Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Big Blog: Alford Says White Event "Falsely Advertised;" Fundraiser Fallout, Plus: Peeling Onion On ABQ Congress Poll, And: New Face For Guv Staff 

Alford and White
University of New Mexico head basketball coach Steve Alford was playing political hardball Wednesday as the controversy over his attendance at a fund-raiser for ABQ GOP congressional contender Darren White moved off this blog and into the outside media. "I wouldn't know Darren White if he walked in front of me. It got falsely advertised. I was just stopping by," declared the celebrity coach.

It doesn't look like Coach Steve will be posing for those thousand dollar photos with partygoers after all, does it? Whether Alford will be there in any role remains under discussion.

It was those photos, promoted on the White fund-raising invitation, that fueled the fury that now has UNM Vice-President for Athletics Paul Krebs again repeating that Alford is not endorsing White and that there will be guidelines to avert a future donnybrook.

"I would strongly advocate we not publicly endorse political figures, because I think it jeopardizes our program and it compromises our fan base," Krebs told the ABQ Journal.

The newspaper July 4th carried a brief note of the July 16th White fundraiser dubbed "An Evening With Coach Alford," but it was this past Tuesday's blog quoting a Senior Alligator outraged that the coach would raise money by having his picture taken with partygoers that was used to heat the airwaves of talk radio giant 770 KKOB-AM and KOB-TV and advance the story.

Sheriff White told TV veteran Stuart Dyson that the criticism of the event was politically motivated. He cited fund-raisers Alford previously attended for Big Bill and Dem congressional candidate Harry Teague. White had a point, but it appeared Alford had hob knobbed at those events, not had his picture sold for a $1,000 a pop. That was brand new territory, according to the dean of ABQ sportswriters.

"It is unprecedented in my 30 years of covering the Lobos," said Rick Wright from the Journal newsroom, where political writer Jeff Jones and sports maven Mark Smith were putting together their story. Wright promised comment in his Friday column.

The White party was arranged by UNM lobbyist and former GOP State Rep. Joe Thompson. He e-mailed Alford to get confirmation for his attendance, which he got, but the exchange of e-mails appeared to leave open whether Thompson had fully informed Alford on what he was to do at the event.


This latest saga of La Politica is really not about Sheriff White and partisan politics. It is about the political judgement of the University of New Mexico. It is also about UNM employees--especially celebrity employees like Alford--using their state bestowed titles to raise money for political candidates. Vice-President Krebs and Alford played with fire and got burned. The flames were fanned by the Board of Regents. Two regents were co-hosting the White event. Veteran politico Jamie Koch is president of the board. He's now proposing that regents not be allowed to organize political fundraisers headlined by a UNM employee.

Krebs and Koch ought not to take baby steps in drafting guidelines for their respective purviews. What kind of coaches are they going to get if the job includes being a political pawn and a party ornament? Political involvement like that also risks making enemies as well as friends. That can negatively impact funding for UNM in Santa Fe and Washington. New Mexico institutions are already drenched in politics. The UNM sports program ought to be a dry zone.


You've got to constantly peel the onion in this political game and we were reminded of that once again when ABQ Dem congressional hopeful Martin Heinrich hit the streets with a poll that showed him beating Republican Darren White 47% to 44%. That's a real eyebrow raiser and contrary to the conventional wisdom that Sheriff White, with about 90% name ID, holds the lead at the start of this race. It turns out he probably does.

The key to the June 29-July 2 Heinrich poll is the phrasing of the question:

"Thinking about the election for U.S. Congress in November, if the election for U.S. Congress were held today and the candidates were Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Darren White -- for whom would you vote, Democrat Martin Heinrich or Republican Darren White?"

Most polls do not include the candidate's political party. In this case, clearly identifying Heinrich as the Democrat and White as the R, likely boosted Heinrich's numbers. Ask the question without the party identifier and you are likely to get an entirely different result.

In fact, Republican insiders say White is right on the 50% mark and Heinrich is in the 30's in polling conducted in the same time frame as Heinrich's. That is similar to a poll the White campaign did last year. Have things stayed static in the ABQ race? There's reason to believe so. Heinrich's primary media buy--TV and mail--was relatively small and short in duration.

So just where does the race stand? White remains the clear frontrunner, but Heinrich's poll shows the potential for another close ABQ US House race.


So what gives with Big Bill Chief of Staff James Jimenez? The Alligators were certain he had turned in his walking papers. We headlined their "news" in a post Fourth of July blog. But the ABQ Journal, picking up on our report, is told by the Guv's office that Jimenez has indeed been approached with unspecified job offers, but as far as Jimenez leaving, a Guv's spokesman says: "I don't think there's anything imminent. He's still the chief of staff."

Did the Alligators jump out of the pond too soon on this one? Maybe, but it seems clear that Jimenez is casting about, especially as the presidential election draws closer. If Obama wins and Big Bill gets a job and leaves, Jimenez would not be working with new Guv Diane Denish.

By the way, the Journal reported that "despite Internet reports to the contrary" Jimenez was still around. Well, this blog is those "Internet reports." However, we won't be using that as our new domain name, despite the paper's encouragement.

The Gators also had Deputy Chief of Staff Brian Condit succeeding Jimenez when he did hit the exits. While any such move is on hold, word comes from Santa Fe that former ABQ Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Perlman, who recently resigned from the city, will become a deputy chief of staff for Big Bill. Michelle Welby, the Guv's health-policy adviser, is leaving and insiders say Perlman, among other things, will pick up responsibility in that area. Condit is deputy chief of staff for legislative and political affairs.

Perlman had enough of the ABQ hot seat, answering to the demanding Mayor Chavez, but where he's headed the temperature won't be going down much, especially with health-care in his portfolio. Read on....


Big Bill didn't waste any time bringing up the subject of a special legislative session when the rosy new state revenue projections were announced. Those numbers continue to show our little ol' state awash in the green stuff as a result of the black stuff--oil. Natural gas prices are bringing in even more money. Prices for both resources have been soaring for better than a year. And as for all the legislators and wall-leaners who think Bill will end up not calling a special to deal with health care, don't unpack your bags. From the Guv's office:

The state is projected to have $392 million in new money for the upcoming budget year. The Governor said the new money will be on the table when he calls the Legislature into a special session to address access to universal health coverage. "We can invest in health coverage in a fiscally responsible way. While cynics will no doubt complain about using revenue from oil and gas, I am confident..that New Mexico's economy is performing well and will allow us to expand health care coverage to all New Mexicans." Richardson said.

We seem to be headed for another showdown, with key legislators like Senate Finance Committee Chair John Arthur Smith telling the AP some of the surplus should be rebated to taxpayers to help them with the high cost of gas. And Smith adds more fuel to the fire by telling Bill that oil and gas money is too volatile an income source to use for a permanent health care fix.

Richardson previously said if he did not get a deal in a special, he would take what does get done to the regular 2009 sixty-day session. By lowering expectations for a special in either August or September, the cynics wonder whether the Guv is doing more grandstanding than governing. But Bill's backers relish his brinkmanship.

You mean all that talk of a possible health agreement between Bill and the Senate was just that? Seems so--at least so far. Stay tuned.

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