Thursday, January 05, 2006

It's Lucky Vs. Lewis: Ex-State Treasurer Throws Hat In Ring; Scandal Plagued Office Now A Featured 06' Primary Race; The Exclusive Details Only Here 

It's Lucky vs. Lewis for the Dem nod for New Mexico State Treasurer, an office embroiled in a historic scandal that has seen the indictment of two past treasurers and now being run by a caretaker appointed by Big Bill.

"I was driving to Atlanta over the holidays and I just got mad thinking about those auditing reports showing the incredible mismanagement," Lewis explained to me as he outlined his reasons for going after the job he was appointed to by Governor Toney Anaya and then won in his own right in 86.'

The 59 year old just finished a stint as Chief Administrative office for the city of Albuquerque. His resume includes stints as chief of staff to ex-Governor King and a run for ABQ mayor in 01.' He also served in the Department of Energy in D.C. under then Energy Secretary Big Bill and was elected Bernalillo County Treasurer. He has a reputation as a political fireman, able to quietly extinguish the flames of the numerous internal battles that are part of day-to-day governing.

Lewis will be up against veteran Santa Fe State Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela who has announced he will leave the Roundhouse to pursue his higher ambition. Varela brings to the table substantial expertise in government finance.

The scuttlebutt has been that Big Bill's camp was lining up in support of the Varela candidacy, but Lewis said don't believe it. "That's not what I have been told," he coyly offered.

The Roswell native says a strong base in ABQ combined with statewide name ID should give him the prize. But the Hispanic factor looms large. A majority of votes will likely be cast by Hispanics in the June primary but Lewis, an African-American, says he is not intimidated. "I think I can pick up some votes in my opponents legislative district up North. Forty percent of the people there did not vote for him," said Lewis as he prepared to take the battle to the heart of Varela country.

The corruption/kickback scandal that engulfed ex-treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya will play in the background during the campaign as their cases wind their way through the federal courts. "Ethics will be the obvious top issue," Lewis agreed.

There are no firm laws in our state governing campaign donations to the Treasurer. People who do biz with the office can and do give sizable campaign contributions. Lewis anticipates the primary will cost from $150,000 to $200,000 and said he hopes to raise the funds from a "sizable group of friends," but did not rule out accepting contributions from bankers and brokers.

Meanwhile, Lewis and other interested parties tell me that no Republican candidate has yet surfaced, despite the opportunity presented by the scandal under two Dem administrations. GOP leaders say they are working on that.


We've got banner races all over the primary ballot now. Another is State Land Commissioner where ex-commissioners Jim Baca and Ray Powell are squaring off. But don't forget LeRoy H. Garcia of San Miguel county. With a stint as county commissioner under his belt, Garcia has said he's in too. That complicates the Baca candidacy. A head-to-head with Powell with no other Hispanic would give Baca more momentum. Will Garcia be in this for the duration, giving Powell some ballast?

For his part, Powell is circulating this e-mail: "I received a call from Bruce Babbitt, former Governor of Arizona and two term Secretary of the Department of Interior under President Clinton. He called to pledge his support for my candidacy for Land Commissioner."

Powell did not mention that Baca was head of the Bureau of Land Management under Clinton and Babbitt, but was squeezed out over policy differences. Let the games begin.

Email me your political news, gossip and intrigue.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Heather Goes "Kooky" Over Her Constituents While D's Obsess Over Her Past, Plus: Spacesport Feedback, And: Death Comes To GOP's Virgil Rhodes 

When the lefty group MoveOn.org presented petitions at the offices of ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, the staffer who received the 2500 signatures called the group "kooky." One wonders if the staffer is aware that their comfy salary is paid by these "kooky" people. Maybe Heather needs to kick some pampered Congressional buttocks and tell that staffer when any constituents petition her they deserve respect, not insults. Something like: "The Congresswoman appreciates the input of all her constituents and will take their views under advisement. Thank you for the petition." Now, is that so hard?

On the flip side, when, oh when, is the NM Democratic Party going to stop with the "Watch Wilson Steal the File" story? This first surfaced back in Heather's first run in 98.' Voters vetted it (the KOAT-TV video was sent to thousands of households) and moved on. But the Dems have made it a mainstay of their Web site and also trotted it out in the 04' campaign. The "charges" date back to Wilson's tenure as the NM cabinet secretary for the Children Youth and Families Department. If you've been around any length of time, you know the rest.

Aren't there plenty of real issues for the Dems to assail Heather over, like the aforementioned Iraqi war and the congresswoman's role in assessing the intelligence leading up to the war? Voters sense what's important and what's not and they have spoken on this one, but for some reason the Dems refuse to hear them.


Did you see that "60 minutes" piece Sunday on space travel, playing up the proposed NM spaceport near Cruces and touted by Big Bill and the mega-wealthy Brit Richard Branson? It was gentle and stayed away from any criticism. But around here the spaceport is bring brought down to Earth by a number of critics. I've been a bit surprised by the grumbling, but there are a lot of needs in this state and subsidizing a spaceport is not at the top of everyone's list. Here's one in my mailbag from Michael Barnes of ABQ that sums up what we've been hearing.

"To hear Bill Richardson, Richard Branson, and "60 Minutes" tell it, the Spaceport is a done deal. End of discussion. I think there are a lot of questions to be answered before NM appropriates any money for the project. Why is NM paying for the project? It appears its sole purpose is to provide a place for Richard Branson to fly people into space at a cost of $200,000 a piece. This appears to be an amusement park for wealthy people.

"Other than tax inducements, I doubt that the residents of California paid for the construction of Disneyland. Richard Branson should be the one paying for the construction, not the taxpayers of NM. He appears to have enough money for it..."

And some southern New Mexicans will be asked to raise their taxes to help finance the spaceport. How's that going to fly, or won't it?


I remember Virgil Rhodes very well. He was the GOP Lieutenant Governor candidate in the first NM Guv campaign I covered back in 74.' He was teamed with GOP Guv nominee Joe Skeen. It was one of the best campaigns we've had and that was reflected Election Night when Skeen and Virgil lost to Dem Jerry Apodaca and his running mate, Bob Ferguson, 50.4% to 49.6%. Rhodes, an ABQ state rep when he joined up with Skeen, went back into private biz but resurfaced in 92' and became a state senator representing ABQ's East Mountains and some of Sandoval county. Rhodes, 81, passed from the parade of La Politica on New Year's Eve.

Speaking of GOP candidates for Lt. Governor, have you heard of any for 06'? The only name I hear so far is ABQ State Senator Kent Cravens who has told me in the past that he is not interested. But that could change. He's not up for re-election until 08' so he could run without risking his ABQ NE Heights seat. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Carruthers Unplugged And Uncut: Ethnic Factor Is Key To NM's Woes; A Cold Splash Of New Year's Reality; Hello 2006, Here We Come... 

Ex-Guv Carruthers
Those New Year's resolutions many of us make depend on reality. You eat too much, drink too much, smoke too much, maybe love too much. Whatever the case, it's all about defining the problem. What if New Mexico were to make a resolution for 2006 that faced reality? It would likely match what is outlined here by former GOP NM Governor Garrey Carruthers.

In a bold, blunt assessment, the dean of the New Mexico State University College of Business dares to say what the politicos can't or won't--our state's deep-seated education problems are race-based. The Anglos around here do pretty well, thank you. But widespread pockets of poor performance among Hispanics and Native Americans, not Anglos, is what keeps our state at or near the bottom of the important quality of life rankings.

Santa Fe could use the dose of reality administered by R Carruthers. But is there room for a dialogue that frankly confronts the ethnic factor, or will we get more chirpy talk about the beauty of diversity and how well everyone gets along in our little ol' corner of the world?

Diversity is indeed a strength if the people are strong. But in this majority-minority state the majority is neither strong or self-sufficent. Intentionally or not, Carruthers has opened a political opportunity for his Republican party. Tax cuts and biz incentives are not going to solve the educational issues Carruthers cites as the root of the problem. It's going to take a commitment to government.


The Big Bill administration has chipped away at the edges of the ethnic debate, arguing for more pre-k programs and improving scholarships and teacher pay. But being out of power gives Carruthers the advantage of being able to lay it on the line. As a group and generally speaking, Carruthers points out that White folks in New Mexico are getting along pretty well when it comes to education. Do you think NM Anglos, rated separately, would rank near 50th in all the important categories? No way.

What Carruthers did not say, but I will, is that Anglos also do not even come close to being afflicted with the rates of drug abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse, DWI, child poverty, learning disabilities and low wages that Hispanics and Native Americans confront. Don't want to deal with it? Then get ready for another 50 years of being fiftieth.

Hispanics and Native Americans have stuck with the Ds through thick and thin, but now with record surpluses available, the R's have a chance to broaden their appeal by following Carruthers and dealing with reality. If NM is to get out of the cellar, programs and policies need to be crafted that directly impact the particular woes of Hispanic and Indian New Mexico. Couldn't a middle-of-the-road GOP do that and not alienate its Anglo base? Why not? Could they do it in a fiscally responsible fashion? That's their calling card, isn't it?

Neither major political party or the biz community seems very comfortable in following Carruthers lead and calling a spade a spade and getting on with the game. But that's why we call them New Year's resolutions. They take resolve.


After the long holiday break, we could use your help in getting all of us back in the groove. Drop a line (email link at the top of the page) and bring us up-to-date on news we may have missed, or stuff that's coming up that you think is important. Meanwhile, thanks for coming by today and Happy New Year!

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