Thursday, January 26, 2006

Caught In The Crosswinds: UNM's Caldera Crashes, Plus: Weekly Stops The Presses, And: Paper Ballots, Part II; Dig New Mexico? Then Come On In! 

Louis Caldera
Remember when Louis Caldera was introduced to the University of New Mexico back in 03'? Faculty members cried that the former Clinton Army Secretary, member of corporate boards and onetime California Assemblyman would bring too much politics to UNM. Ironically, it seemed to be President Caldera's lack of political skills in dealing with his onetime benefactor that was a key reason for the Harvard grads anti-climatic resignation Wednesday from our "Harvard on the Rio Grande."

Big Bill isn't the first governor to put his footprints on the sprawling campus and he won't be the last. But Caldera's resignation laid bare the Guv's deep involvement in all things Lobo.

Upon accepting Caldera's resignation the seven Regents agreed that David Harris, former Big Bill finance chief, now in charge of UNM's books, should be Acting President. It's a no-brainer that Harris will be more receptive to entreaties made by the Fourth Floor than Caldera, who will take a year off with pay before going into a nice, tenured position at UNM Law School.

Insiders offered a bevy of examples of Caldera's supposed snubbing of Santa Fe's Main Man, including his opposition to legislation setting up the new state higher education department and his reluctance to host a Big Bill event for visiting Mexican President Vicente Fox. There was also talk about the UNM Mesa Del Sol land south of ABQ and whether it was being developed quickly enough? Not exactly mortal sins in your book perhaps, but they don't call you or me "Governor."

Whatever the reasons, it's worth recalling that one of Big Bill's first actions in office was to demand undated resignations from his appointed Regents. That had the R's in an uproar, with Attorney General Madrid ultimately advising that the Guv could not execute any resignations against his "hip pocket Regents."

But who needs pre-cooked resignations when you have Jamie Koch, former Chairman of the NM Dem Party and one of its most profuse fundraisers as Regents chairman? Power players love to give orders and don't take a hankering to being told no, university president or not.


Jamie Koch
Caldera did himself no favors by failing to build support beyond the Ivory Tower while hauling in a paycheck north of $300 grand. Harris, according to campus sources, assumed more of the day-to-day operations in addition to his official duties overseeing a $1.5 billion budget.

All this this would be just fine, thank you, if only Caldera got the message to go along and get along. But having a mind of your own is a terrible thing to waste. Would it have killed anyone if taxpayers saved the $300 grand, which Caldera will collect during a year "long leave of absence" and let him stay on the extra year while searching for a new prexy?

Well, that might be the prudent thing to do, but not the political thing. Which brings us back to those concerns about Caldera politicizing UNM. Heck, the guy could not politicize himself. In the end, only GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, aware of Big Bill's Caldera problem and hoping to boost her fortunes with Hispanic voters, came to his aid.

The resignation had all the force of a wet noodle with press accounts relaying a tone of normalcy. Of course, when an educator in New Mexico answerable to the political arm is forced out, it is seen as, well, normal.

In the end everything old is new again. Remember 85-86' when then Governor Anaya put ex-Guv Apodaca on the Board of Regents? What was it, less than a year before Prez Tom Farer was ditched after his hiring practices did not suit the tastes of that dynamic duo of their day?

The final word on this goes to another ex-governor, Dave Cargo, who once said: "New Mexicans are experts in politics, just not government." This latest episode will enter Cargo's catalogue of examples and, of course, the never ending book of New Mexico La Politica.


I've been around long enough to say goodbye to a number of spirited weekly and monthly newspapers that brought valuable insight into our politics. So it is with Crosswinds Weekly, on the scene since 1988, but no more as publisher Steve Lawrence, citing a lack of advertising, stopped the presses on the well-read "progressive" weekly.

Crosswinds' departure may not be mourned by the powers-that-be in Santa Fe. It gave cutting commentary on the state's need to improve. Still, many of them, knowing the value of lively public debate, will miss the alternative voice.

There won't be any gloating at the ABQ Journal, Tribune or the Santa Fe New Mexican. They know the changing media universe leaves all outlets vulnerable. Besides, the competition kept them sharp.

Lawrence has been tough on bloggers, heaping blame on them for his paper's demise. But you can't argue with the marketplace. You may not like it and you may not think it's fair, but in America the readers cast the ultimate vote. But nothing will take away from the solid legacy Crosswinds leaves. It came at politics from the left, but was fair to the right. And, most important, did not waste your time.


Our Wednesday piece on county clerks being unhappy with the plan to switch to all-paper ballots brought insightful comments. A legislative insider pointed out that the paper ballots still have to be approved by the Legislature. He clarified that last year the lawmakers mandated that there be a "paper trail" of votes cast, not necessarily paper ballots. State Rep. Mary Helen Garcia is carrying the bill to go all paper (which is expected to pass despite the grumpy clerks) and provide $11 million for the switch. Thank you, Mr. Wall-Leaner.

Most of the non-anonymous e-mail faulted the clerks for fighting the switch. "Eleven counties already use paper ballots, so the new system will mean minimal change for them. An additional eight counties have already ordered the equipment needed to implement a paper ballot. The remaining counties should be following their lead." Penned Paul Stokes of United Voters of New Mexico in Corrales.

And Dem activist Terry Riley chimed in: "There is enough information available about the problems with the touch screen...machines that will guarantee legal challenges in any state that uses them. Paper ballots will give the public confidence that their vote can be checked manually if the electronic tabulating systems are questioned." Wrote Terry.

It's arcane, sometimes hard-to-get stuff, but important because of our ongoing vote-counting disasters.


You and I had a bunch of fun this week, breaking the Billy Sparks departure story as well as the PRC candidacy of State Fair Chair Sandy Jones. I say you and I because most of the stuff here comes from you. We do our darndest to get it right and when we don't, we are up fast with a correction. You are my understanding editors for a whole pile of La Politica.

And we're not done yet. Join me Friday night at 7 p.m. on KNME-TV (Channel 5) for the political gabfest known as "Thin Line." Look forward to seeing you then and back here again Monday.

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