Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Big Bill Jitters: "Pay To Play" Grand Jury Probe Goes National; Is Cabinet Post Safe? Plus: More Light Guv Debate on Your Tuesday Blog
Diane Denish had to stop measuring the curtains for the Governor's Office Monday. Along with the rest of the political community, she did so to take in a lengthy missive from Bloomberg News that detailed a federal grand jury investigation into whether Big Bill's administration has engaged in "pay to play" with a Beverly Hills bond firm. The WaPo followed up. Not that Di and the rest of the state hadn't known about the probe. The ABQ Journal front-paged the news in August and hit it again in October. Here on the blog, we passed along word from the insiders that close aides to Bill have "lawyered up" as they face questions about the bond deal. But when the news was posted on the front page of the well-read Drudge report and quickly went national, politicos paused to assess its impact on Bill's nomination as Obama's commerce secretary.
Not that Di's drapes need to be put in storage. The betting line is that Bill makes it through Senate confirmation hearings relatively unscathed, but the R's now have reason to cause some unpleasantness. And betting lines are made to be changed. It's assumed that the Obama team looked at what the feds are looking at and believed it would not stop Bill from getting in the cabinet. But, as the kids say, that was then and this is now.
What is happening now and since Obama and company reviewed Bill's past and present is the scandal involving the Illinois governor and his alleged efforts to do some pay to play by selling an appointment to the US Senate. If Big Bill runs into trouble in D.C., how determined would Obama be to defend him? Politics is the mood of the moment. What may have looked innocuous two months ago can in an instant look nefarious. Does Richardson get out in front of this story? He's not talking now. But if the heat gets turned up, he may have to do some preemptive footwork. One of our Alligators had some short and sweet advice to our state's #1: "Get those confirmation hearings expedited!"
We noticed that Sen. Jay Rockefeller was named the new chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee Monday. That's the one that will conduct Bill's hearings. Anyone with a number for Rocky, please call the Fourth Floor in Santa Fe. Meantime, our assumed-to-be-soon-to-be governor can keep measuring the office drapes as long as she has an ear turned to the latest news.
The Alligators have long been wondering when northern NM Congressman-elect Ben Ray Lujan would come with his chief of staff pick. Even before he was elected, they pondered if he would resist the temptation of hiring someone locally who might be well-versed in state politics, but not in the ways of D.C. He resisted and has named Angela Ramirez staff chief. She will leave her post as executive director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. There was reliable insider scuttlebutt that the son of Butch Maki, NM lobbyist and major Friend of Big Bill, made a play for the slot.
A Hispanic female as a staff chief to a member of the NM delegation is unusual, but not unprecedented. ABQ GOP Congressman Manuel Lujan had Lucy Salazar in that position for a time. Ramirez, a 1997 Princeton political economy graduate, is a native of Sacramento who previously worked as a legislative assistant to a New York congressman.
Ramirez's experience with the Hispanic Caucus could help Lujan establish some standing on the Hill where freshmen must patiently wait to accumulate influence. Since Hispanics are one of the fastest growing voting blocs, Democrats could use an example like Lujan to court those voters and that in turn might give him more stroke in his early years on the Hill. That might be a stretch, but with an all-freshmen US House delegation now responsible for protecting our billions in federal funds, we are prone to stretching.
Politically, Lujan's campaign in the heavily Democratic district came late with TV spending and thus failed to keep independent candidate Carol Miller to single digits. She scored about 13 percent. That will mean the new congressman will have to be on the lookout for possible 2010 Dem primary challengers from not only Hispanics but also liberal Anglos.
COINCIDENCE OR NOT?
An e-mail scorching Big Bill written by NM Oil and Gas Association president Bob Gallagher went public on your blog last Thursday. On Friday this news came out of the state environment department:
"The NM Environment Department today filed a major legal action seeking, multi-million dollar fines from Marathon Oil Corporation of Houston for thousands of state Air Quality Control Act permit and regulation violations at the firm’s Indian Basin Gas Plant... 20 miles west of Carlsbad in Eddy County. The 14 claim suit encompasses more than 4,000 violations. Under New Mexico state law each violation can be punishable with a civil penalty of up to $15,000 per day...
Interesting timing, if nothing else.
LIGHT GUV--THEY KEEP WRITING
The race to be Light Guv under a Governor Di has the e-mail continuing to flow. The blog Monday in which supporters of on State Auditor Hector Balderas responded to criticism of their guy brought another round.
Rick Esquibel---I have hardly seen anything on the individual who has been in state government the longest--not a short time like Mr. Balderas. That person is Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela. The state needs someone who has the experience, and that individual is Rep. Varela. I am sure that the e-mails that have come in for Rep. Varela have not been listed on your web site. Disappointing to see that your blog is not neutral. Rep. Varela has been committed to NM for more than 20 years, not a couple of years...
Lighten up, Rick. We don't have a dog in the Light Guv fight. We are strictly in it for the spectator sport. Should we say Good Luck, Lucky?
One of the Alligators chuckled over the pro-Balderas e-mail responding to the charge that Hector had been a PR blitz to persuade Di to give him the Light Guv slot:
"Employing a media blitz to deny the existence of one. Sounds a little Karl Rovian to me. Looks like a pretty organized response to me. Almost a "media blitz" :-).
STILL MORE STUFF
And here's an angle from Ray Armijo that never crossed our mind, but in light of recent national events, probably should have:
I was wondering if some reporter is going to research how much each of the candidates for the next Lt. Governor have given to the campaign of Diane Denish? Is it ethical for her to appoint someone that has given her money? I know that there are no taped conversations of her asking for bids.. errr... I mean donations, but isn't that along the lines of what the Illinois Governor is accused of doing? I know I am reaching. But it would still make for interesting hub bub as to how much the current names dropped for Lt. Gov have donated to the Denish campaign.
It is an issue, Ray. There is so much money raised for campaigns these days, the subject of pay to play is never far away, and neither will it be for the next governor. The Light Guv example, as you say, may be a reach, but illustrates the point.
Ray's nephew is Jeff Armijo who is well known to La Politica for withdrawing from the Dem race for state auditor in 2006, making possible Hector's election. He was picked to replace Jeff. Charges of sexual misconduct involving a volunteer campaign worker with Armijo's travel agency have since been dismissed and he is off and running--not for auditor--but for the position outlined in his news release:
As a Central New Mexico (CNM) Community College Board Member Jeff Armijo has officially announced his intentions to run for re-election in the February 3 election. A two term incumbent board member, Armijo has worked hard to champion more access, affordability, and accountability throughout his district.
Seems there is more than one act to a lot of political lives in our state.
THE BOTTOM LINES
Senator Domenici conducted his final news conference with state radio reporters Monday. He's been doing it for 20 of his 36 years in the Senate. Domenici closed his Washington office Friday. Dem Tom Udall takes over shortly after the new year begins. Pete's press secretary, Chris Gallegos, sent out a farewell note to friends Monday. He says he is looking for a job.
E-mail your news and comments, anonymously if you wish.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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