Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Exclusive: Sources Say Governor To Appoint Replacement If Treasurer Vigil Impeached; Court Test Could Arise, Action Would Address Succession Crisis 

Big Bill
An authoritative source at the State Capitol Monday told "New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan" that the Governor is now prepared to immediately appoint a temporary replacement for federally indicted State Treasurer Robert Vigil if this weekend Vigil becomes the first elected official in state history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. The action, if taken, could nip in the bud the constitutional crisis that has developed over succession in the Treasurer's office in the event of Vigil's impeachment. Sources believe such a move by the state's chief executive would stand a constitutional test if challenged before the State Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Vigil attorney Sam Bregman, in a direct slap at Big Bill's latest call for Vigil's resignation issued Monday, declared to veteran Associated Press Santa Fe Bureau Chief Barry Massey: "Resignation is off the table."

The Vigil affair has now become a test of wills at the highest levels of governmental and political power while a public crisis of confidence in state government swirls below. The pressure on the key players in this unprecedented power struggle is beyond imagination.

"The Governor's legal advisers agree with him that Vigil's impeachment means the constitutional 'vacancy' requirement would be met. He is preparing to make the appointment if Vigil does not resign and is impeached. He is determined to protect the fiscal standing and reputation of the state and is of a mind to make the appointment and let the Supreme Court deal with challenges to his authority," a source with close ties to Big Bill told me Monday night.


Treasurer Vigil
The state Constitution clearly empowers the Governor to appoint a replacement if Vigil voluntarily resigns, the option the Fourth Floor still fervently hopes Vigil will take. The Constitution is silent on whether impeachment equals a vacancy that could be filled by the Governor, but politicians monitoring the crisis tell me that an impeachment, all but a certainty unless Vigil resigns, opens the appointment door to the Governor.

"This would be a reaction to a legislative action. It's more than enough peg for him to hang his hat on. Remember, Bill's appointment would technically be temporary. If the Senate ever did hold a trial and found Vigil not guilty, the appointment would be rescinded and Vigil would go back in if his term in office had not yet expired. I think that makes it easier for the courts and everyone else involved to swallow," said another politico.

Questions have arisen as to whether the Governor has appointment authority if Vigil does not resign, but is impeached. The Constitution says an impeached official must temporarily step aside and prohibits him from exercising his duties until the State Senate conducts a trial. A two-thirds vote of the 42 members is needed to find him guilty and remove him from office. The federal constitution differs with ours. It allows an impeached official to continue to carry out his duties while awaiting Senate trial.

Rep. Payne
GOP ABQ State Representative Greg Payne, reached via cellphone, greeted word of the Governor's plan favorably. "This is a nonpartisan crisis. This is a constitutional crisis and I would support the Governor acting to preserve the financial integrity of the state. My only suggestion would be that he consider submitting any replacement to the State Senate for their consent," said the freshman representative as he returned from a committee hearing in Santa Fe.

Other politicos said the Guv should seek an attorney general's opinion on the matter before exercising the appointment power.

Earlier Monday Payne parted ways with fellow R and ABQ GOP State Senator Joe Carraro who revealed that he had been working behind the scenes with Vigil and attorney Bregman to craft a compromise under which Vigil would agree to stop performing his duties and take unpaid leave. He would appoint a replacement selected for him by a legislative committee. In exchange, the Legislature would agree not to impeach him.

But the idea was immediately scoffed at in legal circles and met with a mixture of outrage and derision at the Roundhouse, where patience with Vigil and Bregman has grown short and where chief impeachment engineer, State Rep. Kenny Martinez, has slowly but surely put into motion the nearly 100 year old, never-used machinery devised to end the type of crisis of confidence the New Mexican government now faces.

Some observers argued the Governor is not the only one who should be on the hot seat. "What about the Senate? If the House impeaches, the Senate could have a trial in a matter of weeks and that could also end this. But they want the Feds to have a trial and don't want to deal with it," argued another longtime capital wall-leaner.

But If Vigil refuses to resign and is impeached in the extraordinary session of the House that will convene Friday, the exercise of direct gubernatorial authority may be the only way to completely solve the constitutional nightmare arising from this largest scandal in state history.


I asked experts in and out of government what would happen if Vigil were impeached and a decision was needed from the Treasurer on an investment matter that could cost the state money if no action was taken. "If only the Treasurer could act on the matter, not the deputy treasurer, we would take the financial hit," asserted ex- ABQ GOP State Rep Rory Ogle, echoing the view of other insiders.

Such an event, or series of events, could cause a further crisis in confidence in state financial management both here and on Wall Street and even possibly impact the state's credit standing. While unlikely, it is the charge of the Governor and the key legislative impeachment players to deal with all possibilities and it is what has brought the Governor to his decision to act to replace Vigil upon impeachment, report our sources.

If my sources have it right, the Governor, reluctantly but without hesitation, is fully prepared to assert the constitutional authority he believes has been bestowed upon him and call Vigil's hand.

The people of New Mexico can now only watch as this chapter of what will be a legendary event in the 400 year history of our state is played out by political actors who will be judged in perpetuity by what they do in the coming fateful Fall days of 2005.

E-mail me your comments, news, criticisms or whatever else is on your mind and let's keep the politics coming. Thanks for your company.

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