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Monday, February 23, 2009

"Operation Push Back" Escalates: Guv Ally Goes Public Against Feds Probe; It's Like A Campaign, Plus: Battleground UNM: More News & More Problems 

Lawyer War: Fouratt Vs. Colon
Big Bill's latest campaign is in full swing, but this one is not for an elected office but to rehab his political image and get back in the national political game at full strength. The Guv's high stakes push back against the CDR federal grand jury probe, which started on this blog February 9 with his operatives questioning on deep background the politics of the probe, has now burst fully into the open with NM Dem party Chairman Brian Colon scalding US Attorney Greg Fouratt in a Journal op-ed piece. That in turn was followed by a foot-long editorial in the Sunday newspaper pushing back against Bill's push back and supporting Fouratt and company.

Colon, an attorney and long a Big Bill acolyte, was called off the bench to make the charge of a politicized prosecution. He argued in his missive:

"The Governor's Office produced all the documents requested by the government's extensive subpoena and there was no smoking gun. There was no document, tape, e-mail or other evidence supporting a “pay for play” deal." Suddenly, on Nov. 1, the assistant U.S. attorney who had been handling the case for months was replaced by a new prosecutor...

Colon told us he did not review the subpoenaed documents, but was told about them. "I drew my conclusion from folks I spoke with...not to mention, if there had been a smoking gun, you can be sure it would have been leaked..."

Colon has been taking some ethics heat of his own. He served as treasurer for a Richardson charity called Moving America Forward Foundation. It raised $1.7 million but won't release the names of contributors and expenditures.

INSIDE THIS CAMPAIGN

Richardson's allies believe he can get some mileage out of their charges of a political prosecutor because the US attorney scandal has compromised the public's trust. The investigation into the Bush administration's firing of NM US Attorney Iglesias and others continues to this day. Former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson and retired GOP Senator Domenici are still answering questions about their roles. Also, as Colon indicates, all evidence leaked so far, and plenty of it has been leaked, has not been convincing to legal observers that CDR is a no-brainer case to take to trial.

Richardson was knocked out of the commerce secretary slot by the CDR probe. If there are no indictments in the case, his insiders see him getting back on Obama's radar. His name was recently floated as a possible envoy to North Korea, but that post has now been filled. But there are no shortage of jobs for the experienced Governor if he can get the federal monkey off his back. He is not seen as a target for indictment, but several of his top aides are. If there are indictments, potential jurors are already being exposed to the charges of political hanky-panky.

The probe has been going on for at least seven months, a long time to those under the cloud, but the Journal editorial page pushed back on that point asserting: "When everybody involved is lawyered up, the process takes longer." The paper also defends the multiple grand juries that have have looked into the case saying the corruption case of former NM Dem powerhouse Manny Aragon spanned three grand juries. Fouratt scored a major win in that case.

FURY AND FEAR OVER FOURATT


Critics of Republican Fouratt have claimed he has reason to slow the probe because he remains as US attorney as long as it goes on. When the time comes Obama is expected to tap a Democrat to become the new US attorney. Because of unusual circumstances Fouratt was appointed US attorney by the state's federal district court judges. He has not been vetted or confirmed by the US Senate, the normal course of action. Fouratt's appointment was opposed by Judge James Browning, but approved by other judges. Judge Armijo abstained.

Richardson's push back operation risks incurring the wrath of the prosecutor, who, as everyone knows, can indict a ham sandwich. But technically the probe could drag on for years, keeping Richardson penned up like a zoo exhibit. That is his real concern. For example, Richardson did not attend the formal dinner held for the nation's governors by President Obama Sunday night.

US attorney Fouratt and chief CDR prosecutor Tara Neda may or may not be pushing the envelope when it comes to the amount of time the probe is taking, but the longer they take the more the animal spirits of La Politica will infiltrate the insular world of the judiciary.

BATTLEGROUND UNM

Scholes Hall is now rivaling the Roundhouse for generating endless reams of political copy, and the drumbeat for action over the politicization of the University of New Mexico grew louder over the weekend. Details came of what critics say is a nearly $2 million sweetheart contract. The contract--to advise the school on saving energy-- is with a company whose founder has close ties to UNM President David Schmidly and was awarded without competitive bidding. It is being administered by UNM VP Steve Beffort who told the press he doesn't see a problem and refused to release details about out the taxpayer-funded program. Careful, Steve. Bunkers were made to be blasted.

It is news added to the tall pile that has the public, press and boosters of UNM pleading with the Legislature to exercise vigorous oversight and reverse the school's course. Other matters pending:

---UNM's over-the-top administrative and salary structure with Schmidly being paid nearly $600,000 a year and UNM executive VP Harris pulling down in excess of $425,000 in compensation in a recent one year period. And then there are the numerous other administrators and their six figure salaries. (Why is the newspaper now only quoting the base salaries for Schmidly and Harris and not, as they were doing, the total compensation?)

---The president's attempt to hire his son to a UNM job. An outcry stopped it, but the son still ended up working for a major UNM contractor, with the nepotism charge persisting.

--A $10,000 a month contract for outside PR services, even as UNM has a fully staffed public relations department.

---A $100,000 contract for a single legislative lobbyist and thousands more for another, even though UNM has a fully staffed government relations department.

The UNM faculty will meet Wednesday to consider a non-confidence vote on Schmidly. If it doesn't pass, it will be a surprise. Meanwhile, the president is now having troubles with the UNM Foundation, as seen in this letter to the Journal editor from Thelma Domenici, chairman of the Foundation's Board of Trustees

...An article..quoted UNM president Schmidly as exploring the use of UNM Foundation funds to support his salary... I want to assure our donors that this discussion or determination had not been made by our Board. We have spoken with Dr. Schmidly about the concerns his quote conveyed to our donors, and we both agree that it is not in the best interests of the Foundation, nor UNM administration, to pursue this idea....

Governor Richardson has been silent on the disaffection and management concerns buffeting UNM, but it threatens to become a smear on his legacy. Why don't the papers, including the UNM Daily Lobo, ask him what he makes of the mess? His recent reappointment of UNM Regents Chairman Jamie Koch, a former chair of the NM Democratic party, is now the central focus of university reformers. Jamie's reappointment to a six year term must be confirmed by the state Senate. First the Senate Rules Committee gets a crack at the appointment. A hearing date has not yet been set.

A SENTINET SENATE?

Dem Senator Linda Lopez is chair of Rules. Vice-Chair is Santa Fe Senator Peter Wirth. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez is also on the committee. His brother, former NM House Speaker and current NM Democratic National Committeeman Raymond Sanchez, is a UNM regent. Longtime attorney and Dem politico Gene Gallegos was recently nominated by Richardson to become a UNM regent.

Historically it has been difficult for Northern and ABQ  senators to be tough on UNM, but Lopez pledges she is up to the task. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings of Roswell is also on the committee. He may be the best bet to give her back-up if Leader Sanchez refrains from whispering sweet nothings in his ear from brother Raymond.

UNM watchers say Koch's confrontational style and the acquiescence to his authority by his fellow regents has fueled division at the school. But it is the very real issues of blatant politicking, runaway and unaccountable spending and the political influence of the Governor's office that are the causes of this winter of discontent. Even as Koch comes under fire, he appears to be moving to consolidate power, not disburse it, as seen in this unusual memo from UNM legal counsel Patrick Apodaca. He was asked by Koch to describe in detail what power rests with the Regents. This follows the announcement that the Regents would be taking more power from the president's office in running the campus. But Koch and Schmidly are as thick as a brick. Is Koch looking to reform or protect?

If the state's citizen senators can't figure out what is going on and reverse the course, it appears this chapter in UNM leadership history will end with yet another crash landing (replete with Golden Parachutes, of course). Don't say we didn't tell you.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a letter from a Taos friend posted here Friday, it was said that Chuby Tafoya has yet to have any opposition in his quest for another term as chair of the Taos County Democrats, but apparently Tammy Jaramillo, who has ties to the labor union AFSCME, is also running. At least Taos friends of Tammy are telling us she is, but Chuby is he heavy favorite. And NM Dem party chairman Brian Colon tells us he will make a decision in the next week on whether to seek another two year term this spring. He is expected to run.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. I'm Joe Monahan, reporting to you from Albuquerque.

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