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Monday, December 08, 2014

Brandenburg's Gate: DA Gets Mired In Muck As Her Decision Nears On Controversial Police Shooting; The Questions Being Asked, Plus: New GOP Chair Says State Party Should Be About The Cash Not The Ideas, And: Freshman Senator Snags Whip Post 

Kari Brandenburg (ABQ Journal)
All eyes will be on Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg today as she holds a news conference to answer allegations that she offered to reimburse burglary victims for not implicating her son as a suspect in the burglaries.

There will be plenty of questions for Brandenburg about what exactly she did or did not do to help her son dodge responsibility and possible criminal charges for two burglaries he was allegedly involved in, but there are also other questions raised.

Update: At a news conference Monday Brandenburg said: "I have never at any time violated the law. My friends and colleagues know this." She said her son is a drug addict and has been in jail three times. "I have never nor would I ever do anything other than hold him 100 percent accountable for his actions." She also said "absolutely not" when asked if she committed any ethical breaches. Asked if she will continue to review police shooting cases, she said, "I will continue to do my job." But added that she will evaluate her position going forward. She also indicated there would be no decision this month in the shooting case of James Boyd. Entire video of news conference here.

What immediately struck seasoned observers was the timing of this. The ABQ Police Department learned of the allegations against the DA in October 2013. Now--within weeks of when Brandenburg could announce whether she will pursue criminal charges against former APD officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez in the controversial shooting of homeless camper James Boyd--this news breaks. Brandenburg has never charged a police officer for their role in a police shooting, but the Boyd slaying drew international attention and looms large. Brandenburg said she was personally investigating the Boyd case and was preparing to make a decision on criminal charges early next year.

Does this new twist mean she may send the Boyd shooting to a preliminary hearing before a district judge presented by another DA's office? Otherwise, she seems damned if she moves to charge the officers and damned if she doesn't.

Another question: APD began its investigation in October 2013. Why did it not turn it over to an outside law enforcement agency since it involved the district attorney who has the authority to charge APD officers with crimes? On November 25 APD asked the attorney general's office to review its year long investigation. The question is whether it should have ever been an APD investigation. Is there a conflict of interest here?

And how about how fast that open records request from the newspaper was fulfilled by APD which has a history of dragging its feet on such inquires? The detective wrote his letter to the attorney general on Nov. 25 and only days later the letter and the story land on the front pages. How come APD doesn't respond so quickly for IPRA requests for police lapel camera video and so many other requests?

Another question thrown out: Has the DA been intimidated by the ongoing APD investigation into her and her son and thus not charged any officers in police involved shootings?

On the political front, are the allegations damaging enough to eventually force Brandenburg to resign?  That would have major political impact as Republican Governor Martinez would get to appoint Brandenburg's replacement. Even if Brandenburg stays through the end of her term the allegations may already have put the R's in a position to stake a claim for the office in 2016. R's will pressure Brandenburg to resign, perhaps citing the case of ABQ Public Safety Officer Darren White who interfered in the handling of an auto accident involving his wife and was forced to quit.

How will Attorney General-elect Hector Balderas, a Democrat, handle the case? The hot potato is going to be in his hands as the term of Attorney General King ends Dec. 31.

Public opinion is bound to be harsh on Brandenburg, although she will win some sympathy as a mother tyring to help a son. She is midway through her fourth, four year term as DA, the longest tenure in modern history. She has a high-powered criminal defense attorney and from what has been disclosed so far she seems to have walked a fine line in her son's alleged criminal activity.

No matter the outcome of the Brandenburg incident, it is another black eye for the state's largest city. APD is under investigation by the Department of Justice for the many police shootings and the District Attorney is now mired in muck. Add to the mix a don't-worry-be-happy ABQ Mayor and City Council and a relentless economic recession and you have a city adrift. Where will the waves take us next?

PARTYING WITH THE R'S

Debbie Maestas
The weekend election of Debbie Weh Maestas as the new chair of the NM Republican Party did not set off shouts of glee in the camp of Governor Martinez, but neither did it send it into a spiral of depression.

Maestas is the daughter of former NM GOP chairman Allen Weh who clashed with Martinez for the 2010 GOP Guv nomination. But the party and the position are not what they used to be as the money and power has shifted to the anything goes super PACS.

The Martinez camp was content to see John Billingsley out of the post which he used to poke at key Martinez aide Jay McCleskey. The Guv's political aides were nowhere to be seen at the Saturday convention.

Martinez is expected to travel heavily in the next two years as she looks for a perch on the national stage and raises money for the GOP. She will leave behind the often bitter intraparty strife that has accompanied her tenure. It is epitomized by the discontent with Martinez of former GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Jr. who backed Maestas.

Maestas, whose professional background is as an executive with her father's CSI Aviation, also had the backing of GOP southern Congressman Steve Pearce who has no lost love for Susana and company. With that kind of backing Maestas (247 votes) trounced challengers Max Barnett (110) and Rick Lopez (87). A complete list of the new state GOP officers is here.

While the chair position has been diminished it still has the bully pulpit. Media interviews, speeches, news releases and the like still give her an opportunity to help shape the narrative (without stepping on the toes of Susana and the newly in charge state House Republicans).

But Maestas indicated she doesn't want to wade into issues much and will concentrate on raising money:

“The party's goal, their responsibility, is to raise money so that we can support our candidates who are out there running. The party doesn't need to be the organization that has the platform, they need to be the organization that is the support … We need to be strong and make sure candidates and county (Republican) chairs have what they need.”

Well, maybe. But the political parties are unlikely to be major players in the individual races in the super PAC era. It would be nice if they were for those R's who chafe under the thumb of the Martinez Machine. It had its hand in several super PACs this cycle.

As for Maestas's assertion that the party should not concern itself with a platform, what is a political party without ideas? A perpetual fund-raising vehicle? Maybe she just wants to spare herself involvement in the deep chasm between the social conservatives and the corporate wing of the GOP.

Maestas, 42. will give the male dominated GOP a female face as the '16 presidential cycle comes into view. Given her background she should be able to raise enough cash for the party not to go penniless.

The next challenge for the GOP could come from its right wing as it pushes social issues like pro-life. Talk is already surfacing of a parental notification bill for teens wanting abortions. That is something the GOP House and Martinez can probably sign on to. However, if more stern anti-abortion measures start to advance, look for trouble to start.

WHIPPING IT 

Sen. Padilla
The position of state Senate majority whip will stay with an ABQ lawmaker. Sen. Michael Padilla won the job at the Sunday caucus of Democratic senators. He beat out Senators Lopez and Cervantes and will replace ABQ Sen. Tim Keller who was elected state auditor. Senators Sapien and Candelaria dropped out of the race earlier in the week. Candelaria was again selected as caucus chair. My sources tell me Padilla beat Cervantes of Las Cruces in a run-off.

Padilla, 42, is a freshman senator so this is a particular feather in his cap. He is aligned with Dem progressives which will make for interesting observation as he deals with Dem senators aligned with the R's and who comprise a ruling conservative coalition in the 42 member chamber.

Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen was again chosen as majority leader. The 2015 legislative session begins January 20. Other actions taken by the caucus are here.

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