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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Guv Contender Linda Lopez First Out Of The Gate On Downs Deal; Says "Dark Cloud" Over Casino As It Opens Today; She Makes Early Move To Shape Race With King, Plus: Will State's 50th Ranking in Child Well-Being Kick-Start Early Childhood Amendment?  

Sen. Linda Lopez
(Stephen Jones)
Dem state Senator and 2014 Guv candidate Linda Lopez breaks out and breaks her party's silence over the ongoing controversy over the awarding of the lucrative racino lease for the ABQ Downs. She comes out swinging and does it on the day the new Downs casino is slated to open:

A dark cloud hangs low over the grand opening of the Downs at Albuquerque. Individuals close to the Governor have been questioned by the FBI regarding the billion dollar contract pushed through by the Governor’s men, and which largely benefits a small group of individuals who made massive political contributions...

It is long past the time for the Governor to disclose to the public the role the Governor’s men played in awarding the contract. This includes her Political Director Jay McCleskey, National Republican Committeeman Pat Rogers, Downs at Albuquerque Manager Darren White, Downs at Albuquerque Principal Paul Blanchard, State Fair Commission Chairman Larry Kennedy, State Fair Manager Dan Mourning and the Governor’s husband, Chuck Franco. 

I am calling on the Governor to release all documents, including e-mails from her private e-mail account, that pertain to the awarding of the contract. Governor Martinez ran for office promising transparency and an end to political favoritism and corruption. With the awarding of the contract, the Governor continues the secretiveness and behind-closed-doors dealing she so adamantly condemned while running for office.

We reported extensively on Monday on the controversial 2011 hunting trip First Gentleman Chuck Franco took with two state policemen to Louisiana where two of the Downs' owners live. The trip has left many unanswered questions about Franco's activities there. That is only one aspect of many in the controversy over last year's awarding of the lease.

It's not a subject Governor Martinez and her political handlers want to talk about, but the horse has left the Downs barn. The Governor's handlers dispute that the FBI is investigating the awarding of the lease. But several of former Martinez campaign staffers say they are and they have been questioned.

Attorney General Gary King is also running for the Dem nomination for Governor. He has been quiet about the Downs deal in recent months, but Lopez is putting pressure on him now by getting out in front of what could be a defining story of the campaign.

The Democratic Party base is starved for leadership. Lopez just gave them red meat. What has King done for them? Right now this is about a small group of delegates to the March '14 Dem pre-primary convention who will decide which candidates get an official spot on the June '14 primary. There's not a vegetarian in the bunch.

It has been confirmed that as of late last year King was investigating the Downs deal. The status of the investigation--whether active or not--is not known. But if King has any hope at all of becoming Governor, how he handles the Downs hot potato will be critical.

It's hard to believe but so far, Lopez, in the game since '96, is the sole major Democratic voice speaking out and publicly questioning the ethics and legality of the Downs deal. (Don't send a man to do a woman's job?)

New state Dem Party Chairman Sam Bregman and top legislative Democrats have been sharply criticized by Dem activists for failing to comment on the ongoing Downs controversy--including the Franco trip--that has been splashed across the front pages and your blog for days on end.

Because of their reticence to put heat on the Governor on a major issue, they make Lopez's move look that much stronger and bolder. It might also help her with all-important fund-raising. Many Dems have been skeptical of her candidacy, but if she is willing to pick up the spear and show the fight others won't, that could change--fast.

Insiders are now wondering if Jason Marks, the underdog contender for the '14 Dem attorney general nomination, will follow Lopez's lead and take advantage of the Downs deal. State Auditor and leading Dem AG candidate Hector Balderas remains silent.

The owners of the Downs gave large campaign contributions to both Martinez and her 2010 Dem Guv opponent.

The Governor's handlers can dismiss Lopez as being politically motivated, but they can't stop the questions about the Downs deal from being told again and again. At least not until they answer all the questions and provide supporting documents that the Downs deal wasn't down and dirty.

Immediate political damage to the Guv? Not apparent. It is the "drip, drip, drip" nature of this story and any possible legal action that threatens her political standing. Election '14 is a long 15 months away.

MOTIVATED TO CHANGE?

The state seemed shell-shocked when a respectable study ranked us 50th in the nation--dead last--in child well-being. Sure, we were formerly 49th, but being in last place in anything galvanizes your thinking. So it is for us.

So will this latest setback ease the path to get a public vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow $110 million a year for ten years to be appropriated from the state Permanent Fund for very early childhood programs? The state's two permanent funds now total over $16 billion.

Even as the social conditions crisis worsens in the face of an ongoing and devastating recession--especially for lower income households--the amendment still has to jump a very high hurdle erected by state Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith. He has refused to allow his committee to vote on the amendment, even though it was approved last session by the state House.

Allen Sanchez, CEO of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, has repeatedly sparred with Smith over the amendment. Sanchez says he will be back at the '14 legislative session again seeking approval of the amendment which would require approval of both the House and Senate--but not the Governor--to be placed on the November ballot (Gov. Martinez opposes the amendment, calling it a "raid" on the Permanent Fund).

ABQ Dem Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham appeared at a recent news conference sponsored by the  Foundation. The news conference put the amendment back in the public eye, but Grisham stopped short of endorsing the amendment. She talked about federal programs that could address the impact of falling to dead last in the nation in child well-being.

Sanchez says the 50th ranking was a slap in the face of the state as well as a wake-up call. He sees support growing for the amendment. If he's right we might yet get a desperately needed debate over the state's economic and social decline.

DAVE CARGO

Reaction continues to come in to the news of the passing of former Governor Dave Cargo ('67-'70).  Yolanda Acosta of ABQ writes:

In 2010, I asked Governor Cargo to read my book and write a review. I respected his opinion and admired his hard work. He dedicated his life, working with the poor, minorities and countless others, in an effort to improve our lives. This is evident by building libraries in the poorest counties in New Mexico. My late husband, Ralph Villegas and I, supported Governor Cargo in his bids to run for Mayor  and Governor. New Mexico has lost a great son. Here is the review Governor Cargo wrote.

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