Monday, February 02, 2009

Getting Serious Now: UNM Prez & Regent Koch Up To Their Necks In Alligators, Plus: Kilmer & Di Campaign Together, And: We Solve APS "Cheese Crisis" 

UNM Regent Jamie Koch
A madcap week at the University of New Mexico has left observers and insiders wondering if President David Schmidly is on course for an early departure ala Louis Caldera in '06. The wheels have been wobbly for a while, but now they are threatening to come off. UNM Board of Regents President Jamie Koch delivered an abrasive retort to UNM faculty who say they have had it with the exorbitant administrative salaries and "cronyism" at UNM. They are gathering petitions to force a meeting to have a no-confidence vote on Koch, Schmidly and Executive VP David Harris. Koch, a former chairman of the NM Democratic party, treated the faculty move like a campaign attack.

He...pointed to the Princeton Review, which for two years has ranked UNM No. 1 for inaccessible professors. "That's fine," Koch said of the petitions. "I'm not going to any meeting on it. I'm not surprised. I think the faculty can sure do what they want to do, and I do think maybe the students need to take a look at the faculty and see how much confidence they have in the faculty."

That could be the comment we long remember if it sets in motion a more concerted effort to dump Schmidly. As one of our university monitors e-mails:

It is reported that Schmidly did not perform well (as president) at either Texas Tech or Oklahoma State. So, why was he selected? Because he would be a weak president that Jamie could run roughshod over? Jamie's comments about the faculty should disqualify him as a regent. Urging students "to take a look at faculty and see how much confidence.." is reprehensible and inciteful but is a measure of how this bully operates.

Koch, president of Daniels Insurance, is a major friend of Big Bill who recently reappointed him to a six year term on the seven member UNM Board of Regents. That requires state Senate confirmation, which Koch is expected to win, but it gives his and Schmidly's foes an opportunity to make some hay. But will they? Senator Linda Lopez, chair of Senate Rules, has stood up to the Governor over his appointees in the past. She has plenty of fodder with this one.


Harris (Daily Lobo)
Koch's power at the university is considerable. He works his stuff through VP Harris who is a former state politico with a finance background. Together Harris and Schmidly are pulling down over $1.015 million in annual salary--$587,000 for Schmidly; $428,000 for Harris, plus each is awarded numerous benefits and deferred cash. Schmidly recently ordered a hiring freeze for highly paid employees, but not did not call for salary rollbacks. (That Harris's name has popped up in the federal pay to play investigation into state government has not helped his standing.)

As for Koch, he is known as a prodigious fundraiser for Democratic candidates and causes. Serving on the Regents with him is former Dem state House Speaker Raymond Sanchez who has been quiet during the turmoil.

The critics of Schmidly charge him with being a political tool of Koch and the Governor, causing segments of the campus to doubt his leadership and call for change. The charge of cronyism gained momentum when Schmidly's son was hired for a $94,000 a year university job called "associate director of sustainability." The barrage of criticism forced the son to not accept the post. However, he then landed a job with a company that holds substantial construction contracts from UNM.

It is that kind of wheeling and dealing that is par for the course in the world of politics, but this is academia where at least a fig leaf is expected when politics comes into play. Koch, Schmidly and Harris have formed a powerful triumverate (under the watchful eye of Big Bill) but the faculty is now closing in on a vote of no confidence. Regent Koch can dismiss faculty criticism once or twice, but he, Harris and President Schmidly will find that this is not a political campaign--and the opponents don't go away after Election Day.


Koch's new term on the the Regents is for six years. He has close ties to all major NM Dem political figures, including Lt. Governor Diane Denish. His term would cover the next Governor's four year term. If UNM remains a hotbed of controversy, it could pose problems for Denish who is is under pressure to show her independence. And that takes us to....


We've been as skeptical as we can be of the notion of actor Val Kilmer seeking the Dem nod for NM Governor, but he keeps making us pay attention. For example, our Alligators report Val showed up Saturday night in ABQ at the premier social event for the city's Hispanic community--La Noche Encantada. Val worked the room and so did Light Guv Di. We didn't get any reports on the two schmoozing. Kilmer, 49, posed for photos at the black tie event that featured dining and dancing until late into the evening. About 2000 turned out, including UNM President Schmidly who, says our attendee, "visited all the VIP tables."

The Hispanic angle on Kilmer is particularly relevant. You may recall that Kilmer ran into trouble when, in 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine reported comments he made about his San Miguel County neighbors:

Kilmer said he carries a gun because it's the "homicide capital of the Southwest" and "eighty percent of the people in my county are drunk." Kilmer later said he'd been misquoted.


In rereading the New York Post interview with Val from early November in which he discussed running for Guv, this line struck us: "I have to see if people will put up the money for my run."

Interesting. Kilmer has considerable personal resources, but being able to raise money is a key indicator of a viable candidacy. If he can't get others to come with coin, will his flirtation with a Guv run falter?

Meanwhile, Kilmer is selling 963 acres, downsizing from the 6,000 acres he owns along the trout-filled Pecos River south of Rowe, NM He is asking $10 million. That might be enough to finance a primary campaign, you think?


And observant readers note Kilmer would need to get 20 percent of the delegates to the March 2010 Democratic pre-primary convention in order to win a spot on the June primary ballot. Some are doubtful he can pull it off. To the e-mail bag:

I know its interesting to talk about, but I just don't see some Hollywood guy who supported Ralph Nader being the Democratic nominee. If he was at least involved in local politics instead of behind a gate of a 6,000 acre ranch, then that would be something. Having a pile of money doesn't win an election ask (2008 Dem congressional candidate) Don Wiviott. Di will whoop Val pretty good...

If Kilmer did not get 20 percent of the delegate vote at the pre-primary, he could still get on the primary ballot by gathering petition signatures, but to our knowledge no candidate has ever gone on to win the primary who did not score the 20 percent at the convention.

Kilmer's initial forays have not excited liberal elements of the Democratic Party. We suspect if he makes the run he'll be working it from the center. He has baggage, for sure. But the power of celebrity and "something new" is not to be underestimated. New Mexicans tend to be more laid back about such matters, but they're not immune to their appeal.

The ABQ Journal's Bruce Daniels drew a chuckle when he writhed in satirical pain after breaking his self-imposed boycott of "news" of Kilmer's political ambitions. Who gets the last laugh--Kilmer or Daniels--is, as they say, to be determined.


One suggestion on solving the Albuquerque Public Schools "cheese crisis" caught our eye. Why not offer every student a free lunch and those who did not want it could still purchase an upgraded offering? We are already heavily subsidizing the lunches, and the amount of money at  stake in this brouhaha --a couple of hundred thousand dollars--is almost incidental in a school budget of hundreds of millions.

School lunches are already heavily subsidized by taxpayers and offering everyone a free lunch seems reasonable--(even though your dad always told you there's no such thing as a free lunch). The more liberal minded will be pleased that no one is being left out and the fiscal conservatives will be happy because the kids who go for the upgraded lunch will more than make up the cost.

Now we're thinking cheese enchiladas---with just green, please.

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