Saturday, September 02, 2006

Join Me For A Special Sunday Blog On The First Major Poll In The Madrid-Wilson Race 

Join me here Sunday for a special blog report on the first major poll in the ABQ congressional race featuring GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson and Dem challenger Patricia Madrid. The ABQ Journal poll will also have numbers for the state's two other congressional seats and approval ratings for the president and congress. I will have in-depth comments from pollster Brian Sanderoff as well as my own analysis. Tuesday I will call on more of my political gang for further comments.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Upside Down Politics: It's Heather Who Wants Debates, Plus: King Says He Leads Bibb Big, And: Was There A Deal For Armijo? 

Is she scared she will get creamed? Is she resting on a lead she does not want to endanger? Does she want to wait until the end of the campaign? So go the questions in the wake of the news that ABQ Dem congressional hopeful Patsy Madrid has turned down a one hour prime time September 11 debate on ABQ CBS affiliate KRQE-TV with incumbent GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. The questioning grew even more intense when word came to us this week that Madrid's campaign also nixed KRQE's proposal to tape and later air in prime time a joint appearance the candidates have scheduled for September 17th at the Congregation Albert, a traditional venue for such confrontations.

A challenger refusing to debate an incumbent is pretty much unheard of. But this race is unlike any other in the 30 year history of the district and Madrid's decision, while rightfully inflaming the good government editorial writers, is seen by some strategists as a wise course of action. With each passing day, it is becoming clear that Madrid wants to peak this campaign on her timetable, not on Heather's. No, she is not scared. Anyone who has followed her 30 year career will attest to that, but she is concerned that an early misstep could knock her on the canvas as happened to Dem challenger Richard Romero when he bombed in an 04' TV debate.

The Madrid campaign readily admits that polished Heather, a Rhodes Scholar and experienced debater has the advantage. They know they can't refuse all TV face-offs and have agreed to KOB-TV's October 24 prime time debate. But that will come very late in the game, after thousands of votes will already have been cast. (Early voting starts Oct.10)


The reasoning seems to be that a Democratic Tidal Wave is forming and that Madrid's main task is to be alive and well if and when it comes November 7th. In other words, she may not have a lead now, but under this reasoning the wave is coming and will be enough to push her over the top. Early TV debates, fraught with the potential for the big mistake, could take her out. She knows her weaknesses and live debates is one of them, thus the bizarre spectacle of the incumbent arguing for more TV debates.

It is essential for Heather to turn this campaign into a referendum on Madrid, as all the major issues--gas prices-the no-end-in-sight-Iraq war--and the overwhelming majority of voters who feel the country is going in the wrong direction--cut against her and cut deeply. It will be those issues that the Dems will furiously employ after Labor Day, hoping to wash away the R's obsessive focus on ethics and prepare for the Tidal Wave.

It is a high-stakes gamble by Madrid because she is foregoing the chance to inflict damage on Heather early. But previous Heather challengers have played by the conventional rules and lost in the lean-Republican district. Patsy's debate delay tactic may be just the type of curve ball she needs to keep Heather a bit off of her game and keep the race in play in the final critical weeks.

And what do Heather and Patsy do with all their time if they are not preparing for debates? Sadly, constantly raising money. Patsy says she canceled the TV 13 debate because she will be in Atlanta for a fundraiser. Heather is just back from an Arizona money hunt and will soon be in St. Louis looking for more of the green stuff. As much as we would all like to see it change, modern congressional campaigns remains stuck in a rut: raise millions for formulaic and usually negative 30 second TV spots. It's is not uplifting, but it is reality.


By proposing an early September debate, KRQE-TV is ahead of the curve. Election Day itself is on the way to becoming perfunctory, with well over 50% of the vote predicted to be forecast before that date thru absentee voting and early in-person voting. Wouldn't it be nice if the TV's could get together and set debate schedules that would address the new reality? By the way, Comcast Cable has proposed a Heather-Patsy debate that would be broadcast nationally October 17 on C-Span. Madrid has not confirmed.


The Wilson-Madrid TV ads seem to be coming at the speed of light, with the campaigns and interest groups starting to pile on as this seat could determine which party takes control of the U.S. House. But who is watching the ads for accuracy?

Well, KOAT-TV for one. As part of their campaign coverage, they are examining the Wilson-Madrid ads and picking apart what's true and what's not. It's sorely needed. The only complaint is that the entire series of ad watch reports are not up on the site, or if they are, they are hard to find. The big news would be if they find an ad that is 100% true.


The state GOP had a good "quote-of-the-day" from GOP attorney general candidate Jim Bibb: "We all know public corruption is a cancer in New Mexico. Fraud and corruption in state government is huge and it's not just in Santa Fe," scored Bibb. But Dem candidate Gary King had even better news for his supporters. He says his latest poll shows him with a 49% to 25% lead over his opponent. The Lake Research survey also says a whopping 28% of NM R's are with Gary. Bibb started TV a week ago and King went up Wednesday with an anti-meth ad, similar to one he aired in the June primary. That ethics issue isn't going to need just long legs, it will need stilts if Bibb is to catch King.


Leave it to my readers. Call them cynical, but many of them emailed in asking if Big Bill offered Jeff Armijo a deal in exchange for abandoning his embattled Dem candidacy for the state auditor nomination. Speculation ranged from Jeff getting a state job when the campaign is over, to state business being directed to his ABQ travel agency. But a Big Bill supporter shot down the conspiracy theories saying Richardson would not be that dumb. "If he offered something, Jeff might very well have left their meeting and said the Guv was trying to bribe him into getting off the ticket. He would not take the chance." Probably not. But you can bet the investigative reporters are standing by, just in case.


It hs been an extra busy week around here (Thanks for your support!) and that sometimes leads to an error or two. And I think I made one when I said that if State Rep. Hector Balderas were named as the new state auditor candidate by the Democratic State Central Committee, the county commissions from the northern counties he represents would send nominees up to the Governor to replace Balderas in the House. Apparently not. The Dem Central Committee members from the counties Balderas represents could vote on a nominee Sept. 9 and that person's name would replace Balderas's on the November ballot. Since there is no Republican candidate running for the Balderas seat, that person would win a two year term in November.

Also on the auditor front, ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez has confirmed his interest in replacing Jeff Armijo. He joins Balderas in the contest as a leading contender.


I expect the ABQ Journal poll on the Madrid-Wilson race and maybe others to be released Sunday. I have not double-checked with pollster Brian Sanderoff, so I can't say for sure. But if it is, I will have my exclusive analysis of the numbers on a special Sunday blog. And on Tuesday, I will have the analysts and alligators with their takes. Be sure to check in Sunday. Until then, thanks for your company. Drop me an email with your news and comments form the top of the page.

Happy Labor Day, New Mexico!

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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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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Armijo Ends State Auditor Bid; Action Follows Meeting With Governor 

Jeff Armijo, faced with allegations of sexual misconduct, today ended his bid for state auditor following a meeting with Governor Bill Richardson. Here is the complete statement issued by Armijo follwing that meeting.

“Governor Richardson has convinced me that I must leave the race for State Auditor. A debate on the issues could not take place if I remain in the race. I started this campaign with the notion to contribute to all the Democratic candidates. I feel if I stay in, I may detract from their efforts this fall.

“My focus will now turn to facing the accusations against me. As I have done all my life, I will maintain my honor and dignity throughout this process. I would remind everyone that I am presumed innocent until proven guilty. I have full faith in the judicial process.

“Although a number of people have urged me to stay in the race, I believe leaving is the best decision for my family. I would ask that my privacy be respected during this difficult time.”

The Democratic Party State Central Committee will meet September 9th to name a replacement for Armijo. That candidate will face the GOP's Lorenzo Garcia in the November 7 election.

Dems Move To Avert Crisis; Armijo Defies Governor, Then Reverses; Agrees To Meet; Replacement Names Circulate; King Reacts; In-Depth Blog Coverage 

Jeff Armijo
A defiant Jeff Armijo rebuked New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson Monday as the titular head of the state Democratic Party moved to avert a full-blown political crisis and asked Armijo to meet with him to discuss the future of his candidacy as NM state auditor. But Armijo, facing criminal allegations of sexual misconduct he has strongly denied, initially stuck his thumb in the eye {PDF} of the chief executive and said there will be no meeting. "I am too damn independent," he told the Associated Press. And in a statement sure to infuriate the Fourth Floor of the fabled Roundhouse, Armijo boasted: "I am on the path to victory."

But late Monday KOB-TV quoted Armijo as saying he will meet with the Governor today. The station also said the Democratic Party Central Committee has set aside time for a September 9th meeting, three days before the legal deadline for Armijo to withdraw and a replacement candidate to be named.

The shock waves from the Armijo events spread like an earthquake across La Politica, with Dem attorney general candidate Gary King, reached while en route to Artesia, telling me: "If Jeff refuses to meet with our Governor it will be taken as a sign that the allegations are true. I, and I believe the other statewide candidates, will have no choice but to disavow Jeff's candidacy," warned the Moriarty lawyer.

Armijo's defiance recalled the last political crisis NM Democrats faced when then-Treasurer Robert Vigil faced corruption charges and vowed not to resign. Vigil eventually relented, sparing the party the prospect of his tenure continuing into the election season. Top Dems are hopeful the same outcome will result in the Armijo affair, but the clock is ticking madly toward September 12.


From the upper echelons of New Mexican political circles came the informed and frank analysis: "If Armijo stays on the ballot, it will energize our base. We will be able to raise money for (GOP auditor hopeful) Lorenzo Garcia and we will win the office. Armijo will help us get our vote out and that could give us good news in the other down-ballot races and hopefully take a bite out of the Governor too," argued one veteran Republican operative.

Team Richardson wants Armijo gone, now. The gravity of the matter was brought home as Big Bill issued a news release, not from his re-election campaign, but from the Office of the Governor.

"The Governor is extremely troubled by the allegations. The fact that there are two different police reports with serious claims gives the Governor significant concern. The Governor hopes to meet soon with Mr. Armijo to discuss the allegations and decide whether he should stay in the race. The Governor believes elected officials and candidates should be held to the highest ethical standards," said the gubernatorial statement.

The political nightmare descending across the party is also seen pressuring NM attorney general and ABQ Dem congressional candidate Patricia Madrid who has been the subject of relentless hammering on state ethics issues from GOP incumbent Heather Wilson.

"They are in denial if they think this thing doesn't have legs. Heather will tie this in to the Vigil-Montoya Treasurer scandal and pound away. Every Dem candidate is going to have to move on this or they are going to get carpet bombed," analyzed a Senior Dem Alligator.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg is reviewing the charges against the auditor hopeful, but says she will not have a judgment on whether the charges should go forward before the fateful September 12th deadline and most likely not before the November election. That forces a political decision to be rendered, not a legal one.


Rep. Balderas
While chagrined Dems wondered aloud how things could go so bad so fast in an election year they have dreamed of, they began circulating names for a possible Armijo replacement, hoping against hope that Armijo will crack under the pressure and get out.

State Rep. Hector Balderas of northern NM, not a CPA, but an attorney and respected voice of the new generation of thirtysomething New Mexican Hispanic leaders, is being touted by his supporters who say, among other things, a Hispanic replacing Armijo is essential or else it would appear in some quarters as if Armijo was being railroaded. Balderas is an ally of Governor Big Bill.

Another name making the rounds is that of ABQ City Councilor Ken Sanchez, who unsuccessfully sought the Dem 02' state treasurer nomination.


There was a glimmer of hope in that AP interview for Dems desperate to get Armijo to step aside. He did not completely shut the door on abandoning his now hyper-controversial candidacy.

"He strongly indicated he doesn't plan to withdraw." reported the news service. But strongly indicating is not the same as flatly rejecting the prospect of withdrawal as he initially did with that gubernatorial meeting. Insiders also said there could be behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Jeff's uncle has served as a Socorro city councilor and his aunt is on the Socorro County Commission. They could be enlisted to talk turkey to the embattled candidate.

But the prestige and power of the New Mexico Governor has been put on the line and he cannot be perceived as bargaining or pleading with Armijo. Time is short and the path out of this wilderness is growing narrower by the day. "If Armijo does not walk the plank in the next couple of days, Democratic politicians of all stripes will be jumping ship to save their own necks." Said another Alligator.

Gary King for Attorney GeneralArmijo has said he is good friends with ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil whose federal retrial is set to begin September 5th and presents yet another Democratic headache. Like Vigil, Armijo presents himself as defiant and tough-as-nails. But the future credibility of the state's majority party and the financial standing of the state of New Mexico are on the line.

Whatever the merits of the case against him, Jeff Armijo is now standing in front of a moving freight train conducted by the people of New Mexico. It is now his choice to either lay down on the tracks, or step aside and let the train pass unimpeded.

Email your news and comments from the link at the top of the page.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

Auditor Angst: Blog Report On Armijo's Problems Confirmed; Dems Cornered; R's Salivate; The Inside Story Is Up Next 

Chairman Wertheim
The New Mexico Democratic Party and its chairman, John Wertheim, are under maximum political pressure as the candidacy of state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo begins to implode and threatens to cast yet another ethics shadow over the state's majority party. Allegations that Armijo made unwanted sexual advances towards two young women in two separate incidents, a story first referenced here, but initially dismissed by the chairman as "unsubstantiated and unattributed rumors in the blogosphere," have now been confirmed by the Albuquerque Tribune. Reacting to our blog, the chairman went further out on the limb and asserted: "Jeff Armijo will be the next auditor of the state of New Mexico."

Maybe so, but Wertheim started singing a different tune when the Tribune Saturday followed up on our report in a front-page spread.

A 21 year old woman told police she was doing volunteer work for Armijo at his home on August 3 when Armijo removed her from her chair, removed some of her clothing, held her down on the floor and inappropriately touched her, though she told him to stop. She then called the police, reported the Trib which also reports on a similar incident in 2003 involving Armijo and an 18 year old woman.

"The Democratic party will not tolerate sexual violence of any kind" Wertheim said of the incidents, one of which is under review by the Bernalillo county district attorney.

Armijo is denying any wrongdoing, saying an investigation will clear his name and that his candidacy will continue.

Is this a prelude to Armijo's withdrawal? Wertheim pushed, but did not shove: "It is premature for me to pass judgment on the allegations in these police reports today, without further consideration..."

But what is going to have to be rendered by Wertheim is not a legal judgment, but a political one. By that standard, he seems in peril of falling even further behind the curve.


"It is extremely damaging and probably a fatal blow to Armijo's candidacy given the backdrop of corruption charges facing the two ex-Treasurers. The public is simply fed up. It is hard to see how the Democrats keep Jeff on the ticket, especially with the stakes so high in the (Madrid-Wilson) congressional race," analyzed veteran Democratic pollster and blog analyst Harry Pavlides.

If Armijo did drop his candidacy the Democratic Central Committee would name a replacement. The deadline for doing so is September 12.

Republican Bruce Donisthorpe, another of our blog analysts for the 06' election cycle and a former top aide to the late Congressman Joe Skeen, said his political instincts tell him, "this is game set and match."

If Armijo doesn't get out, Republican Lorenzo Garcia is likely the next auditor. There's also impact on the Madrid-Wilson race. Heather could benefit as she is already running on state ethics problems. It's a political nightmare. Wertheim can't pull back fast enough. His first reaction was to go into the bunker, but the bombs are falling and the bunker is busted. They need to act," argued the R expert.

Still, New Mexico has shown a broad tolerance (some might say bizarre tolerance) for alleged or proven ethics lapses on the part of their public officials which is giving the Armijo camp hope that this too shall pass.


The man who stands to benefit the most from Armijo's woes is GOP auditor candidate Lorenzo Garcia, but in a phone interview from an ABQ GOP rally Saturday, Garcia was careful not to gloat. And why should he? Why get in the way of your opponent self-destructing?

"The Democratic party is going to have to make a decision on this. It will have to play out. It could be resolved or it could drag on." Garcia told me.

But R Garcia was quick with a possible replacement if Armijo goes away--the Democrat who lost to Armijo in the June primary--Rio Rancho's Tom Buckner.

"Tom would be a great candidate. I respect him. We would have a vigorous debate but the voters would be the winners, regardless of who won our contest," said Garcia.


As the titular head of the party, the Armijo problem, as we blogged last week, will end up on the desk of Big Bill. What will he do, if anything, over charges that could taint the entire ticket, even as the retrial of ex-Treasurer Vigil soon plays in the background?

What of the sexual nature of the charges and their particular impact on female voters? And what about his Presidential bid? The national press always likes a dishy sex angle. It is not a pretty picture. And throw in a bomb from the R's who are charging that the Guv advanced Armijo's candidacy because he really wants a weak state auditor so oversight of the executive is weakened.

The Guv and Chairman Wertheim had the opportunity to nip the situation in the bud months ago, even before Buckner started ringing the bell and the Democratic labor unions refused to endorse Jeff. They are now left in a puddle of their own political miscalculation, facing the prospect of turning over the auditor position to the GOP for the first time in 40 years and, more importantly, further endangering a Democratic congressional candidacy that could be crucial to their party assuming power in the United States government.

With all due respect to Chairman Wertheim, none of this is a "rumor of the blogosphere." This is cold, hard reality. The voters must judge who is the best person to serve as the ethical and financial watchdog over billions of their dollars. Political parties were formed to assist in that task. The moral of the Armijo-Wertheim-Big Bill tale is that failure to act is an action.

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