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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Heather Joins Mentor Pete In A Rapid Fall From Grace; Her Questionable Labs' Contracts And the Fallout, Plus: Inside And Indepth On The Latest UNM News With Our Senior Alligators 

Heather Wilson
Once they soared like Icarus over this vast Land of Enchantment and now...splat! Both former Senator Pete Domenici and his protege--former ABQ GOP US Congresswoman Heather Wilson--have fallen from grace faster than a Twinkie disappearing at a weight watchers meeting. Who would have thunk it?

Domenici was so revered that he earned the title "St. Pete," only to see his angelic garments severely soiled when he admitted fathering a child out of wedlock with the daughter of a fellow Senator during his first term in the 70.s When that news broke this year, they had to rewrite the history books.

And now Heather--Pete's surrogate daughter--is busted by federal government watchdogs for collecting nearly $500,000 in questionable contract payments from four federally funded national labs--mostly New Mexico's Sandia and Los Alamos.

The history buffs already had Heather's US Attorney scandal as a major drag on her future standing, Now this gets plopped on top. Looks like she'll be remembered as fondly as Albert Fall. Now she belongs to the School of Mines in South Dakota where she was named president earlier this year. That is, if they decide to keep her around as talk swirls of a possible criminal investigation. And no wonder:

The report also says it found no evidence that work performed by Wilson under contracts with the labs was completed, although the payments to Wilson made by the labs were reimbursed by the federal government.

Wilson came with this:

The report confirms that the labs were satisfied with my work,” Wilson said. “The work was done in full compliance with the contracts we signed and under the direct supervision of lab sponsors.”

So far, Heather's new employer is standing behind her.

When the Domenici love child scandal broke it was the hypocrisy that had the denizens in the bleacher seats retching, They had watched for years as Pete preached "character counts," all the while hiding his major character defect. And now it's Wilson getting the same guffaws. She always maintained an "above it all" superior countenance that she used to brush off her critics. Now it turns out the Rhodes Scholar from New Hampshire was just another politician with her hand out.

And to think back when she and Domenici called up then US Attorney Iglesias and demanded to know when former state Senator Manny Aragon was going to be indicted so it could help her electoral chances. Move over, Manny. You may have a new cellmate.

The payments to Wilson for "consulting" services that could not be documented were given to the former five term congresswoman from 2009 to March 2011. In June 2008, she lost the GOP US Senate nomination to Steve Pearce and in January 2009 she vacated the House seat she held for five terms. Shortly after the payments stopped in March 2011, she began her pursuit for another US Senate seat. She won the GOP nomination but lost to Martin Heinrich in 2012.

Wilson is a transitory figure in state history, but Sandia and Los Alamos Labs are economic linchpins for the entire state economy. That their management could be so flippant in doling out what appear to be influence payments is a real blow to the battle in Washington to keep the labs adequately funded.

Some of us who have been vocal about the need to keep the money flowing to the nuclear labs have been tiring of the arrogance and sense of entitlement that surround them. Sandia and Los Alamos need to make real friends--not ones bought and paid for and that reveal a culture of corruption that puts our state's economic fortunes at risk.

The kicker is that Los Alamos was preparing hundreds of layoffs while they were paying off Wilson and pleading poverty. Sandia was also scaling back contracts and travel as budgets grew tight--but apparently not tight enough to keep them from doing their darndest to keep their "Senator-in-waiting" flush with cash.

PADDLE AWAY

Will Senators Udall and Heinrich now demand that management heads roll at the national labs over what the Department of Energy says are out-of-bounds payments to Wilson? (Lockheed Martin, manager of Sandia, and Bechtel, manager of Los Alamos, have had to pay back to the government the nearly $500,000 Wilson received.)

The Alligators freaked out when UNM President Frank recently made a move to have his school have a larger management role at Sandia. They feared it could become a political dumping ground. Turns out it already was.

Over the years Domenici and Wilson looked mostly the other way when the labs lost their way and these contracts for Wilson are easily seen as payback for that service.

Udall and Heinrich have their work cut out for them as the budget cutters add the "Wilson card" to their
pile as they move to scale back lab funding. Maybe if they kick some management butt they can keep it in the deck and out of the game. Does that mean companies other than Lockheed and Bechtel should be brought in to manage the labs? Why not, Senators?

ALLIGATOR STRIKE

One of the Alligators, a longtime foe of Wilson, found his moment to strike when the latest news broke about the former GOP Congresswoman:

I like the fact that we can now call heather Wilson an “Undocumented Worker," he poked

THE HEALTH OF UNM

We have readers who care deeply about the University of New Mexico. Several of them are of the "Senior Alligator" variety--our most trusted sources on what is really happening there and elsewhere.

Today two of them weigh in on the political struggle that has broken out over control of the UNM Health Sciences Center--a vast organization with a $1.5 billion annual budget. UNM President Frank says the Center has strayed from under the control of his office and he wants and needs it back if he is to lead effectively.

(But in a turnabout Wednesday, Frank said he was backing off from trying to take more control of UNM Health Sciences. Hmm. Who talked to him?).

Both of our longtime UNM sources--with decades of experience in the inner workings of academia-- sympathize with to Frank's plight. Our first Senior Gator starts us off with a history lesson on how UNM became a highly politicized institution beginning a decade ago and how that has led to the situation today:

Things have really deteriorated at UNM since then Governor Bill Richardson, in 2003 decided to intervene in UNM with hardball Washington-style partisan politics, asking for signed, undated letters of resignation from all Regents and appointing his buddies Mel Eaves and Jamie Koch to the Board of Regents. They in turn then picked Friend of Bill Louis Caldera as UNM president.

In the BC era (Before Caldera), UNM presidents had worked cooperatively with deans and vice-presidents at the UNM Health Sciences Center to coordinate activities and to narrow the canyon between the main campus and the north campus.

Since the BC era UNM has had presidents who could not care less about UNM, its various parts, and its primary functions--only about themselves and politics. The Regents were micro-managing the University, even ordering an office and a staff on campus. Those who played ball with Richardson, Koch and Eaves were richly rewarded. Others, who were suspected of having loyalty to former presidents, were "retired" or transferred. Paul Roth (a fine administrator) was one of the favored ones.  He was rewarded with an interim presidential term and better yet the exalted title of "Chancellor" of the UNM Health Sciences.

When UNM President David Schmidly came in he gave up his chief operating officer function to Friend of Bill politico David Harris. Instead of having the Provost and the Chief Academic Officer being second to the UNM president--as is customary at most higher education institutions--Harris was and is clearly the second in command. Several directors who were "compatible" were promoted to VPs, Associate and Assistant VPs, including the Athletic Department director who became a Vice President.

UNM had become more fragmented. Its leadership lost sight of their obligation to serve the faculty and students in the core functions of teaching and research, and became self-serving. The Regents micro-managed more and more and made many bad decisions, including allowing or encouraging the UNM Health Sciences to drift even farther away and for athletics to become seemingly the most important function of the state's flagship university.

It will take a long time to undo the harm done since 2003. It is hoped that UNM President Frank has the insight, values and ability to make things right again.

Our second Senior Gator weighs in with this:

The UNM main campus can be compared to a dog with two tails: the UNM Health Sciences Center on the North Campus and the Athletic complex on the South Campus. Both campuses can provide important benefits to favored friends and alumni.

Free basketball tickets or opportunities to get close to star athletes are sought after. At the Health Sciences Center it goes without saying, they can save one’s life. Since the Center has some of the finest medical care in the country, this is no small benefit to friends of UNM. And then there are the endowments and investment companies and construction contracts to be given at a Center with a $1.5 billion annual budget.. Whoever controls all this is powerful. “Follow the money." The money and influence should be transparent and in the control of the UNM President and not hidden within a bureaucratic maze with Chancellors and subsidiary boards.

Does President Frank--who took over at UNM last June-- need new players in his inner circle who can break him free from the politics of the gubernatorial past, as well as the present?

MICHELLE AND UNM

Rep. Lujan Grisham
ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham landed a blow against Paul Roth and UNM Health Sciences when last month she questioned why the jobs of 57 medical transcriptionists had to be outsourced from the Center when it has millions in cash reserves. It's not the first time the congresswoman was involved with Roth. Back in 2008, when she was leaving a cabinet post under Governor Richardson, this story broke:

Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration approached the University of New Mexico about hiring controversial Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham just before she left her cabinet post, according to a tape recording made before the start of a regents meeting. “The governor....called me last night ... to hire Michelle Grisham. He fired her,” then-acting university President David Harris could be heard saying on the tape prepared by UNM officials and included in the official record.... While she gave her resume to both Harris and Paul Roth, UNM’s executive vice president for health sciences, Grisham wasn’t hired.“I think it dispels the notion of cronyism at UNM,” Harris said....

Grisham at the time said she was not "fired" by Big Bill. Harris said he had misspoke when he said she had. Harris also evoked smiles and chuckles among the Alligators when he gave that assertion that because UNM did not hire Michelle it showed there was no "cronyism" at UNM. You have to appreciate the chutzpah.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In blogging about ex-Governor Martinez campaign staffer Anissa Ford Tuesday, we linked to a Web site that listed Ford as a project manager for "Safer New Mexico Now," a traffic safety group. Ford concluded her work there two years ago. The site is out of date.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013 Not for reproduction without permission of the author
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