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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

No More "Thank God For Mississippi," State Sinks To Cellar In Child Well-Being; But There Is A Way Forward, Plus: The Franco Trip; Emails Show Newspaper Went After Richardson Security Records, But Not So With This Guv 

No more "Thank God for Mississippi." New Mexico is now ranked dead last--50th in the USA--in child well being rankings, according to the latest respected study. Not that Mississippi  has anything to brag about, either. They're ranked 49th. And over in Arizona, they have the 47th spot (complete NM data here).

Our decent to the very bottom of the bottom is no surprise to those who hang around here. Our fists have turned ruby red from all the pounding on the table we've done over the social conditions crisis that has long been part of the state's backdrop. But it worsened dramatically with the onset of a Great Recession that still lingers.

One supposes State Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, Governor Martinez and the rest of the nest of fiscal hawks in Santa Fe will be shaken by the news--but for how long? Our body politic tends to slip back into benign neglect after these periodic shocks.

That's why at this stage a constitutional amendment that would allow the people to directly decide if they want to reverse this course is the best way to go.

The amendment--which passed the House last legislative session but failed in the Senate--would allow funds to be taken from the $13 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and invested in very early childhood education and other programs to halt the death spiral that we are seeing.

We are not going to get out of this dilemma without taking risk. It means spending money in new and different ways (that's how Mississippi got out of 50th place). It means some of the money not be effective, but most of it--hopefully--will. It means having a "Peace Corp" mentality in addressing the crisis--from R's and Dems.

Cutting taxes and regulations--while often commendable--can no longer be offered up as solution to a decades-long misery that is being exacerbated by the forlorn economy. The human toll can no longer be papered over by esoteric talk of tax tables.

The good thing about New Mexico is how it can be a sea of tranquility in an increasingly chaotic world. The bad thing about New Mexico is that the tranquility has too often led to complacency. And so here we are.

EMAILGATE 

On Monday we asked why the ABQ Journal, one of the more aggressive newspapers in the country when it comes to transparency issues, isn't asking for records of the controversial 2011 Louisiana hunting trip taken by Chuck Franco, the husband of Governor Martinez, along with a security detail of two state policemen.

The Governor refuses to release those records, claiming doing so would compromise the Governor's "security." The Santa Fe New Mexican asked the Governor's office directly for the records and were refused.  The Associated Press reports it has had legal requests pending before the administration for six months for state police expense records for the  months leading up to the 2012 presidential election and still has not received an answer.

The Journal has been unusually quiet on the records battle, but that was not the case when it came to Democratic Governor Richardson and his state police security detail. In fact, a reader sends emails documenting how the Journal went after the very same records for Governor Richardson's security detail that we and others want to see from this Governor:

From: Thom Cole [mailto:tcole@abqjournal.com]
Sent: Tuesday, September 08, 2009 3:45 PM
To: Olson, Peter D., DPS
Subject: expenses

Peter, This is a request under the state Inspection of Public Records Act to inspect all records of all expenses for members of the Governor's security detail since Jan. 1, 2009. If any other agency also has such records, please forward this request to them.
Thanks, Thom

From: Thom Cole [mailto:tcole@abqjournal.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 9:19 AM
To: Gillespie, Nicole, DFA
Subject: ipra request

Nicole, In response to a request under the state Inspection of Public Records Act, you recently provided copies of the Bank of America credit card statements indicating the purchases made in 2009 on the procurement cards by active members of the Governor's security detail. The most recent statement provided was for statement date 08-27-09. This is a new request under IPRA for all more recent statements. That is, statements with statement dates of September, October and November.....
Thank you, Thom Cole

So what's different this time? That's the question, isn't it?

The attorney general says the records can't be withheld on the basis of security--that they should be released.

Franco took his hunting trip at the same time the administration was negotiating a lucrative 25 year racino lease with the owners of the ABQ Downs. Two of the Downs' owners live in Louisiana,.

The Governor's office says Franco and the police were "privately hosted" and say the free lodging and food they received was not given to them by anyone who has conducted business with the state or is involved in state politics. Since it was free, they say there are no expense records, but there are records of where they stayed and ate--even if it was for free.

Release of the records of Franco and the  state policemen would help verify the Governor's assertion that the trip had nothing to do with the Downs. If there is nothing to hide and the attorney general says security is not a reason for withholding the records, why won't Governor Martinez, who pledged a new level of transparency when she campaigned din 2010, release the records? Why indeed?

THE STONE WALL

Reader Mike in Corrales weighs in with this:

Joe, Remember candidate Martinez's vow to end the culture of corruption in Santa Fe? She apparently meant only the Richardson culture of corruption. Now thirty months into her first term, she's stonewalling IPRA requests, and allegedly threatening (if true, successfully thus far) the state's largest newspaper to stay away from covering the ABQ Downs racino deal.

In the end, who cares what the Journal thinks or doesn't think--what's important is what the US Attorney thinks. And if he thinks there's enough to take the case to a grand jury and indictments are handed down, the Journal will have to cover it--or become even more irrelevant than it is today.

QUIET DEMS 

State Dems have been handed an open government issue with the Franco records that you think would be an easy lay-up, but where are they? Dem Party Chairman Sam Bregman who said he would be holding the Guv's feet to the fire has said nothing on the Franco trip--the same for Dem members of the state legislature. Some of them probably received campaign donations from the Downs so perhaps feel compromised, but what about the others?

State Auditor Hector Balderas, running for attorney general and Attorney General King, running for Governor, have both had the Downs deal in front of them for nearly a year. Federal authorities have questioned former Martinez campaign staffers about the Downs deal.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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