Friday, December 05, 2003

Headlines: House Leader Hobbs :"I Will Fight For My Seat," Adair Hits Ramsay Over Skeen, And: Greens Try To Spoil Dr. Dean's NM Party  

It's Hobbs' choice. If he's pushed, he's going to push back...and hard. This fighting talk comes on the heels of increased rumblings in the far ABQ NE Heights that Hobbs could be among moderate Republicans who draw opposition in the June primary from the hard right of the GOP. So far its been just talk, but Hobbs, who has not taken any loyalty oaths to right-wingers John Dendahl and Mickey Barnett, tells me he has heard the rumors, but no names attached to them. "I will raise $50,000 to fight for my seat," declared the normally soft-spoken leader. And, he added, "I can raise it."

So the gauntlet has been thrown at the feet of the Dendahlites. Again. Earlier, freshman State Rep. Bob White, another NE Heights moderate, told me (story below) he's prepared to print thousands of pieces of literature (he owns a print shop) to protect his seat from any conservative primary challenger that arises. But the only Dendahlite to publicly emerge so far, State. Rep Joe Thompson, who is seeking the GOP nomination for a Public Regulation commission seat, has to face-off with former Lt. Governor Walter Bradley, another moderate. Ironically, Walter started Joe off in politics by hiring him as his chief of staff. With high name ID, Bradley is a heavy favorite to beat his former employee.

For Ted Hobbs re-election has been vacation time. He has drawn weak or no opposition. The long knives have only been pulled out against him when he seeks the House leadership role. He has been challenged both times he's gone for it and won each time. In January he'll return as GOP Leader amidst speculation that Rep. Dick Cheney of Farmington, who is back after a several year absence, may be the next Hobbs challenger. Cheney had the job during his prior House service.

But an observer in Hobbs' district, which includes some of the Bernalillo County East Mountains, pooh poohs any chance of ousting the retired IBM executive from the House. "Ted is a solid Republican." He said. "Ted and Dendahl never really got along because Ted didn't agree with Dendahl's targeting of fellow Republicans who did not vote the party line 100 per cent. I doubt if anyone can raise the money to beat him and then make a case to kick him out."

It does seem in recent months that the Dendahl years are receding into history and that the GOP middle-of the road establishment is reasserting itself. Unless the hard right can muster some fresh blood and cold cash, the rumor mill is the only joint they will be running.

Conservative GOP state Sen. Rod Adair of Roswell apparently could not stop himself and has put out an e mail pointing out that GOP Chair Ramsay Gorham this week mistakenly reported the death of Congressman Joe Skeen. Adair pointed out that Ramsay was wrong and asked for prayers for Skeen. It appears nothing is sacred in the ongoing infighting in the Grand Old Party

So far, Dr. Dean, "is the man." With Dean sitting on a giant lead in the New Hampshire polls and running well in Iowa, eyes are starting to shift to the NM caucuses where the nine Dem prez contenders will face off February 3rd, and maybe offer an opportunity to knock the good doctor off his perch.

An interesting twist is the early effort of Dennis Kucinich to enlist the 11,000 NM members of the Green Party to become Democrats just so they can attend the caucuses and put a dent in whoever the frontrunner may be, if not win the prize outright for Kucinich. You may have heard that Green Party leader and 2002 governor candidate David Bacon has already switched to fight Dean and brethren. But you may not have known that the Kucinich campaign has taped an automatic phone message from Bacon that is being phoned into the homes of Green Party members and urging a party switch. Kucinich runs low in the polls, but the caucus format fits his guerilla style campaign, which makes the get-out-the-vote effort paramount. And his liberal views are playing well in Santa Fe and Taos counties. One frustrated Democrat told me: "If there was a vaccine against the Green Party virus, it would be a bestseller around here."

Kucinich has a long ago NM political connection. When he was elected Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio back in the 70's one of the campaign masterminds was Estelle Zannes, who went on to help get David Rusk elected Mayor of ABQ and later became a communications professor at UNM. Estelle passed away a couple of years ago.

Thanks for tuning in this busy week. Be sure to bookmark our site and pass a link on to your interested friends. Ground zero for coverage of New Mexico politics is at: joemonahansnewmexico.blogspot.com

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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Headlines: Aftershocks Rumble In Wake Of Skeen Reporting Incident, And: A Warm Welcome To Our Sponsor: New Mexico's Enterprise Rent-a-Car 

The aftershocks of the premature reporting of former Congressman Joe Skeen's passing continued to be felt in New Mexico's media and political community Wednesday as well as on Capitol Hill in Washington. The main focus is on how the unfortunate information made it's way to the public. Sources very close to the Republican legend told "New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan" that they think they have an idea on how the rumor started. To paraphrase them: We think it came from a former high elected Republican official of the same generation as Joe. We'll leave the guessing on who it is to you. But that official, according to our sources, erroneously tipped off the night editors of the ABQ Journal who naturally followed-up on the information by calling State GOP Chair Ramsay Gorham who took it at face value and later told an inquiring KRQE-TV anchorman Dick Knipfing that the 76 year old Skeen had died. Dick, again quite naturally, ran with the story which Gorham later called to retract after speaking to sources close to Skeen.

In an e mail to us a top editor at the Journal made the point that the paper never published a Skeen death notice and argued that inquiring about Skeens's apparent death was part of the normal reporting process and was not to blame for the incident. "The Journal doesn't "give" information over the phone," he wrote," it's supposed to get information, then sell it off the rack the next morning." True enough. Because someone from a newspaper (or web site) calls you up and says something significant has happened, doesn't make it so. As they say in the newsroom: "Check it out."

Ramsay, relatively new to the hot spotlight of major national breaking news, had her guard down. True, it's up to officials in power to check out the veracity of any statement before distributing that information to the public. But the mistake she made is one made by just about all of us who play this media game under the kleig lights. It hurts, but you learn from it.

Who knows where the rumor-spreading "official" got his information or why he felt compelled to share, but it sure caught some of this state's top media professionals in an uncomfortable snare, and alarmed the public and former colleagues of Skeen who learned of the event via our web site when it was picked up by the National Journal's "Hotline." We had dozens of visits from Capitol Hill and even from the Executive Office of the President, demonstrating the deep ties that Skeen, suffering from Parkinson's disease, still has to the highest levels of political power.

The Bottom Line: One Skeen confidante told me the event might have helped the ailing leader who is hospitalized in Roswell in critical condition: "If he heard about it I bet he was laughing his head off thinking of all the second-guessing that went on about him during his political career." Well, if it made Joe laugh, the good surely outweighed any real or imagined damage done.

For sure, the whole incident earned itself a prominent page in our never-ending book of La Politica.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

A Warm Welcome To Our Newest Sponsor: New Mexico's Enterprise Rent-a-Car, And Fresh Details On The Breaking Joe Skeen Story 

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Warm Regards,

Headlines: Premature Death Announcement of Former Congressman Skeen Rocks NM, And: What is Ed Romero doing for Wesley Clark?  

New Mexico was thrown into shock and confusion late Tuesday night when it was reported that venerable former Republican Congressman Joe Skeen had passed away at a Roswell hospital. But later reports said Skeen was alive, but in critical condition. The confusion started with a report on KRQE-TV where veteran anchorman Dick Knipfing took to the airwaves to report that State GOP Chair Ramsay Gorham had announced that Skeen had died. But at the top of the 10 p.m. news Knipfing announced that Gorham had called to retract the story and to report that the former eleven term Congressman was alive. The 10 p.m news broadcasts on KOB AND KOAT clarified Skeen's condition, making a point to say that Skeen had not passed away, but was seriously ill and had requested that close former staffers come see him at the Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. Skeen is afflicted with Parkinson's disease. He ended his service in the Congress in 2002 and was succeeded by fellow Republican Steve Pearce.

The series of events that led to the premature death announcement apparently began when Albuquerque Journal night editors were told that Skeen had died (By whom we do not know at this point). They put political correspondent Loie Fecteau into action and she started working the phones. One of those calls was to GOP Chair Gorham who tells friends she was told by Loie that Skeen had died and they were seeking reaction. When Knipfing got wind that Skeen was seriously ill he called Gorham for confimation and she told the anchor Skeen was dead, based on the information she was given by the Journal. Former Congressman Manuel Lujan, who served with Joe was also called by the Journal. Lujan was shocked by the news, but held off commenting until he could confirm it personally with Skeen family members. Lujan's decision proved prudent as the news came moments later that Gorham had committed what she told Channel 13 was "a terrible mistake." Sources say that the rumor of Skeen's death might have gained steam when a Lincoln County Republican Party official was told by a Skeen family member that Skeen would not be able to make a scheduled event, presumed the worst and the rumor began.

It's hard to fault 13 for going with the story considering their source of information. If you are talking to the head of the Republican Party and she says on the record the Congressman has died, you assume she has such serious news right and is speaking on behalf of the family. On the other hand, if you are talking to usually "reliable sources" who wish to remain anonymous, the "two source" rule comes into play: get two different sources to independently confirm before you go. Gorham has to be feeling pretty awful about her misstep, the Journal is sure to be looking at its role, and knowing Knipfing's obsession with accuracy, you can assume he too is not a happy camper.

Former Skeen legislative director Bruce Donisthorpe, working the phones with former colleagues throughout the evening, was relieved that the reports of Skeen's death were premature. "He's a wonderful man. Our staff was like family and no one wants to lose the leader of their family," said Donisthorpe while keeping a late-night vigil on the condition of his former boss.

Skeen made history and became a political legend when he won his seat in Congress in 1980 via a write-in campaign.

There was also media confusion Tuesday regarding former Ambassador to Spain and New Mexico political heavyweight Ed Romero and his role in the campaign of Democratic presidential contender General Wesley Clark. An Associated Press dispatch said Romero had been picked by Clark to "manage" his campaign. That had eyebrows arched as Romero is an elder statesman these days, not exactly prone to directing energetic twentysomethings in battleground states like Iowa and New Hampshire. A check of Clark's website had a different spin on the Romero story. It said the former Bernalillo County Democratic Party Chairman and big fundraiser for former President Clinton, was endorsing Clark's candidacy, along with several other prominent Hispanic leaders. Romero, a Korean war veteran, was also picked to chair the Clark NM presidential effort. However, Clark's release said nothing about Romero managing the campaign. The endorsement line is apparently the correct one, but if we see Romero manning the phones and barking orders in a campaign war room we'll be sure to let you know.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Headlines: Cadigan's Chance To Lead, Part II of "My Lost Weekend" In The Valley And Rep. Ray Ruiz' Fight For Life  

It's no surprise to readers of "New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan" that the Westside's Michael Cadigan was named president of the ABQ city council last night and Eric Griego picked as vice-president. We broke the Cadigan story November 18 (see below). Cadigan wrapped up the leadership post when Councilor Gomez would not go for Griego. (Gomez last night even voted NO on Griego for VP. What happened to their love fest?) I have received a lot of "spin" on this story from many different quarters, but the bottom line is that Griego could not persuade his fellow councilors to give him the job for a variety of reasons, including his sometimes "hot" personality and Mayor Marty's support of Cadigan. Griego and Cadigan are both rookie councilors. Both aspire to higher political office. The city council could be a political graveyard for both if they can't find a way to end the often juvenile debates and out-of-line language that have been hallmarks of this council. I have observed every council since the 1974 inception of the council/mayor form of government. It was not supposed to be this way, and some of the behavior is due to inexperience. But with more experience and some new personalities we hope for a return to more civil relations among the panel. We wish Cadigan and Griego well and hope their leadership will bring our city government together--- for a change.

I was rushed passed restaurants with no names, dogs and cats of unknown breeds and groves of trees older than your great-grandma. The swirl of scenery was soon matched by an equally head-spinning round of political conversation at its deepest levels--off the record or off with your head. It's part two of "My Lost Weekend"

The Bernalillo County Commission seat representing the ABQ South Valley is tantamount to being mayor of the Valley. The area is in the county and has no city councilor as do the other commission districts. So the commissioner is the big cheese and right now that's Steve Gallegos, a former city councilor, who is finishing his second four year term. He can't run for reelection. But Gallegos could keep a finger in the pie through a cousin of his who we are told IS running.

Chris Sanchez, who unsuccessfully sought the Bernalillo County Sheriff's post last year is now, according to the Valley alligators, planning a run for the Democratic nomination for the Gallegos seat. And who may also seek that nomination? None other than Art de la Cruz. And who is his patron? None other than Al Valdez who held the commission seat for eight years prior to Gallegos and tried to take it away from Steve in a down and dirty battle four years ago which Gallegos won.

Sanchez is retired from the Sheriff's department and Art de la Cruz worked with the county parks and rec department. Our deep Valley sources say Valdez may also be backing another candidate from that department seeking the state senate senate seat occupied by Linda Lopez (see "My Lost Weekend" below). So while Gallegos, who has served as state senate sergeant at arms courtesy of Valley powerhouse Sen. Manny Aragon, and Valdez, who is a lobbyist in Santa Fe and chair of the NM Veterans Service Commission courtesy of Gov. Bill, may not actually have their names on the ballot in the June primary, it could shake out as a behind-the-scenes face-off between these old rivals. Or so I was told during a a memorable holiday weekend in the deepest recesses of La Politica.

It's not a political fight that well-liked State Rep. Ray Ruiz of ABQ's Westside is waging; it's a fight for his life from the ravages of lung cancer. Ruiz, a Democrat and former iron worker who contracted the disease from working with asbestos molds, has just returned from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston where he underwent tests. He's now recuperating at home and weighing his treatment options. NM lobbyist Scott Scanland, a family friend, spoke with Ray and told us: "He's a fighter and my money is on Ray to beat this horrible disease." Ruiz is a longtime leader in the labor movement and Scott reports "he is using this experience to help him work on possible legislation regarding worker safety and health issues." Get well soon Ray. Your dedication to New Mexico workers is needed at the Roundhouse.

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Monday, December 01, 2003

My Lost Weekend: Captured by South Valley Alligators And Forced to Talk Politics--What I Learned 

There I stood, deep in the South Valley admiring the fall foliage, when suddenly a group appeared--alligators! "Oh no," I thought, "not politics on this nice holiday weekend." But soon I found myself escorted down streets lined with houses built before Lincoln was President. I was taken to the very heart of La Politica, the birthplace of the centuries old tradition of no-holds-barred political power plays. Here, there are 'movidas' so complex that they would leave Karl Rove scratching his head. Being a gringo from Pennsylvania, I was honored to be admitted to this shrine so I sat quietly in the inner sanctum and listened...and listened.

On State Senator Linda Lopez: She has "put too much on her plate," the alligators said, and a Democratic primary opponent for her may surface. The name offered up was Yvette Griego of the Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Department and a niece of former South Valley Bernalillo County Commissioner Al Valdez, who was appointed chairman of the NM Veterans Service Commission by Governor Bill. Here's how the playbook is being written:

Linda was the ringleader to get the State Senate to adjourn during the recent special session called by the Guv. The move failed, but had Senate Majority Leader Aragon, and reportedly the Guv, hopping mad. Lopez is now eying the Senate President Pro Tem job, but can only get it like Richard Romero did--with a coalition of several Democrats and all the Republicans. No Democratic governor wants that. Also, she did not get on board to save Manny when he lost the pro tem position to Romero by one vote a couple of years ago. On top of all that, Lopez' name circulating as a possible candidate for ABQ Mayor in 05' has also given rise to resentment.

Those hoping to take her down a notch believe primary opposition "should give her something else to think about." Linda is also seen as aligned with former Democratic party chair and now Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who tangled with South Valley political alligators during her tenure as party chief. I was told any positioning over Lopez does not necessarily point to a divide between the Gov and Diane, but shows the separate interests they have for the future.

Ousting Lopez would be no easy task. She is seeking a third term and has had easy rides since her first election in 96'. If primary opposition to Linda develops and comes from Big Bill and Manny with the quiet hand of Al Valdez guiding the action, it will never be known publicly. These are decisions made deep in the caverns of La Politica where your correspondent was ensconced on your behalf and then returned to the infinitely less complicated and nuanced world of ordinary politics. I will have more for you tomorrow on "My Lost Weekend" in the Valley.

That's because Vigil doesn't fly anywhere. In fact, on a trip to a New York City investment conference the state's top money man opted for the train over flying. Publicly it's been a quiet year for CPA Vigil who has been at the center of some major political controversies the last twenty years. But he's a popular name on the ballot winning two terms as state auditor and now one as Treasurer. The fly in the ointment in the Treasurer's office has always been over the commissions that are paid to the brokerage firms that do business from the billions of dollars in state accounts. It's a big bowl of honey and if a state treasurer can't keep a wall up between his campaign and those firms, trouble can occur. Vigil hails from Las Vegas, NM and has 16 brothers and sisters (not a typo) who have been important assets to Vigil's political success.

By the way, Jan Goodwin, who Vigil defeated in the 02' Democratic Treasurer primary, landed on her feet with Governor Bill appointing her Secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department. CPA Goodwin received high marks when she directed the State Board of Finance under Governor Gary. And in another "by the way," former State Treasurer Michael Montoya, who Vigil served as Deputy Treasurer, is reported to have ended his long bachelorhood and married one of his former staffer's from the Treasurer's office. Montoya, also a CPA, sought the Southern NM Congressional seat against the GOP's Joe Skeen in 00', but friends say he no longer has the political bug and will not seek public office again.

Sources report GOP State Chair Ramsay Gorham traveled to Texas recently to continue negotiations over the role of the state party in the Bush reelection effort here. The warfare over that issue wreaked havoc in recent weeks, (stories below) but there still has been no announcement of love and peace and just what role state will have with national.

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