matter."


Santa Fe Mayor David Coss has been scorched here and elsewhere over his city's persistent crime wave and his seeming reluctance to confront the crisis and provide the leadership the nation's oldest capital city cries out for. The mayor appears to be listening now, giving the critics what they wanted to hear in his recent State of the City" address.

"I am going to take a proposal to the Council to double the recruitment budget without taking away from the needs of the police department...One of the biggest obstacles to attracting officers and keeping them in our community is the cost of housing. We are currently exploring homeownership and rental assistance opportunities as incentives for officers to live and work here. We will get 10 officers into houses in the next year."

If admitting the problem is the first step in solving it, the Coss speech could be that step. Stay tuned.

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