Friday, March 05, 2004

Thompson Fallout: Big Bill: Tone Deaf? Rep's Godbey & White Drive The Stake Deeper; Quiet On The Joe Front 

Does Big Bill need a hearing aid? That's the question political observers were posing Thursday as they digested the Guv's statement embracing ABQ GOP State Rep. Joe Thompson who was busted for DWI this week and has withdrawn from the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) race as a result.

The Big Guy said Thompson "deserves a second chance,... is a first-rate lawmaker" and a "first-rate human being. At this difficult time for Joe and his family, we should all offer him our support."

Say what, Bill? No condemnation of the drunk-driving? No dismay in a top legislator who sponsored tough DWI bills only to commit the crime? No throw of a bone to the anti-drunk driving crowd and others decrying the "hypocrisy?" KOB-TV, among others, hit hard again last night pointing out that Bill says he is the Guv who has no tolerance for any state employee driving drunk, but did not apply that standard to Rep. Thompson.


The Big Fella's bouquet to the House Minority Whip perplexed politicos. But one Republican said Thompson is the type of GOP legislator Bill likes. "He did not raise any noise this session on any of the governor's legislation and he did not bring up any controversial issues so the GOP could embarrass the governor." said a deep insider. Others pointed to Thompson's coziness with some Dem legislators, including Ken Martinez of ignition interlock infamy, as the political reasoning behind Bill's peck on the Thompson cheek.

Other observers claimed to be "mystified" and "astounded" by the Guv's love letter to Joe, which contrasts starkly with Big Bill's pre-session assertion that "DWI is my top priority." The voices of anti-drunk driving activists, Thompson's constituents on TV and callers to Jim Villanucci's KKOB radio show apparently were lost on the Fourth Floor. But the message was heard clearly here in the big city: public tolerance for legislators driving drunk is nil. And, Joe's embrace of tough laws and then violating them, especially rankled an electorate who often see the Legislature and Guv as protectors of special interests. As those comments echoed, Big Bill, self-identified agent of change, looked more like leader of the status-quo.

Some emailed that State Senator Griego and State Rep. Stewart also had DWI's, so Thompson's is no big deal. But they miss the point. Griego and Stewart are not major players in the legislative leadership or in their political party. Thompson is in the legislative leadership and a major player in the ongoing war in the state GOP. He is also a Republican, a party with a strong record of working for DWI reform. But, most important, times have changed.

The Griego-Stewart binges happened some five years ago. It was Big Bill who helped push the DWI issue to the top of the heap. Thompson was aware of the new public attitude when he withdrew from the PRC race right away. Didn't the Guv hear that? Or was he too focused on giving Thompson some payback for past help? Message to the Fourth Floor: Check the hearing aid section of your local Wal-Mart. We need the Guv back.

Meanwhile, Thompson's foes in his own party were quick to pile on Thursday. GOP State Rep. Bob White of the ABQ NE Heights called for Thompson to resign as Minority Whip. And State Rep. Ron Godbey of the East Mountains called for Thompson to resign all together. White is being challenged by Justine Young, the legal secretary to Mickey Barnett and Thompson. And the duo have fielded Republican opponents against Godbey for several election cycles. It is this "primarying" of fellow Republicans that has caused so much of the intraparty war. Opponents of the Dendhal-Barnett-Thompson faction are hoping to end it all by ousting Barnett from his Republican national committeeman's post at the state GOP convention in June.


Meanwhile, Thompson remained under wraps, but speculation raged anew that he might try to keep his House seat despite the DWI. But sources close to him told me this week he would not, and they stuck to that Thursday. "He faces an arraignment in April and sentencing soon after with possible jail time. I don't think that will sell. He will try to take care of his personal problems." Said one.

Thompson is only 37. His nightmare week will not be the end of him. But his arrest, reported nationwide, was a step back
for the image of New Mexico, its Governor, Legislature and its politics. Perhaps those commenting on this should keep that in mind when they say its a "personal" matter.

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Thursday, March 04, 2004

NM's Latest DWI Victim: State Rep. Joe Thompson; GOP "Golden Boy" Tarnished; Career In Tatters; Dendahlites In Shock, Plus: Bush NM Campaign News 

Rep. Thompson
They got the niceties out of the way quick. Sure, the politicos said, it was a personal tragedy and no one wants to pile on, but an hour after word came down that State House Minority Whip Joe Thompson of ABQ's NE Heights had been busted for DWI and was withdrawing from the race for the Public Regulation Commission (PRC), the long knives came out and the dirt was dished. Thompson is a hardball political player who is going to get what he gave now that he is down and out.

The first order of business is that ABQ PRC seat being vacated by Herb Hughes in which Thompson and former ABQ City Councilor Hess Yntema are the main players. Yntema condemned Thompson's arrest and told me "Republicans need to do better." He also slyly took note of that mass email sent out on behalf of Thompson (see my March 2 report) by ex-Guv Gary Johnson, House GOP leader Ted Hobbs, State Reps. Larranaga and Youngberg and others touting the virtues of Thompson. "I wonder what impact all this is having on them?" Hess mused. For Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White the impact was a double whammy. He was treasurer for Thompson's PRC campaign, only to have it dissolve as the result of a DWI, the hottest of political potatoes for elected lawmen.

D-W-I= Y-N-T-E-M-A

Yntema, an ABQ lawyer, who made his name in government as an ethics watchdog, is now the clear frontrunner to take the seat. If Thompson's crowd is going to get a replacement candidate on the primary ballot they have until March 16 to get the needed petition signatures. But clearly Yntema, with a Mr. Clean image, contrasts severely and favorably with the fallen Thompson who was arrested on a near-downtown street at 2 a.m. Democrat Jason Marks, a healthcare consultant, is running for the D's, but the seat is solid R. GOP lobbyist Les Houston is also said to be considering the race. Political newcomer Ward Camp is the other R running.


Thompson, 37, was an important player in the ongoing GOP war over party power between the forces of ex-state GOP Chair Dendahl and those now in power under current Chair Gorham. Thompson, said one GOP insider, was 'the golden boy" of the Dendahlites and its chief ringleader, GOP National Committeeman and attorney-lobbyist Mickey Barnett. Attorney Thompson and Barnett practice law together. When Johnson was Guv the trio made for a powerful troika. Thompson on the PRC would have enhanced Barnett's power, but it is not to be. And Mickey's re-election as national committeeman at the GOP state convention in June will also not be, if the Gorham camp gets its way. Former Light Guv Walter Bradley will challenge Mickey and the turn of events with Thompson plays into his hands nicely. (Thompson served as Bradley's Chief of Staff in the Lt. Guv's office).

So far, the Denahdlites and Barnett have come up with just one solid opponent to an incumbent GOP legislator, hardly a threat. But the threat hanging over the heads of other GOP lawmakers that they could draw primary opposition if they don't toe the line has helped the Barnett forces cling to some power. With Thompson on the ropes and Bradley waiting in the wings, their final days may be near.

Meanwhile, back at the Thompson ranch, ex ABQ City Councilor Greg Payne is preparing to take over the Thompson House seat with no announced opposition. Some politicos wondered late last night if Thompson would seek to get his House seat back now that he's dropped the PRC bid. But insiders close to Thompson tell "NM Politics With Joe Monahan" "no way." And no wonder. Thompson not only has the DWI, but he was a chief sponsor of the DWI reform laws in the recent session of the Legislature. The media last night hit hard, with KRQE-TV making the connection right off the bat, and KOB-TV's Neil Simon reporting that anti-drunk driving activists are condemning the Legislature and Thompson for "hypocrisy" as one of their own is caught in the legal snare.


Thompson was prepared to run an aggressive campaign for the PRC and he would have had some family help. His father-in-law is one time congressional candidate and wealthy Santa Fe entrepreneur Greg Bemis.

And so it ends. A mistake that would be a personal setback for someone not in the public eye is a career-ender for those who crave the power and glory only to be had by entering the well-lighted stage of La Politica.


All the intraparty fighting over who will run the Bush campaign here (see my November archives) may not be over, but now everyone has an outsider they can fight with. Phil Coppage, a Washington operative from the Republican National Committee in Washington D.C., has been named executive director of the Bush "Victory Committee" in NM. This was the position that GOP Chair Gorham was trying to keep out of the hands of Dendahlite political consultant Jay McCleskey. She did that, but Jay will still get a cut of the Bush pie. He has been named a regional director of the Prez's campaign.

The RNC has been playing tough with Gorham who has dueled with the Dendahlites and the RNC over state party influence in the Prez effort. Meanwhile, political veteran Scott Jennings leads the other Bush committee here, and is preparing to set up offices on Osuna NE in ABQ. The hardball continues, insiders say, but grudging progress is being made toward ending the ongoing strife. The Trib's Shea Andersen is working on a story on all this and I will post it here when complete.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004


State Rep. Joe Thompson landed a serious blow to his political career Tuesday night when he was picked up for DWI near downtown ABQ. He has withdrawn from the race for the Republican nomination for the ABQ seat on the powerful Public Regulation Commission (PRC), and in a statement released to me by his spokesman, Patrick Killen, Thompson says he apologizes to "his wife, family, friends and colleagues." Thompson is the State House Minority Whip who only this week received a major endorsement for his PRC bid from former Governor Gary Johnson. This depsite the fact that Thompson has two GOP opponents, most notably former ABQ City Councilor Hess Yntema.

Friends of Thompson's tell me he was with fellow GOP State Rep. Eric Youngberg of Sandoval county before the two parted ways and headed out of Downtown in separate vehicles. Thompson registered a blood alcohol level of .12, with .08 being legally drunk. At first he denied having been drinking. Thompson announced earlier this year he would leave the state house after two terms to seek the PRC job.Now, according to his statement, he will seek "whatever treatment is necessary."

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First Paid Media Hits ABQ Congressional Race; "Hello Miles, Goodbye Heather" Plus: I'm Seeing A Lot Of Green, And: NM Election Results 

Miles Nelson
Darkhorse Democratic congressional candidate Miles Nelson is shedding some light on his candidacy by unveiling the first paid media in the battle for the right to take on GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Nelson, an emergency room doctor in his first race for political office, bypasses his Dem rivals Richard Romero and Eli Chavez, and goes right after Heather with a billboard at the ABQ Big I interchange saying: "Hello Miles, Goodbye Heather." Nelson's campaign says this is the first of three billboard messages that motorists driving thru the state's biggest interchange will see between now and the June 1 primary.

Nelson's effort to catch the early buzz can't hurt since the race has been seen as a cakewalk for Romero, who won the nomination two years ago, only to get beaten by Heather. Nelson's crew is hoping retired DEA Agent Eli Chavez can split enough of the Hispanic vote to give Miles a chance at the big prize. One of my 1st CD experts tells me Chavez will need to get in the 20 per cent range to hurt Romero enough for Miles to win, billboards or no billboards. Newcomer Nelson will also need help from long established politicos in the ABQ Valley if that dream is to come true. Perhaps he will make a call to that old Romero rival State Sen. Manny Aragon and his boys and try to get Manny to carry water for Eli so he could give give Richard some "payback."

But there's another guy in this race. Big Bill. You know he wants a hand in the action, and Richard has already had the Big Fella appear for him at an event or two. So far, that makes one billboard against one Big Bill. But Nelson is shooting in the right direction. He has to jar expectations early in his race, or his billboards will start looking like tombstones faster than you can say "Hello Heather, Goodbye Miles."


Ralph Nader may not be running for Prez on the Green Party ticket this time around, but the Greens won't need a want-ad in the papers. We mentioned their most notable contender, David Cobb, when we wrote about the Nader candidacy, (see Feb. 24) but NM Green Party leader Carol Miller emails in to tell us she is also running for the Green Prez nomination as a "favorite daughter." And, there are three other Greens seeking the Prez nod as well. Miller is a longtime Nader backer. If she wins the Green Prez race here she will use her delegates at the national convention to influence the eventual nominee. I know, you Democrats are seeing red as we write about these Greens as if they matter! But they do, and I am sure they will have more mischief for the party of the Donkey as the campaign progresses.


ABQ architect John Hooker lost his bid for re-election by just four votes last night to Larry Abraham. Reminds me of that Los Ranchos battle last decade when Harry Stowers won that job by just one vote! They like em' close in that little village in NW Bernalillo County. I had lunch with John Friday who fretted about all the money Larry was spending to win the job. But the enchiladas we had were winners. Condolences John, and congrats to Larry whose only other elected office win before last night was as student senator at UNM in the 70's where I covered the goings-on as a Daily Lobo reporter.

KOB-TV won the election night coverage on the web, posting statewide results for most of the cities and towns having city contests. No other electronic media competed. KOB-TV Election Results

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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Governor Gary Back In The Fray: Backs Thompson Over Yntema For PRC; Hard Battle Ahead As GOP Takes Sides. And: Politicos, Get Your Web Sites Up! 

Battle lines are drawn in the GOP fight for the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) seat being vacated by Herb Hughes, with Ex-Guv Gary Johnson emerging as a warrior for State Rep. Joe Thompson. In return, Johnson is drawing zingers from Thompson's main challenger, Hess Yntema, in what will be a banner race in the June 1 primary.

Responding to Johnson's e-mail for Thompson urging R's to sign Joe's petitions, Yntema fires back "that I have been a Republican longer than Gary Johnson" and "I am discouraged" by Gary's interference in an intraparty battle. "Perhaps he doesn't know all the candidates that are in the race." Yntema chided.

Of course, he knows who is in the race. Thompson was a loyal soldier for Gary, carrying his controversial drug legalization bills. Among other R's signing up for Thompson's cause, according to the e-mail, are state House GOP leader Ted Hobbs, ABQ State Rep's Rory Ogle, Larry Larranaga and Eric Youngberger. Larranaga faces a tough fight for re-nomination against former Rep. Rob Burpo. Hobbs may face a fight next year to stay on as minority leader. Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White has signed up as Thompson's treasurer.

Thompson will need their help. Yntema, a former two-term ABQ City councilor has earned a good deal of name ID and newspaper praise for his push for ethical government. And, he says the PRC race is going to be about "the independence"" of the PRC which has been tarnished by conflict-of interest charges. Yntema let it be known he will be looking at Thompson's campaign contributions closely to see "if any of the money he previously collected for his legislative races will be funneled to his PRC bid," and whether any of that money came from industries the PRC regulates.

The Thompson-Johnson alliance is interesting. Gary is not exactly a unifying figure in the GOP, but the candidate who can peel off a good deal of the conservative GOP vote in the three way PRC race could be positioned to score the win in a low-turnout election. Yntema has a lot of good will among R's who are fond of his straight-arrow ways, but he will need to raise money to make his case. Thompson seems assured of outspending the maverick Hess. But newspaper endorsements and a Mr. Clean image in a race for a position on a panel that has been mired in ethical mishaps will make Hess a major player and perhaps the early favorite. Utility lawyer Ward Camp is the other contender in the race.

It used to be that endorsing a fellow Republican in a contested primary was verboten. But Pete Domenici rewrote the rule book when he interfered in the congressional primary in 98' to back Heather Wilson. And now Gary is doing the same. And what about Gary's political future, if he wants one? Another run at governor appears unlikely. But a self-financed run for U.S. Senate might be a peak that calls to the Everest climbing athlete. Note that I said "self-financed. Gary is not into team sports.


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Monday, March 01, 2004

Payne & Pino: Their Commentaries End As Their Campaigns Begin. And Big Bill: "Little Caesar?"  

Outspoken Republican Greg Payne and equally outspoken liberal Jerry Ortiz y Pino are true political opposites. What the two have in common is their weekly columns on NM events in the pages of the alternative ABQ weekly newspaper "The Alibi." Payne also goes one better with a weekly radio show on ABQ talk station 770 KKOB-AM. But their pens and microphones are being silenced this month as both embark on campaigns for the state legislature. In Payne's case it's for the far ABQ NE Heights district now represented by the GOP's Joe Thompson, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the Public Regulation Commission seat being vacated by Herb Hughes. For Pino it's the state senate seat of Richard Romero, who is departing to take another run at the Dem congressional nomination and the seat held by Republican Heather Wilson. Pino also pens on occasion for the Santa Fe Reporter. No word on whether he will have to give up that gig as well when filing date hits March 16. (If he gets no GOP opponent, Payne may continue to write his newspaper column, but if a Dem files, he would be expected to give it up after the June 1 primary)

Actually, the two contenders have done pretty well keeping themselves in the public eye. Sometimes media management decides to dump prospective politicos as soon as they mention their intentions to seek office. But Pino and Payne have been able to continue toiling in the media vineyard even while the political community was fully aware of their candidacies. If a radio or TV station keeps an announced candidate on the air once they become an "official" candidate that station is then required to give equal time to any opponents. That is a rarity. But back in the 1970's, at then talk station KZIA, a couple of the hosts did stay on the air while running campaigns. The opponents of these prospective politicos did not take up the station's offer of equal time. Lucky for the station which would have been subjected to a non-stop political gabfest. There are no government guidelines, of course, for newspapers which do not lease the public airwaves, but the papers' self-imposed line has blurred in recent years with prospective politicos penning punditry far closer to the start of their races than years past.

Payne has no announced GOP opposition yet, although rumors continue to circulate that the Dendahl wing of the party is looking for an opponent for him. But the former ABQ councilor is seen by observers as an easy winner no matter the opposition. Jerry has former City Councilor Adele Baca-Hundley and attorney Reggie Garcia as apparent opponents, and a member of the ABQ Valley Alarid family also may be eyeing the contest. Payne and Pino tell me they hope to re-enter the media gates win or lose this November.

Hail, Caesar!

With the fog lifted from the final, furious days of the recent 30 day legislative session, it's clear that Big Bill scored significant legislative victories. But, as we wrote in our legislative wrap, there is a price to pay. The pro-Bill New Mexican editorial pages have now joined the chorus of those urging the Guv to show more respect for the Legislature, which was so outgunned by the aggressive chief exec. The paper says Bill has been "too Caesarean" and is lining up with those lawmakers who are too afraid to go public but are bemoaning their lot in private. Here's the New Mexican editorial fired at Big Bill from usually friendly territory.

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