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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Probing ART: Transit Project Under Scrutiny Now From Three Different Sources, Plus: Should Pearce Make A Power Play And Endorse Herrell?  

The most worrisome aspect of the ART debacle is the citywide whispering over whether there has been criminal wrongdoing, akin to what happened with the notorious ABQ Metro Court building scandal that ended with indictments of prominent politicos. We and others questioned the statements of ABQ inspector General David Harper about his "review" of the ART project wondering if he would be too soft in his approach. His response:

We do not have allegations of fraud or corruption (bribery, conflicts of interest, etc.) involving the ART project, but based on a number of troublesome issues, I have decided to proactively review several aspects of this project. If during the process of the review, we discover potential misconduct, then we can spin off an investigation (which may include partnering with federal or state agencies). In fact, we will do that for one particular situation involving an employee.

As a retired federal criminal investigator who focused on procurement fraud for 35 years, I am certainly sensitive to the possibility that civil or criminal wrongdoing might exist in the project; should information be developed that warrants an investigation, we will not hesitate to initiate an investigation and coordinate with appropriate authorities. My background in procurement fraud involved fraud perpetrated by large defense contractors and I am very familiar with the various fraud schemes that could occur.

Meantime State Auditor Wayne Johnson says he has:

. . . issued a letter to the City  designating the City’s Rapid Transit Project, A.R.T., for a special audit engagement. The letter cited concerns about the funding and implementation of the project, and whether state, federal and local laws were followed.

"We have directed the City to engage the services of an independent public accountant to conduct the special audit.  While I recognize that the City’s independent Inspector General is also conducting a review, it is clear that the gravity of the situation warrant a special audit conducted by an independent accountant to ensure that taxpayer dollars have not been misspent.”

So we now have three watchdogs on ART--the IG, the state auditor and an independent public accountant. Some have suggested BernCo DA Raul Torrez conduct a grand jury probe and others have said because of the federally funded nature of the project the US Attorney's office should be poised to look at ART as the findings unfold.

At City Hall they are not pushing the criminal angle, with one insider saying it appears that many ART problems were caused by Mayor Berry's rush to finish the project before he left office to further his legacy and that's what encouraged incompetence. Time will tell. . .

ENDORSE HER?

In the wake of her blowout win over Monty Newman at the state GOP pre-primary convention some R's are asking if Rep. Steve Pearce should formally endorse State Rep. Yvette Herrell. They say such an endorsement would essentially end the contest and show Pearce, the GOP candidate for Governor, as a decisive power player.

Herrell crushed Newman 58% to 26% at the convention but Newman, a former NM GOP chairman, vows to fight on. But a Pearce public endorsement of his rival could be tantalizing, He could ensure he is succeeded in the southern congressional district by an ally and he could also put Gov. Martinez and her political adviser Jay McCleskey in their places after they have allied with Newman and for years have scorned Pearce.

Pearce and his forces have been in Herrell's corner since the beginning but one worry about taking it to the next level is that it could alienate some R's who are supporting Newman and the other lesser known primary candidates, but with Newman only getting a quarter of the convention support and the others even less the danger seems minimal.

There is precedent for a Pearce endorsement. US Senator Pete Domenici cleared the field in the GOP primary for the ABQ congressional seat in 1998 when he openly endorsed Heather Wilson for the nomination. She went on to a primary and general election win and a long alliance with Domenici.

Meanwhile, the Dems say that they are indeed targeting the conservative southern district for a takeover this fall. Their favored candidate is Xochitl Torres Small and she is on the DCCC's list of 24 seats it is targeting to to switch from red to blue.

We blogged that the national D's have not yet targeted the seat and we are not quite ready to walk that back. Small may be on the list but she still has to  win a contested Dem primary. Also, to be truly targeted the D Trip will poll and then decide if the race is in play and whether significant money and resources will flow the nominee's way. So we are a ways off from the national Dems final stance on that contest.

THE BOTTOM LINES

It will be no free ride after all for Dem State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg. His GOP opponent survives to fight another day:

Arthur Castillo, the Republican candidate for state treasurer, survived a challenge to his petition signatures and will remain on the ballot under a court ruling. . . District Judge David Thomson dismissed a lawsuit that alleged Castillo had failed to gather enough petition signatures to make the ballot.

That huge Trump corporate tax cut continues to have some NM trickle down. First PNM slahed its rate increase request and now:

The NM Gas Co. is seeking a 1.4 percent rate hike, marking its first new rate request with the state Public Regulation Commission in six years. . . The amount requested is much lower than it would otherwise have been thanks to the federal tax reform approved last fall, which lowered the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

Here's an interview of interest with the "Arch-Activist" otherwise known as Archbishop John Wester.

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