Friday, May 09, 2014

Drip, Drip, Drip; Yet Another Scandal Bursts Onto The Campaign Trail: Whistleblower Suit Targets Econ Secretary Jon Barela; Dems Pounce; Will Scandals Change Guv Race Narrative? 

Guv & Barela
Drip, drip, drip.  First there were those very politically incorrect audio tapes leaked to Mother Jones magazine and now there's the alleged unsavory saga of NM Economic Development Director Jon Barela and Deputy Secretary Barbara Brazil.

A whistleblower lawsuit that was recently unsealed and that the liberal magazine broke the news of was just what you don't need at your economic department when you are just about dead last in job creation, the rate of poverty, wages paid and are trying to court Tesla for its giant gigafactory.

The suit reads like a soap opera. Barela is busy helping out a company he had a financial interest in. He's busy wiring a state contract to allegedly benefit the wife of Pat Rogers, the ubiquitous Republican attorney and GOP National Committeeman. Barela is said to let Brazil run dairy queen franchises on state time. He's accused of covering up waste and mismanagement at the Spaceport. And last but no least, he's accused of having extramarital sex with a subordinate.

Someone call AMC. When "Madmen" goes off the air, we think we've got a replacement for them.

As is so often the case it was those inside the Martinez administration who turned on it. From the article:

The whistleblowers are Kurt Saenz, the former chief financial officer at the New Mexico Economic Development Department, and Brent Eastwood, a former Army infantry officer and RAND Corporation analyst who ran the department's international trade and business advocacy divisions. Both men are Republicans and were appointed by Martinez. Eastwood's wife, Melanie Sanchez-Eastwood, worked as a scheduler on Martinez's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. A source familiar with the case says the FBI has interviewed Saenz and Eastwood about their allegations. Eastwood also anonymously reported his allegations to the state attorney general and the state auditor. (Saenz and Eastwood declined to comment for this story.)

Barela said  in a statement the lawsuit's allegations are "baseless and malicious rantings from disgruntled employees" fired for sexual harassment and threatening workplace violence.

Econ Development spokeswoman Angela Heisel responded to the allegation involving Brazil:

To show just how off-base this is, the deputy secretary does not run three Dairy Queens (let alone even one). The only relation is that her daughter happens to operate one Dairy Queen store.


RTS state contracts (click to enlarge)
Our readers were busy researching Real Time Solutions--the ABQ web development firm that Mother Jones says  employed the wife of Pat Rogers and "was (paid) more than $30,000 to build (economic development's) new website without a contract—a violation of state procurement code."  The magazine said: "When Saenz alerted Barela to the contracting problem, Barela, the complaint says, dismissed Saenz's concerns. Hiring Real Time Solutions, Barela told Saenz, was "requested by the governor," according to the complaint.

Readers gathered financial info and say  Real Time Solutions (RTS) has been awarded over $3 million in state contracts. In a bit of irony, they got that info from the state's Sunshine Portal which has a contract with RTS. And a list of clients on the RTS web site reads like a catalogue of government agencies. They work for the Governor's office, the city of ABQ, the NM Film Office, the state campaign finance system and more.
The Barela bombshell was yet another gift for the Democrats in this election year, but they have not yet packaged the many gifts and presented them to the voters in a way that would have them tearing away at them like it's Christmas morning. It will be up to the Dem nominee for Governor--to be selected at the June 3 primary--to do the job.

Dem contender Howie Morales called on Gov. Martinez to immediately fire Barela, but Martinez rarely if ever, ejects anyone in her top circle--no matter the allegation. He said:

I am calling for the immediate termination of Secretary Jon Barela. Additionally, I am calling on the attorney general to perform a full investigation of these allegations and to prosecute any person who was involved in these illegal activities, including Governor Martinez. It is clear Governor Martinez either has no clue as to what is taking place in her own administration, or even worse, she is fully engaged in this type of corruption. Either way, it is clear Susana Martinez is no longer fit to be the leader of our state, and she will soon see the people agree as well.

Candidate Alan Weber came with this:

No wonder she's running fluffy TV ads—it's hard to stay popular when New Mexicans are learning what's behind the curtain.

And Lawrence Rael blasted away:

Maybe now we know why she's failed to create jobs. Mother Jones Magazine has done it again. It has a new expose out alleging: Governor Martinez’s Secretary of Economic Development benefited a company in which he had a financial interest, and when two Republican employees tried to bring this corruption to light, they were fired for it. It’s the worst type of cronyism imaginable. If their disclosures are true, then this administration is truly rotten to the core, and it’s time to cut out the rot...Governor Martinez promised to fight corruption. Here’s her chance: she’s surrounded by it.


The hits just keep coming and you have to wonder if and when they will give Martinez real trouble on the trail. We have three polls that show her approval rating at around 55 percent. A March survey from the Dem-oriented PPP (52%) a December Common Cause poll (55%) conducted by Brian Sanderoff and an insider poll done late last month (55%).

The Guv's political operatives are pushing back hard against that take and are shopping their poll that claims Martinez is at 62 percent approval. They are urgently working to keep alive the perception that the Governor's race is a done deal and that the announcement by the national Dems that they won't play here took away the Dems final hope.

But in just the span of a few weeks we have had the release of the damaging audio tapes featuring the Governor with campaign aides in 2010, the news that her chief of staff violated state regulations by using a government credit card for personal expenditures (for which he says he reimbursed the state) and now the possible Barela scandal.

Then there is the long simmering controversy over the racino lease for the Downs at ABQ, the multiple lawsuits the media have brought seeking records from the Governor and the accusations from Jamie Estrada, her short-lived campaign manager who faces federal charges over email hacking. And in the backdrop is one of the worst state economies in generations.

The problem for Martinez is time. There's too much of it. The election is six months away--so long that even the thus far hapless Democrats might be able to come with a powerful narrative to unseat her. And will there be even more onetime administration insiders turning against her in the weeks ahead?

For example, we learn that District Judge Judge Sarah Singleton has ordered the Governor and the Department of Finance to turn over documents to Rick May, the former head of the NM Finance Authority who was fired--he says wrongfully--in a fake audit scandal. The ruling is here.
On the other hand, the Governor has the money and enough popularity to possibly take out the Democratic nominee early in the race and shove back in the closet the various scandals that are pressing against the door.

Drip, drip, drip.


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We said on the Thursday blog that the DC ad firm that is handling Dem Guv hopeful Alan Webber's media also did the same for Martin Heinrich in 2012. Webber's firm helped enviro groups who assisted Heinrich. A former Heinrich consultant says the ad firm of Kully-Hull produced Heinrich's TV.

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