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Friday, January 07, 2011

Case For Change At UNM Gains Ground With Bid-Rigging Bombshell; Will Susana Clean It Up? Plus: Schmitt's Rentry; Astronaut Touches Down In Cabinet 

Schmidly
The downward spiral of the leadership of the University of New Mexico has accelerated with allegations of bid-rigging and nepotism for the $60 million Pit remodeling, and that gives new Governor Martinez an even stronger hand to push for a change in stewardship at UNM. If criminal investigations result, it will only intensify public clamor for the Governor and Regents to move.

Politically embattled and physically ailing President David Schmidly is hanging on by a thread. His tenure has been marked by the worst instincts of the Richardson administration. Much of UNM became politicized, packed with Bill's buddies. The athletic department also spun completely out of control and is another nest that UNM boosters will want the next president to clean out.

And now this direct hit on the President's office.

Martinez has several openings to fill on the UNM Regents and that can be her gateway to point UNM in a new direction. The Regents pick the president. But Martinez will be pressured to depoliticize. That means encouraging the pick of a clearly nonpolitical president and then getting out of the way as Governors did before Richardson. If she simply starts packing the place with her own political cronies, the school will continue to suffer.

One thing is certain. The bid-rigging scandal has given Governor Martinez even more of a mandate to get involved in UNM's future.

DEMANDING ACTION


One of those who challenged Martinez for the Guv's office, Allen Weh, hit the email circuit with a call for action on UNM:

I would expect that either the Bernalillo County District Attorney or the NM Attorney General, or both, will immediately begin a criminal investigation. They need to get the facts, and then take the appropriate action to hold anyone, and everyone, accountable who may have broken the law.

One thing is clear: In order for this state university to be restored to good fiscal health, there needs to be some long overdue housecleaning at UNM — from the top on down. I trust, and expect, that the Board of Regents in due course will get this done.

Weh formed a political action committee after losing the GOP Guv nomination.

Schmidly said he is "disappointed in the personal nature of the attacks to myself, my family and my friends. However, my first obligation is to the University of New Mexico."

That's it? What about the charges? Looks like they are already lawyering up at Scholes Hall.

SHOCK AND UPSET

The Journal's front-pager detailing the bid-rigging shocked the university community and the state, even if both seemed immune after all the shlock and disappointment of the last several years. A Senior Alligator with lengthy and close ties to UNM summed up the anger that is now engulfing the senior leadership of our state's largest university:

There is so much more to this story than just the Pit. Rumors have been rampant around the university that there are many other cozy deals with Friends of Schmidly brought here from Texas and Oklahoma. The dormitory deal West of the Pit is one that never made much sense since local contractors could have built and managed the project. It needs to be looked in to.

UNM's reputation has eroded under Richardson and Schmidly. Richardson used it as a dumping ground to protect cronies and Schmidly is allowed to run rampant over professors and students. Schmidly is hanging on for a "bail-out" or his deferred compensation. He should have retired due to ill health. It may be too late for him now. This is a serious charge by a good lawyer and law firm. It is time to save the University.


Indeed.

The PR flak at the UNM Foundation confirmed in a preemptive email circulated among backers that some of its personnel are mentioned in the bid rigging suit, news we will probably read about as soon as today:

After quickly reviewing the lawsuit alleging bid rigging of the contract for the Pit reconstruction that was featured on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal, we wanted to give you a heads up that the complaint references the hiring of John Stropp and Henry Nemcik as examples of President Schmidly's improper use of his power and position to benefit friends.

We are unhappy to have such false assertions in a document that will undoubtedly attract media attention and will shortly circulate to you a written position concerning the hiring of Mr. Stropp and Mr. Nemcik.


The UNM crisis will demand the full attention of Dr. Jose Garcia, the Governor's nominee for Secretary of Higher Education. This mess is going to be an early test of his abilities. The public can only hopes he gets a passing grade.

STILL THE SAME

On November 12, 2009 we blogged that the time had come for President Schmidly to resign. We went long and deep on UNM's troubles that day. Unfortunately, not much has changed. It is hard to believe that the state's leadership has allowed the university to founder so long. The arrival of new leadership revives hope, but action is needed now.

WILSON WATCH

The political swamp that is UNM means Martinez will be urged to exercise caution when it comes to backing any possible UNM presidential ambitions by former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Is this the time for a highly partisan figure to take the helm, considering the political hell UNM has gone through?

Some reaction to the rumor mill that Wilson is a possible for the presidency if she does not pursue the US Senate seat held by Democrat Jeff Bingaman. Some readers asked if Heather holds a Ph.D, usually a requirement to become UNM prez. Yes, she does. Her doctorate is in international relations from the prestigious Oxford University in England.

Meanwhile, here's the latest from Schmidly on his health. He returned to campus this week after a months-long absence to receive medical treatment for cancer, according to media reports. Schmidly said:

My doctors cleared me to return to work…which has been my wish for the New Year...Needless to say, I am looking forward to returning to the President’s office and my duties.

SPACING OUT

Some 500 trips at $200,000 a pop have already been reserved for trips into space from the NM Spaceport, according to the LA Times blog quoting Virgin Atlantic. And that number is going to grow:

A $200,000 trip into space is drawing interest from some adventurous South Florida residents. Three South Florida travel agencies now sell trips on Virgin Galactic, the commercial spaceship company backed by Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group known for airlines and media ventures. They've booked $20,000 deposits from three takers so far, including the owner of one of the agencies...

Pretty cool. And we hope Governor Martinez and Economic Development Director Jon Barela share that view and we don't lose this opportunity to another state. If we do, "Who lost the Spaceport" could be a potent political slogan right in the heart of Susana's political base in the south.

Suborbital space flights could get going in 2012, says the Times.

SCHMITT REENTRY

We never thought we'd see 75 year old former astronaut and GOP US Senator Harrison "Jack" Schmitt back on the stage of La Politica. But there he was with Governor Martinez, happily accepting a job as the new cabinet secretary for the Energy and Minerals Department.

Schmitt, born near Silver City, was one of the last Apollo astronauts, in 1972, to set foot on the moon. He is a geologist by training with a Ph.D from Harvard. He has stayed busy as a university professor and consultant.

(The Guv Thursday also named Las Cruces pediatrician Catherine Torres as the new secretary of the Department of Health).

Schmitt has been advising Martinez on the Spaceport and is on the committee she has named to select a new executive director for the project.

The former Senator is conservative and some of his views are sure to raise controversy during his tenure. For example, he says the "global warming scare is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision-making."

Enviros are sure to bird dog Schmitt as they look for a tilt at the agency toward the big energy companies. State Dems were quick to come with this broadside, calling Schmitt a "global warming denier."

No question Jack has swung hard right in recent years. One of our readers notes that the former Senator, writing on his blog, appears to be calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

The state Senate will need to confirm Schmitt to the cabinet. They probably will, but the Dems could cause a lot of mischief before doing so.

THE YEAR WAS 1976

Schmitt had fun back in '76 when he ran against Democratic US Senator Joe Montoya and won. He toured the state in a red truck which became somewhat of a trademark. We recall him stopping in at the old KRKE-AM radio in ABQ where we interviewed him several times. His astronaut star power was at its peak and Montoya was embroiled in ethical controversies and coming off a weak performance in the term leading up to the election. Jack won 57% to 42%, a huge landslide in a state even more Democratic than it is today.

His '82 bid for re-election was thwarted by none other than Democrat Jeff Bingaman who is about to embark on his sixth re-election bid as Jack makes his own little comeback.

Schmitt's re-election campaign was riddled with errors, compounded by an economic recession. The wheeling and dealing of the Senate life also did not seem a good fit for the scientist. He lost by a 54% to 46% margin. But he served honorably and with intensity. Now he is back for one last dance. We hope he--and we--enjoy it.

THE BOTTOM LINES


The ABQ Press Women titles its January 10 lunch previewing the upcoming 60 day legislative session as "Pain Management." We're sure ABQ GOP State Rep. Larry Larranaga and ABQ Dem State Senator Dede Feldman, who will be the presenters, are in full agreement...

We know the newspaper business is on a downhill slide, but didn't think it would go this far:

Santa Fe police on Tuesday arrested a newspaper street vendor who was accused of trafficking heroin and possessing drug paraphernalia while selling copies of The New Mexican, The New Mexican reported.

From Jay Leno:

And we have a new Speaker of the House -- Ohio Congressman John Boehner. ... His new slogan? 'Four more tears.'

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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