Thursday, March 04, 2010

New NM US Attorney Picked; Ken Gonzales Tapped; Plus: Update On "Hollywood Bill" And: Capitol Bitterness Over Food Tax Revival 

Kenneth Gonzales
The question in the wake of the nomination of Assistant US Attorney Ken Gonzales as the new NM US Attorney is what role current Republican US Attorney Greg Fouratt will play in the office. (White House release here.)

Fouratt crowed publicly prior to the Gonzales announcement that he knew who the White House was going to pick and that he and the NM public would be pleased. It took over a year for the White House to make the nomination.

Insiders say Gonzales could chose Fouratt as his First Assistant US Attorney, a powerful position that would keep Fouratt in the mix. If not, Fouratt is still expected to stay on as an assistant US attorney.

Fouratt has been aggressive in pursuing state corruption cases, but he was unable to nail Big Bill. His attempt to have the Guv indicted in the CDR bond scandal fell short. However, the federal grand jury continues to look into State Investment Council decisions and indictments could occur sometime this election year.

Gonzales, 45, a graduate of Pojoaque high school and a 1991 grad of the University of New Mexico law school, has been an assistant US attorney since 1999. He is a former legislative director for Dem US Senator Jeff Bingaman. It is Bingaman who recommended Gonzales for the top federal position. He said of the nomination:

Ken has the experience required of a U.S. attorney, having served for the past 11 years as a career prosecutor working on cases involving organized crime, narcotics, anti-terrorism, and other violent crimes...Ken worked as an aide to me more than a decade ago, so I have witnessed first-hand his keen legal judgment, fair-mindedness and strong work ethic. I applaud the president for choosing someone of Ken’s caliber...

Bingaman said he sent a short list of candidates to the White House for consideration, but never released the list publicly, giving rise to speculation that the job was being wired for Gonzales all along.

Among those who applied for the post were Santa Fe attorney John Pound, veteran ABQ lawyer Pete Dinelli and Dem State Rep. Al Park. Others who were interviewed, according to our legal beagles, included District Court Judge Stan Whitaker and several assistant US attorneys.

Our Beagles broke the news back in January that Gonzales would be the pick.

The US attorney's office has been a lightning rod in state politics. David Iglesias was fired from the position by the Bush administration and that set off a congressional investigation as to whether he was axed for not going after corruption cases involving Dems. Then-Senator Domenici was reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee for making an improper phone call to Iglesias. Iglesias said Gonzales was a "great choice."

The US attorney post goes to the party in power, but with Dems on the defensive over corruption scandals, Republican Fouratt's hand was seen as strengthened. Bingaman is getting some criticism for appearing to cave to the aggressive prosecutor and going with Gonzales who has minimal management experience. Politically, however, the move could be seen as helpful as Obama and Bingaman both work to curry favor with Hispanic voters. They are both on the ballot in 2012.

The Gonzales nomination requires US Senate confirmation which is expected since he has already been vetted by the Justice Department,. The White House and Bingaman have not yet nominated anyone for the position of US Marshal, a job still held by Republican Gordon Eden, even though the Dem administration is nearly 14 months old.


Big Bill came with one of his canned responses to the latest speculation that he is in line to become the new CEO of the Motion Picture Association, a move that would pay him over $1 million a year, get him back in big time politics in DC and catapult Lt. Governor Diane Denish into the Governor's office. Says Bill:

The governor is not interested in this job and he is not interested in becoming a lobbyist. He plans to live in Santa Fe and drive around the country visiting Major League ballparks after term ends.

But this job rumor has the Alligators most intrigued. What's not to like, they ask and they put the odds at 50-50 that he gets it. Richardson wants out of here; Denish needs a push up the ladder, and the White House doesn't want an R on the Fourth Floor when election time rolls around in 2012.

TV news reporters were telling us they are hearing Richardson has a firm offer. Again, we'll wait and see if we get the ultimate game changer for the 2010 race for governor.


R's dread a Denish Guv appointment, but are more fixated now on who will get their Guv nomination in a five way race. Opponents of Pete Domenici, Jr., who leads in the early polling, are saying his campaign is lowering expectations for Domenici's performance at the March 13th preprimary convention.

Domenici has been saying publicly that he expects to get the needed 20% of the preprimary delegates to win an automatic spot on the June 1t primary ballot, but his campaign operatives have been downplaying that expectation, saying they are looking past the peprimary. If you don't get the 20 percent, you can still get on the ballot by filing additional petition signatures. However, a poor convention showing can cripple a candidacy by drying up money.

Domenici's foes say that his late entry into the race is no excuse for his not being able to muster up 20 percent of the some 450 GOP delegates. "If he can't get 20 percent of his own party to support him, how does he expect to beat Diane Denish," asked one GOP operative.

We guested with KKOB-AM radio's Jim Villanucci Wednesday, a hard-core Republican, who told us he thinks all five GOP Guv candidates may try to stay in the race, no matter what happens at the GOP preprimary. It could happen.


Here's the AP wrap on all the Wednesday action at the Special Session. Here's the Journal's wrap as well.

They are coming back today to do some mop-up but the heavy lifting is done. A tax bill is on the way to the Governor's desk with a budget soon to follow. They will buy lawmakers some time, but another special session could be only months away as revenues continue to stagnate or decline.

The food tax was dead as I-40 roadkill when the Legislature adjourned its regular session. Its approval (2 percent on food items) in this special prompted this analysis from one of our Capitol readers against the tax:

This is really a triumph of "group think" with a few powerful senators pushing these tax schemes down the throats of their colleagues, who blindly swallow without chewing because they need to be loyal to the "leadership."

No one outside the Roundhouse believes this new food tax scheme is a good idea. Of course, the public is locked out of the process as legislators go from secret caucus to secret caucus. It is a lobbyist's paradise! No public there to hold everyone accountable. No messy hearings where the truth and other points of view can come out about these crazy schemes...Just back and forth horse trading in private over lunches paid for by lobbyists (who think taxing food is a swell idea because it won't affect their clients' various loopholes, subsidies and exemptions)...

While the food tax appears headed for the Guv's signatures and there was also a tax deduction eliminated that will raise the taxes on well-off taxpayers, the political consequences for the Dems may be just beginning.


The Legislature and Governor refused to roll back the big tax rate cuts of 2003 or slap a surcharge on high wage earners to help solve the budget crisis. That deduction they eliminated and that they say has wealthier taxpayers sharing the budget pain isn't just going to impact the well-off says reader Carol Nordengren:

Joe, you blogged: "The move "would apply mainly to taxpayers making over $100,000."

I checked my '09 taxes , and although I earn only 1/3rd of the "$100,000" cited, my tax liability to the state would increase by $308. Thanks guys (and ladies).

As my "income" is derived from NM retirement and social security, maybe I'll have to become a double dipper to pay my NM taxes?

We 've been getting email on Carol's math from readers who say she has miscalculated. We'll run some of it on Friday


Let's keep it in Santa Fe and go deep into the bureaucracy to one of our Senior Alligators who has more on the abrupt resignation of attorney AJ Salazar as head of the Bureau of Elections for NM Secretary of State Mary Herrera. First, the newspaper hits with this:

The former state elections chief is accusing Secretary of State Mary Herrera of soliciting money from firms that contract with her office and ordering "exempt" employees to obtain petition signatures for her re-election campaign.

Our insiders say bureau administrator Kelli Fulgenzi will take over the job. Salazar is the fourth elections boss under Herrera:

Joe, all the previous election directors under Mary were also attorneys. Kelli is not an attorney and is completely the creature of Deputy Secretary of State Don Francisco Trujillo. She has followed his orders explicitly and now is being rewarded. All information that comes out of that office and every single document must be approved by Don Francisco. None of the election directors had the slightest autonomy to run anything. Also, a recent development in that office has been the hiring of Gilbert Montoya, the brother of Letitia Montoya, who is Mary's campaign manager. His job title is "special projects."

So go the inner machinations of La Politica.

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