Monday, July 08, 2013

Gatorgate: We Go Long And Deep; Guv Gives Some Details Of Husband's Louisiana Trip But It Raises Even More Questions; Is It "A Modified Limited Hangout?" Plus: Remembering Governor Dave Cargo 

Chuck Franco
Gatorgate moves front and center in the 2013 summer action of La Politica. We are on it like white on rice...

 Feeling the pressure of a media drumbeat to release travel records for her husband's controversial 2011 Louisiana Alligator hunting trip, Governor Martinez has now released additional details of the adventure that included First Gentleman Chuck Franco and two state police officers acting as his security detail. However, none of her new narrative is backed up by records--either official or unofficial. The Governor is giving her version of what happened on the trip but not providing documentation.

The fact that the Governor's office previously said that Franco paid his own way to Louisiana and now admits that that was not the case adds another layer of suspicion that will drive this story.

(ABQ Journal report here. AP report here. ISPAC, a union-backed group that has been critical of Martinez, came with this.)

It's hard to see how the release of statements from her office assuring the public that the trip was on the up-and-up will end this affair. Only when all records are forced into the light of day by either the Governor, the courts, FBI, attorney general, local or national investigative reporters or a combination thereof will we get a more complete picture.


The holiday weekend attempt to end the controversy surrounding Franco’s trip to Louisiana and Mississippi only managed to raise more questions. Franco's alligator hunt remains hyper-controversial because the Governor’s Office has been less than forthcoming about the trip and has offered different versions of how and who paid for it. Franco’s trip took place just weeks prior to the awarding of a 25 year lease for the ABQ Downs Racetrack and Casino. It was awarded to three owners--two of whom live in Louisiana.

Our own Alligators (our nickname for our informed political sources) as well as our Legal Beagles (attorneys who are into politics) come with key questions that are still on the table as Martinez and her shadow Jay McCleskey try desperately to end this controversy:

---The information the Governor’s Office provided are statements from the two state police officers who accompanied Franco on the trip. No hunting licenses, no receipts and no documentation showing who paid for anything is provided. Also lacking is any statement from Franco regarding his role in the trip. Why the lack of transparency?

--- Based on the limited information provided, it appears Franco and company spent just one day hunting alligators. What did they do the rest of the time?

---Every stop on the Franco itinerary is near a casino or gaming operation. Did the alligator hunt also involve gambling and were any of these gaming operations connected in any way with the individuals who received the 25 year lease for The Downs?

---State gas card receipts show the party filling-up for gas within two hours after their last fill-up on at least two different occasions. How did they manage to burn through that much gas--or were the state-issued credit cards being used for something else?

---Why has the state police provided three different versions for the genesis of the trip?

a) Chuck Franco wanted to go hunting so the state police chief assigned two officers to accompany him.

b) The two officers were going on a vacation and Chuck Franco asked if he could go with them.

c) And the current version--That the two officers were going on vacation and they invited Chuck Franco along, allowing them to not only have a taxpayer funded excursion, but to draw significant overtime pay which most people don't receive while on vacation.

---Since the lease for The Downs was awarded, the wife of state policeman Ruben Maynes and a sister of Maynes' have both been hired into state positions. The wife, Donna, is a $55,000 a year executive assistant at the Governor's office and the sister, Christine Tabet, works at the Governor's Mansion for $33,000 a year. The wife was hired in February 2012. Maynes was one of the two officers who accompanied Franco to Louisiana.

---The hiring of Maynes’ sister took place approximately the same time Maynes gave an affidavit late last year to the NM attorney general's office. In it he and fellow officer Frank Chavez said during the Louisiana trip Franco had no contact with anyone with connections to the Downs. Is the timing of Mayne's affidavit and the hiring of his relatives coincidental?

---The Governor's office says the uncle of the wife of Maynes--George Blanchard of Breaux Bridge, La.--paid $500 for two nights of lodging and a $500 fee for Franco to shoot an alligator. Blanchard, who told the AP he is no relation to ABQ Downs owner Paul Blanchard, also provided food while they were at the lodge. Franco paid $200 for the hunting guide. Where are all the receipts? For  the unnamed "lodge?" For the guide? For the $500 alligator hunting fee?

---How do the officers know with certainty whether or not anyone Franco had contact with had connections to the Downs? Do they know all the players? Did Franco tell them about everyone he spoke with during the trip? And why didn't Franco voluntarily give a sworn affidavit saying he had no contact with anyone directly or indirectly affiliated with the Downs owners?

---Is the revelation that the attorney general took affidavits from the two state policeman late last year confirmation that the attorney general is still conducting an official investigation into the awarding of the Downs racino lease? (Based on the statements of several former Martinez campaign staffers and one of their attorneys, there is an FBI investigation into the Downs deal).

---At its most innocent, it appears these two officers found a way to have the taxpayers of New Mexico provide a State Police SUV, a state gas card and get paid thousands of dollars in overtime for their personal vacation by inviting the Governor’s husband to tag along.

---At its worst there is a disturbing pattern of cronyism, waste, fraud and abuse--not just of taxpayer money and resources--but of the public trust by the Martinez Administration. What else isn’t the public being told? Did this trip, as many are now speculating, seal the deal for the Louisiana owners of The Downs? All these questions could be answered fairly easily, if the Governor’s Office chose to. Given Martinez’s campaign rhetoric about ending “pay to play” corruption and being an open and transparent Governor, the public deserves far more information than what was offered this past weekend.

Interesting questions all and pretty much guaranteeing that Gatorgate has legs. It would seem much of this could now be easily verified or discredited by a serious investigation. We and New Mexico await  the outcome of any probe underway or any about to be undertaken.


Richard Nixon
For those who are not familiar with the term modified limited hangout," it entered the political vernacular back in the early 70's during the Watergate affair that forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon:

A limited hangout, or partial hangout, is a public relations or propaganda technique that involves the release of previously hidden information in order to prevent a greater exposure of more important details.

Did the Martinez administration this weekend give us a modified limited hangout on Gatorgate?

What we learned about was a highly questionable action by two state police escorts who supposedly offered to take Chuck Franco on their Alligator  hunting trip. By doing so, they got paid for security duties and had most of the cost of the trip defrayed. But what would greater exposure of all details of this trip reveal--details the Martinez administration is unwilling to release?


In refusing to release records from the Franco Louisiana trip and also the spending records for her security detail for the three months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, the Governor is citing Texas law. In denying records to The Associated Press her administration specifically cites a Texas Supreme Court ruling in favor of Gov. Rick Perry as the basis for the refusal. In that case, the state of Texas argued that release of travel vouchers could establish travel patterns that could compromise the Governor's safety.

But one of our Legal Beagles--a criminal defense attorney--is shooting the Texas argument down and says Susana isn't going to be able to stand on that legal leg:

Joe, I researched the Texas case that the Governor’s office is citing but that case actually led to a change in Texas state law. That law keeps details of travel vouchers submitted by Texas Gov. Perry’s Department of Public Safety security team secret for 18 months after trips are completed. So, even in Texas, Gov. Martinez's arguments don’t support her claims against disclosure. The Franco trip is now nearly two years old. (The law is: Texas Govt. Sec. 660.2035--Confidentiality of Certain Peace Officer Vouchers; Quarterly Summaries (Texas Statutes (2011 Edition).

The Governor is now trying to argue that since the vouchers or expenses for the Louisiana trip weren’t submitted to the state for reimbursement, then her husband’s whereabouts aren’t anyone’s business. But go back, to the NM Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) that defines a public record “regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Here it is:

"public records" means all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or maintained.

Joe, this phrase is key: "Regardless of physical form or characteristics." That arguably covers even trips made with hunting buddies purchased by the state of New Mexico.

Good stuff, Legal Beagle. Yep, the Alligators, Senior Alligators and the Legal Beagles are working the Gatorgate beat hard for you...


"Gatorgate" means the Chuck Franco trip to Louisiana. Emailgate is the case in which the Governor's email account was hijacked. Several of the emails disclosed as a result of the hijacking showed wheeling and dealing over the Downs racino lease between Downs attorney Pat Rogers and high ranking administration officials. Jamie Estrada, a former campaign manager for Martinez has been indicted in connection with emailgate. Emailgate also refers to the revelation that Martinez administration officials were conducting state business via private email. She has since ordered a halt to the practice.


Gov. Cargo
(Sorber/ABQ Journal)
All the joy, elation and promise of politics could be found in the soul of David F. Cargo. So could the pain, cynicism and hurt. He was the complete political man. Let's face it. Most politicians today don't read or think very seriously. It's just tactical warfare to win an election--aimed at the 8th grade mentality and produced by those at a similar grade level.

But for Cargo it was intellectual warfare--truly a battle of ideas--not personal animosity or the campaign invective that tries to pass itself off today as serious debate. That's why few of today's politicians are remembered. They play small ball. That will not be the fate of David Cargo.

Various reports on the former NM Governor's passing at the age of 84 on Friday in ABQ can be found here, here,  here and here.

In March of 2004 we profiled Dave for "NM Politics with Joe Monahan" on the occasion of his 75th birthday. It says much of what we feel today as we mourn his passing.

Cargo had a serious intellect, but he also had a sense of humor that rivaled that of Chris Rock. An example:

"Republicans stay bought, Democrats have to be bought every year."

In his later years--as the GOP became even more conservative--Cargo's critics dubbed him a RINO--Republican In Name Only. But ABQ GOP City Councilor and former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones dispels that notion:

The Governor was far head of his time. Look at this record on the environment, civil rights, voting rights and more, So much of what he stood for has been codified into law. He was an intellectual force who moved his party and his state forward. 


The late Kurt Lohbeck was a longtime political ally of Cargo and in 2010 wrote a review for the blog of Cargo's autobiography. In it, Lohbeck recalled how it all started for one of the state's most colorful political personalities ever:

Dave moved to New Mexico from Michigan, that hotbed of Republican liberals. Nobody of any political acumen gave him a prayer to win an election in this state. Not only did he win a state House seat, in 1962, with strong ABQ Valley support, but was re-elected. And he began to drag this Western state into the 20th Century despite the hemming and hawing from those in control.

His next Don Quixote adventure was to run for governor. In 1966, he campaigned in the northern counties like no Republican ever had. He beat the Republican establishment in the primary and the Democratic powers in the general election. He had no entourage, no staff, just himself and a beat-up old car worth about $200. A newspaper reporter started calling him, “Lonesome Dave.” That moniker has been with him ever since.


Beimer (circa 1970's)
The former Governor--the youngest ever elected at 37--was a reporter's dream--providing a pithy comment that struck just the right note for the occasion. ABQ's Rodger Beimer covered Cargo's time as Governor in the late 1960's for KOAT-TV:

He was a reporter's dream come true. If I ever needed a reaction to a story or a comment, I'd call the Governor and he was ready to talk. He was smart, quick, and never backed away from a controversy.
There were trying times during his term, like Reis Tijerina's '67 raid on the Teirra Amarilla Courthouse and all, but he met everything head on. He would jump in the middle of any controversy and wrestle the opponents to the ground. He was a real political pro. He knew how to get headlines and he knew how to get in the movies.


Cargo faced a bevy of political opponents over his long political career. One of them is Democrat Pete Dinelli who is running for ABQ mayor this year--just as he did against Cargo back in 1989:

New Mexico has lost a true maverick of his day. What a colorful personality--and an opponent I could call a friend. Governor Cargo was one of my opponents for Mayor 24 years ago. He came in 3rd, missing the runoff that was held  between Pat Baca and Louis Saavedra. I met him for the first time when he was Governor and I was 17  and after I was elected Governor of New Mexico Boy's State. The Governor will be missed, especially his stories.


With the death of  Gov. Cargo, New Mexico has five living former Governors. Jerry Apodaca, now 78, who served from '75-'79; Toney Anaya, 72, in office from '83-'87; Garrey Carruthers 73, who held office from '87-'91;  Gary Johnson, 60, who served two terms from '95-'03 and Bill Richardson, 65, whose two four years terms were from '03-'11.

Before 1970 New Mexico allowed a Governor to serve two consecutive two year terms. By 1970 the law was changed to allow one four year term. The law was later altered to allow a Governor to serve two consecutive four year terms. Since we became a state in 1912,  27 individuals have served as Governor.


Joe Monahan
(Kyle Zimmerman)
In 1993, I produced Cargo's media for his ABQ mayoral run-off election against Democrat Marty Chavez. On Election Eve we had a big event at campaign headquarters. All involved were somewhat incredulous that we appeared to be on the cusp of winning after closing a polling gap with Chavez of over 20 points.

But by that time Cargo seemed more comfortable with being a political character than actually taking power. He turned to me with only hours before the first votes were cast and said, "You mean we could actually win this thing?" We didn't, losing by less that 600 votes but giving ABQ its closest mayoral election in history.

It was Governor and only the office of Governor that resided in Cargo's heart. In his autobiography he summed it up this way:

I ran for other offices after my two gubernatorial terms. I mostly fell short. But, over the years I've come to realize that being governor was the job for me; the one I loved and the one that I could have done forever and ever.

Nothing does last forever, though, except perhaps our memories and dreams. I know that in my mind, though--and I hope in yours as well--that I will always be--Governor Dave Cargo.

Vaya con Dios--Governor Dave Cargo.

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