Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Park's Place: A High Rent District Indeed, Plus: Speaker Lujan's Farewell Gift To Dems, And: Dateline Europe: Notes On Our Recent Visit 

Rep. Park
Talk about luxury. Al Park is running for the Dem nod for an ABQ area seat on the often notorious but mostly obscure state Public Regulation Commission and is spending cash on statewide TV spots to get there. The ads will reach many more voters who can't cast ballots for Park than those who can but the hopeful has so much money banked he can light his cigars with $100 bills. Here's one of those spots.

Park, a 12 year state representative from ABQ's SE Heights, is saying sayonara to the Roundhouse to try his luck on the five member panel that regulates many state businesses. It's been a politically decadent hideout but Park is running as Mr. Ethics and has the dough to spread that message.

Years ago, Park, now 42, was an up and comer and banked thousands in campaign donations as he weighed a bid for attorney general. Then-Governor Richardson was instrumental in helping Park grow his bank account to a stunning total of over $250,000. He never did run for AG and the law allows him to use his cash for his PRC run--and he's doing just that. He recently transferred $30,000 from his legislative account to his PRC campaign account.

Park is opposed in the primary by Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya and Cynthia Hall, a former attorney for the PRC. They are taking public financing and will have just $30,000 to spend. Park matched that in one fell swoop.

It would seem Park would have a hard time losing this race. If he does, his political career would likely be over. Meanwhile, there is continued speculation that Park has not let go of his dream to be attorney general. Even if he spent as much as $100,000 of his kitty on the PRC race, he would have plenty left over to seed a 2014 AG run,

But Park is not without baggage. He was long known as a liberal when liberals were very unpopular. But he lost his street cred when he caved in to Governor Martinez and voted for the bill to repeal driver's licenses for undocumented workers. Other Dem ABQ reps--like Bill O'Neill--stood up to the Guv and voted against the measure. The politically ambitious Park may have made the right vote for the PRC race, but not for any future run in a Dem primary.

Park, in private law practice, landed a state contract this year with the state Risk Management Division.

Park's opponents have asked whether any of Park's campaign cash came from industries he would regulate--something state campaign law prohibits. But Park says the law does not apply to the money he raised for his legislative race and that is the money he is using. He also came under scrutiny for saying that congressional candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham endorsed his candidacy, a claim he later withdrew via news release,

Park ascended to chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in Santa Fe, but his ambitions there were thwarted when he joined a failed coup attempt against Dem House Speaker Ben Lujan. After that he drifted away from the center of legislative power.

Ironically, now that Park is departing the state House, Rep. Kenny Martinez, his close friend and the man he backed in the coup effort against Lujan, is poised to become Speaker upon Lujan's retirement at year's end. And even as Park, an early supporter of Obama, veers more to the political right, Democratic liberals appear to be entering a new heyday with the nation pulling to the center again.

Yep, kids, this game is all about timing.


While Park looks to stay in the game, Speaker Lujan--forced to retire because of cancer--continues to collect accolades and honors for his long service. And the Dems are using Lujan's departure as a major fund-raising opportunity. Political consultant Amanda Cooper is helping to promote a June gala event. You might call it the Speaker's farewell gift to the Dems:

Dear Friends, This is a wonderful opportunity for us to honor Speaker Ben Lujan and his life dedicated to public service:

New Mexico Democratic Leaders Invite You to Join Them For A Special Tribute Dinner in honor of Speaker Ben Lujan For his 37 years of service to the  State of New Mexico Saturday, June 16th at Buffalo Thunder Resort Santa Fe. Dinner ~ 6:30 PM; $5,000 Table; $500 Ticket. For more information, please contact Sean Marcus at seanbmarcus@gmail.com. 

The money raised will go to the "Ben Lujan Speaker Fund." There was $80,000 in there when the April state reports were filed. That cash and the money raised in June will be used to help Dem legislative candidates this year. That will offset some of the heavy spending expected in the same contests from the Guv's SusanaPAC.


Cara Valente-Compton, challenging ABQ SE Heights Dem State Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton in the June primary, writes in reaction to our analysis of her race:

Hey Joe,  I just wanted to direct your attention to a misspelling. It is Cara with a C, not a K. And don't count me out, I am one hell of a fighter, and I am hitting the campaign trail hard. Plus, as many people have noted, I am much, much more amiable and personable than my opponent and my intelligence from door-to-door work tells me that Sheryl is in for a surprise.  Burger bet?

Thanks, Cara, and sorry about that spelling mistake. As for the burger bet, we can't go there, but if someone else takes you up on it, we suggest the Nob Hill Grill for a great burger. They have a regular patty or the special Kobe beef. If this UNM area dining spot is not in you district, it is close.

At the Élysée Palace in Paris
Some random notes from our visits to Italy and France the last two weeks of April....

Governments may be preaching austerity as the method to solve the deep economic woes facing Europe, but while we we were in France voters were poised to put in power the Socialist candidate and oust President Sarkozy (The election is May 6. We are pictured outside the official residence of the President).

We think there is commonality there with what is going on here in the states. The Dems appear poised for a fairly good election year because they own the issues of Social Security and Medicare. When job insecurity is rampant, those programs are even more important to the working and middle classes. The fiscal conservatives can argue that the "welfare state" is no longer affordable, but the man in the street is looking for the rich to pay more in taxes, not to take food out of his own mouth.

On the subject of food, France and Italy offer what many believe to be the best in the world. Meals are taken seriously and a celebration accompanied by great wines, but obesity appeared scarce. Fresh food--not the processed variety is preferred and portions are sensible but satisfying, Upon landing  back in the USA the obesity epidemic was, sadly, again on full display.

And what about health care? Well, the French and Italians we broached the subject with were quite pleased with their national health care, often demonized by politicians here as a socialistic evil. They expressed relief that they do not have to constantly worry about their family's financial future if they should take sick before they are 65 as is the case in the USA.

A  scientist who is a native of Rhode Island, living in Paris for over 30 years, explained that in France it is a two tier system where money will buy you more care, but that the public portion of the system is available to all. She spoke highly of the care and her personal experience with the system. One of her children was born with a mild case of cerebral palsy and received many hours of therapy at a price dramatically lower than what it would have cost here.

In Italy, we heard the same positive assessments about their national health care. Yes, you pay more in taxes, but your life is considerably calmer when you no longer pace the floor worrying what happens if you or your family are felled by illness and you are not covered. When--if ever--will that day come here?

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