Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Goodbye, Jeff; Hello, Who? Race On To Replace Armijo As D's Dodge Bullet; Guv Forces Issue; The 72 Hour Drama That Riveted La Politica 

New Mexico Democrats let out a sigh of relief that rivaled the force of Hurricane Katrina Tuesday as embattled Dem state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo bowed to the will of Big Bill and ended his candidacy. The mid-afternoon announcement immediately set off a contest to replace him, with ambitious politicos grabbing their phones to lobby members of the Democratic Party Central Committee which will name the new auditor candidate September 9th. (Official Armijo and Big Bill statements are here.

The high political drama came to an end after what was described by an Alligator as a "brief" 1 p.m. meeting at the Governor's ABQ office. "It was short and sweet." He informed. Our insider also said the path to Jeff's withdrawal was paved the night before, as he received phone calls and emails from Democrats urging him to abandon his candidacy which became political poison when it was revealed that he is accused of sexual misconduct involving two young women in two separate incidents. Another Gator had this for us on the power-play meeting: "Jeff was accompanied by his father. Jeff was conciliatory at the outset so the discussion was sad but pleasant."

Armijo had threatened to defy the Guv and stay and fight. And he gave Big Bill a parting zinger in his statement announcing his withdrawal. "Governor Richardson has convinced me that I must leave the race for state auditor," said the 36 year old from Socorro. It was a subtle reference to what Big Bill critics consider strong-arm tactics in all matters political.

But Armijo's position had become untenable, threatening to open up contests for down-ballot races that traditionally favor the Dems. With Armjio gone, they were expressing confidence that they would retain the auditor's office against Republican Lorenzo Garcia and the campaign for power was underway.

Ken Sanchez
State Rep. Hector Balderas, an attorney who practices in ABQ, but lives in Wagon Mound and who was mentioned here yesterday as a possible Armijo replacement, inched closer to a formal declaration, saying the auditor must be an "independent" voice--a message to his detractors who claim he is too close to Big Bill. Supporters of the 32 year old freshman Rep., who represents several northern counties including Mora and Taos, were quick to note that he has $40,000 in his House campaign kitty, money that would be available for an auditor run.

In a fun aside, Alligtors noted that the phones were buzzing with potential candidates for the Balderas House seat in case he gets the auditor nod. Under state law, each of the county commissions in the counties Balderas represents would send a nominee to the Governor who would make the appointment. There is no Republican running against Balderas in November, so apparently the appointment would be for two years. How's that for a political plum?

Other names surfaced for the auditor post, even before Armijo withdrew. We also mentioned ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez Tuesday. His advocates say Ken is out of town and will return later this week, but they said look for him to give it a serious look. Sanchez has operated an accounting business in ABQ for many years. (However, he is not a CPA as we blogged yesterday, but an "enrolled agent" who can practice before the IRS.)

Balderas and Sanchez are seen as the leading contenders, but also on the short list is outgoing Bernalillo County Assessor Mark Carrillo and ABQ attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto, who ran for the Dem nomination for attorney general this year, but dropped out early. Retired banker Tom Buckner of Rio Rancho who lost to Armijo in the June primary is also being mentioned, but seen as a very dark horse as the game gets serious.

The Central Committee has some 350 members. Some would like to see the issue resolved before a formal vote, but supporters of Balderas said he sees nothing wrong "with a healthy competition."

Sanchez could count on heavy backing from committee members in his home county of Bernalillo. Balderas brings the north to the table, with the south having no candidate, at least not yet.

"Things will become more clear by the weekend. No one wants to jump in and then get egg on their face. They want to see what kind of support they can generate before going public," said one Dem operative.


As for Big Bill, who has had his finger in every political pie baked up since 2002, he will have to tread carefully. The R's are waiting for signs that he hand picks a candidate so they can accuse him of trying to control a constitutional office that is charged with providing independent oversight of over 500 state agencies. Also, the Guv and Dem Party Chairman Wertheim are already taking hits for letting the Armijo candidacy advance as far as it did.

Sanchez is a close ally of ABQ Mayor Chavez, having served as his campaign treasurer and giving him a reliable vote on the council. But Armijo is a cousin of Chavez and Mayor Marty will also have to tread carefully if he chooses to push Sanchez as the Armijo brush fire came close to him.

As for the GOP, they have a well-qualified candidate in CPA Lorenzo Garcia, but he has had two statewide outings already and lost both. Armijo getting out deflates his hopes, but the second corruption trial of ex-Treasurer Vigil keeps some hope alive for Garcia who can argue that the R's should have the post as a check on the power of the majority party.


The Armijo affair first broke on your blog last Tuesday, was confirmed by the ABQ Tribune Saturday and ended with Armijo throwing in the towel yesterday, a brief 72 hours after the news hit the stands. But they were some of the most engrossing hours of recent years. Now Jeff Armijo departs the scene, reminding future players that it is the bitter taste of defeat, not the sweet smell of success, that is very often the outcome in the never-ending quest for the power and glory in our beloved and ancient La Politica.

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