Monday, July 09, 2012

The Big Monday Blog: Smoke Screens Go Up Around Emailgate, But We Defog The Real Story, Plus: The Gary King File; He's A Key Player Now, Also: New State Senate Candidate And Michelle Ready To Move Off Commission 

Welcome back to the home of New Mexico politics and the state's top political web site. We've got a logjam of news from the holiday week so let's get busy....

You've got to keep your eye on the ball when watching emailgate unfold. The political smoke machine is churning out a big cloud of stories about legislators using private email accounts, about how Big Bill's administration used them (or didn't) and even one that says the attorney general should give up any private emails he may have sent and received. These are interesting sidebars, but emailgate is not only about the propriety of the upper echelon of the Martinez administration using email to conduct state business in order to keep that business hidden from the public. It's really about whether the business they hid broke the law and if a shadow government was formed. We speak especially of the awarding of the controversial and valuable racino lease for the Downs at ABQ.

It appears emailgate will ultimately be about that racino deal. Our sources tell us exclusively that Attorney General Gary King will conduct an investigation of the awarding of the racino lease as will State Auditor Hector Balderas. (As part of emailgate, King is already investigating possible violations of the Governmental Conduct Act within the Public Education Department). The Feds are also in the loop on the Downs deal but no word on whether they will take a bite out of the apple.

King is a key player. He runs an independent branch of government with real power. And dangerously for this Governor, he may be finding some of the voice that has been missing from his tenure which began in 2007.

King went before the press late Friday to talk about the email probe involving PED. In the first verbal row between the two King accused Martinez and the state GOP of trying to intimidate the AG by filing a request for his personal email under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Martinez's office calls that charge "ridiculous," saying she has received over 150 records request since taking office and that it is no big deal for King to get this one.

The state GOP and Martinez's political machine, run by chief advisor Jay McCleskey who stands at the center of emailgate as the accused "shadow Governor," are trying their best to turn this into a debate about the legitimacy of using private email to conduct business. Again, their defense is that everyone does it and there are no clear rules for public officials. But the public is not going to be in an uproar if private email was used to conduct innocuous state business. But if it was used to corrupt the process--for collusion and bid-rigging in the racino deal--it's a whole other matter.

The public is going to give King a lot of rope to run with (and Auditor Balderas as well). New Mexicans trust their politicians about as far as they can throw them, and the emails on the Downs deal reveal that, despite the Guv's pledges to the contrary, there is plenty of wheeling and dealing and conniving going on in her own backyard. Whether it rises to the level of indictments is what keen observers are wondering.


King's Friday news conference was in stark contrast to a disastrous one he gave last June in which he defended himself against charges of being a "do nothing" attorney general. At that time he hemmed and hawed and generally appeared like a man out of touch with himself and his mission. Not this time. On Friday he gave a sober, subdued presentation in which he made clear that the famously laid back King had finally had enough of being the whipping boy of Susana and Jay (Video of King's news conference here).

And so it should be if King, son of the legendary late Governor Bruce King, is to have any realistic shot at following in his father's footsteps. He has all but announced his 2014 campaign for the Dem Guv nomination and it has been met with derision. King's performance as AG is scoffed at and his general demeanor described among the chattering classes as anything but gubernatorial. But there was a glimmer of a different King at the Friday news conference. There was no bombast, but a low-key persistence that is a trademark of rural New Mexico politicians. But even as he seems ready for what could be an epic battle ahead, his previous performance hangs over him. Does he have the fire in the belly? The competence?

So don't let the political smoke machine throw you. This isn't only about politicos and how they use their email. The question before us is whether two independent branches of government--controlled by opposite political parties--are about to clash over a scandal that could determine the future of the state's politics.


We're not done yet with King and this big story. The AG was interviewed by Lorene Mills for Report from Santa Fe, an occasion during which he went into some detail on his thoughts on emailgate. First, on the emails sent to the PED from Martinez chief political advisor Jay McCleskey:

A couple of legislators...have asked us to look into...a potential misuse of government people and government equipment to support a political purpose in the Public Education Department. We certainly are pursuing that request and are investigating whether there was a violation of the Governmental Conduct Act. A lot of the rhetoric has been around the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) which is also something that we enforce and that’s important, but...we teach all of our government officials...the Governmental Conduct Act--that the people’s money is a public trust. And that you have to be careful and appropriate in what you use it for...The allegations in this case are that there were personnel that were used in the I.T. department that were encouraged to do something that might have been for a political purpose...

And on his political battle with the Guv, King said:

...The governor has been working hard to try and isolate...the attorney general’s office. This has been in the news where she's going to ask the State Investment Council to vote to not to have us working on some of the cases, but I think the people in New Mexico really deserve to have some independent oversight. And frankly...it doesn’t make any difference whether it is Democrat or Republican. I don’t think Bill Richardson liked me looking over his shoulder either, but I think the people in New Mexico elect the attorney general separately and they expect us to be an independent eye....And so we are going to continue to work to look into those things. 

With King seemingly ready to battle with Martinez, what does that mean for Auditor Hector Balderas? Well, King's entrance into emailgate is much easier, but the auditor can get in on the Downs deal by examining the contracts. In case you forgot, Hector is also a possible 2014 Dem Guv contender so he's going to keep Gary on his toes and vice-versa. Trouble could come if they start stepping on each other, but first let's see how aggressive each of these fellas is going to be. And don't forget trial attorney Sam Bregman. He's eyeing that '14 Dem Guv race and if Hector and Gary get meek, expect Sam to provide the check and balance. Yep, our system has a way of working this stuff out.


Daniel Ivey-Soto
ABQ attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto eked out a one vote victory Saturday to become a new Democratic state Senate candidate. Ivey-Soto, 45, was picked by Dem Party central committee members on a 14 to 13 vote to replace Senator Tim Eichenberg on the November ballot. He bested lobbyist Vanessa Alarid to take the prize and will face former Republican state Senator Diane Snyder to determine who will go to Santa Fe. Snyder was ousted by Eichenberg four years ago. A third candidate dropped out at the last minute and endorsed Alarid, but to no avail

The district has become a bit more Dem friendly under the recent redistricting. The performance is ranked 52% to 48% in favor of the Dems. Still, Snyder, a lobbyist, is a well-known name who will be able to raise some cash. She has a shot.

Ivey-Soto is the executive director for the state's county clerks association and is the former elections chief under former Secretary of State Mary Herrera. He is a graduate of the UNM School of Law and a longtime Dem activist. His candidacy will get help from labor and enviro groups. He starts his race with Snyder as the early favorite.

By the way, Alarid is engaged to marry ABQ Dem west side State Rep. Moe Maestas....


Did the Alligators get ABQ GOP State Rep. Nate Gentry to come with an early endorsement of ABQ GOP congressional candidate Janice Arnold-Jones? It sure looks that way. Our July 4th blog pointed out how former ABQ public safety officer and 2008 ABQ GOP US House candidate Darren White was chiding Janice on his Twitter account about not being able to raise enough money for her campaign. One theory passed along by the Gators was that top R's were being told to keep their powder dry and save their bucks for 2014 when Gentry could very well run for the ABQ seat. Only two days later Gentry came with this endorsement of Janice:

While in the State House, Janice Arnold-Jones was willing to stand up to the Democratic leadership. She fought to make state government more transparent and was known for her steadfast advocacy for New Mexico and its citizens. Her commitment to fiscal responsibility is a tradition I am certain she will continue as a member of Congress. Janice is the right choice this November to represent New Mexico’s First Congressional District.

None of this is going to throw the Gators off the scent. They expect Janice's campaign to be underfunded because of opposition from White, his good pal and Martinez chief political advisor Jay McCleksey and others in their wing of the party. As for Gentry, he may have calmed Janice's supporters by getting that endorsement out, but still keep your eye on him to make his own congressional run, if Janice loses to Dem nominee Michelle Lujan Grisham.

And will Nate back up his endorsement with fund-raising for Janice? How about Darren White? If he is so concerned about Janice not being able to raise money to compete, will he shake the money tree for her? Don't hold your breath...


Lujan Grisham
Speaking of candidate Grisham, insiders now tell us that she will very likely give up her seat on the Bernalillo County Commission before the November election. She will do so to protect the Dem majority on the five member panel. The word that Michelle is going to get off has set off a frenzy to replace her. The Alligators say as many as a dozen names have surfaced, including that of ABQ Dem City councilor Debbie O'Malley.

If Michelle leaves the commission--say in early September--Governor Martinez will get to name a replacement but that replacement will only serve until the end of the year. There will be an election to fill out Michelle's term which expires in 2014. Dem central committee members from Michelle's county commission seat will be charged with naming someone to the ballot, as will the Republican central committee members. That's where the Dem frenzy comes in and those dozen or more candidates,

The commission currently has a 3 to 2 Dem majority. That will go to a 3 to 2 R majority when Michelle resigns and the Governor--if as expected--appoints a Republican to the seat. But in the November election the Dem candidate named by the central committee to replace Michelle is expected to have an easy time of it in the Dem leaning district. A November victory would bring back the Dem majority to the panel in January. Got all that?


We received a bunch of email from curious readers who spotted our Monday headline "Griego's Grapes" but pointed out there was no story in the blog to go with the headline. Well, we have that report for you today..

ABQ Dem congressional candidate Eric Griego is being accused of "sour grapes" for not endorsing Michelle Lujan Grisham since she defeated him and Marty Chavez for the ABQ Dem congressional nomination, In fact, Griego has infuriated some Dems for sending out emails endorsing other congressional candidates--progressives-and asking that folks give them money. Hey, what about Michelle? They ask. Is she chopped liver? Here's Mary Morrow who describes herself as an "embarrassed former supporter" of Griego unloading on him:

Eric, What the hell is wrong with you? It is now obvious that we are better off without you as our nominee. I regret supporting your candidacy. I thought the accusations made against you were nothing more than political BS designed to tarnish your years in the state Senate. I now can come to only one conclusion, your opponents' criticisms were and are correct. You are a vindictive self-absorbed person, and your character flaws were the reason you could not pass more than one piece of legislation. I never thought I would say that Marty Chavez is a better Democrat than Eric Griego, but if you continue to send out these types of emails and do not support our nominee, Marty Chavez is indeed a better Democrat. Get behind Michelle Lujan-Grisham, or crawl into a hole until the first Wednesday after the first Monday in the month of November. I will do what it takes to make sure she is elected, and I will never fight for anything you ask me to stand up and fight for again.

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