Thursday, July 24, 2008

Balderas Seen As Lt. Guv Pick If Denish Rises; Our Exclusive Report, Plus: Who's Behind All The Drill Ads? And: It's The Alligators Versus The Mayor 

Balderas & Denish
It can't be called a done deal, but top New Mexican political operatives and insiders (Heck, throw in the wall-leaners, too) say if Big Bill resigns the governorship for a job with an Obama administration and is succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, she will likely select State Auditor Hector Balderas as lieutenant governor.

In interviews with top level players, Balderas was repeatedly mentioned as the leading prospect for a number of reasons.

---He is a northern New Mexican Hispanic. That is crucial to the political equation for 2010, when Denish would face voters for election as Governor. Balderas, 35, would balance the ticket and give Denish a boost in a geographic area essential for a Democrat.

---Balderas, the father of three, is seen as non-threatening. The former one term state legislator from Wagon Mound in Mora County is not viewed as a personality who would clash with Denish, although history says just about every Light Guv eventually tangles with the boss.

---Balderas is associated with the "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party whose influence is most noticeable in primary races. Their support would be valuable if a contested Guv primary develops in 2010. As a legislator, Balderas received a 100% rating from the Conservation Voters New Mexico, a leading liberal environmental group. Also, he counts Dem Party Chairman Brian Colon among his closest friends. Colon served as treasurer and strategist for Balderas's auditor race.

Brian Colon
That the Balderas star is apparently on the rise is a testament to the old saying that in politics, timing is everything. If Jeff Armijo had not run into trouble in the 2006 Dem race for state auditor, Balderas would probably still be in the Roundhouse. But he was tapped by Dems to take Armijo's place when Armijo withdrew amid controversy. (Charges leveled against Armijo were recently dismissed.) Now, there is the need for a northern Hispanic to balance a Denish ticket and Balderas just happens to be available.

The auditor has been relatively low-key since winning office. He riled some politicos when he let speculation mount that he might run for Congress in '08. They argued he had just been elected auditor after a historic ethics scandal in the Treasurer's Office and should stay put. But other than that, Balderas, who earned his law degree at the University of New Mexico, has not been subjected to any significant criticism.

Other potential Light Guv picks for Denish include Santa Fe attorney Geno Zamora and Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano, but both are way down the list, according to our sources, and Balderas remains the probable pick.

There is a caveat to Balderas or anyone else becoming the first appointed lieutenant governor. Voters must pass a constitutional amendment to allow such an appointment. The measure is on the November ballot. Most observers expect it to pass. The amendment also requires the appointee to be confirmed by the state Senate.

Big Bill and Lady Di haven't always been on the same page in recent years, but they are united in one cause--electing Barack Obama this November. And not only to end the war in Iraq and get the economy on track, but also to fulfill their own ultimate political ambitions.


Now that he has surfaced as a possible major player, the stakes are higher and inquiring minds want to know more. Here is an interview Balderas conducted in 2006 with KRQE-TV anchorman Dick Knipfing. It gives you a sense of how he handles himself in the media spotlight. Here is his 2006 candidate Web site which is still running. And here is a newspaper Q and A.


Denish has been increasing her profile in recent months, anticipating a possible ascension to that Guv's chair and/or the 2010 Guv's race. Her latest PR has her blogging about her "Roundhouse on the Road" tour.

Eli Lee
More "third party" radio ads to tell you about. We wish we could also tell you who was backing the groups buying the time, but they've organized themselves as non-profits and don't release a list of individual contributors. The latest to hit the NM air is a spot knocking big oil and opposing calls for more oil drilling. You can hear it here by entering the password "scam."

The spot comes from the Center for Civic Policy. That group, headed up by NM political consultant Eli Lee, popped up on the radar during the June primary. Democratic legislative candidates attacked by the group, as well as citizen critics, argued it had violated its nonprofit status. Lee denied the charge in an Journal op-ed, but the group, despite saying it is a leading advocate for NM ethics reforms, does not, as far as we can tell, release a list of contributors. Why not lead by example?

The same goes for the group we told you about yesterday, The American Energy Alliance. Their Washington spokesman contacted us with more details about the group which is airing radio spots here advocating more drilling and hitting Dem US Senate nominee Tom Udall:

The American Energy Alliance (AEA) is a recently formed not-for-profit 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for free-market energy and environmental policies. It is affiliated with the Institute for Energy Research (IER), another not-for-profit --founded in 1989 – that conducts intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets.

As for individuals backing this group, good luck. That is information not readily available. So donors to Lee's liberal group and the pro-oil group get to hit and run without anyone knowing who they are. Sounds like a good story for the investigative reporters. And a good subject for campaign reform. Meantime, let the voter beware.


We ran a critical view Tuesday of Big Bill and the special session of the Legislature he has called for August 15th that drew some critics of its own. The naysayer wrote:

"This guy is stuck in neutral on his Rail Runner, and his CARE proposal that he will use as a bragging measure for Obama's consideration for a cabinet position. This governor continues to plan and implement by the seat of his pants...

But how is the Rail Runner stalled? Asked the e-mailers. They see it being built as they make their way to and from Santa Fe. They also see some pretty healthy ridership figures on the portion already completed. As for the CARE proposal--the centerpiece of which is tax rebates--that appears to be popular among lawmakers and headed for passage. Not bad for seat-of-the-pants governing.


Is the Santa Fe crime wave finally receding? We've blogged on and off about the safety of the City Different since crime started soaring there last year and urged action from Mayor Coss and Police Chief Johnson to avoid endangering the capital city's international reputation. If the latest crimes stats have it right, apparently progress is being made. Chief Johnson says he's pleased to see the reduction, but says the crime rate is still way too high for a city of Santa Fe's size. That's a better attitude than the head-in-the-sand approach and hopefully leads to even better stats. We'll stay tuned. Meantime, if you do get mugged in Santa Fe, you're likely
to be healthy.


We've been having way too much fun with the speculation over whether Big Bill Chief of Staff James Jimenez is headed off the Fourth Floor and into Rio Rancho City Hall as the new city manger. A Senior Alligator here has been facing off with the Guv's office--which reacted to our report by saying it wasn't happening --and now this Gator is grappling with Rio Rancho Mayor and Dem State Rep. Tom Swisstack. Asked about "rumors" that Jimenez would be joining the city now that the city
manager Payne has resigned, His Honor told the ABQ Journal: "Rumors are just rumors in government."

The Senior Gator was back in the e-mail with a reaction to Mayor Tom's statement, and he was growing even more cocky about Jimenez taking the Rio Rancho job: "Done deal. Take it to the bank. Ching, Ching!" He chided.

Maybe Jimenez and Swisstack want to control the timing of his arrival in the City of Vision, and they'll be damned if they're going to let an Alligator--even a senior one--push them around. Like we said, all this is more fun than the law allows. Stay with us for the next chapter.

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