Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All Or Nothing At All? Liberal Lawmaker Says One Ethics Bill Better Than None, Plus: More From The UNM Hotbed, And: Senator's Hubby Put On Notice 

Rep. Steinborn
There's one proposal pending in the NM Legislature that political types agree could dramatically change the face of our politics. It is the measure to limit the size of campaign contributions. They say this could be the ethics home run. The best of show is seen as this bipartisan bill:

Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, is one of four primary co-sponsors — two Republicans and two Democrats --of a bill that would limit political contributions to $2,300 to a candidate, $5,000 to a political committee and $10,000 to a political party. New Mexico is now one of a handful of states with no limits on political donations. Other co-sponsors are Reps. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, and Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque.

Steinborn, reacting to the plan to have one big ethics package, comes with the money line on the ethics outlook for Legislative Session '09--"If we say 'all or nothing,' then we will get nothing,”

Jeff, have you been reading our mail? We've been hammering the same point for several years, along with some seasoned Santa Fe observers. If the focus was on one major piece of legislation and not a wheelbarrow full of ethics measures, we might get something significant. (We would like to see his bill amended to lower donations to legislative campaigns to $1000 from the proposed $2300). Lawmakers are now talking about one big ethics package containing a multitude of reforms. They might as well call the Berardinelli funeral home because that thing is cemetery bound.

Perhaps if good government groups like Common Cause, with media support, united behind one and only one major measure--like the Steinborn bipartisan bill--they might generate the heat (and the fear) needed to get a big bill passed. What we'll dub Steinborn's "progressive pragmatism" could put the state on course for one major ethical reform a year--much better than what we've been getting. But Jeff will need his fellow progressives aboard the train before it pulls out of the station. All aboard?


Reaction was predictably fast to University of New Mexico David Schmidly's announcement that UNM is starting a voluntary "furlough" program for employees to save money in the face of the state budget crunch. Schmidly, facing a possible no-confidence vote by UNM faculty, also said he will rearrange where his $587,000 in annual compensation comes from. He says he will restrict to $150,000 the amount coming from instruction and general funds. The rest will come from UNM's revenue-generating operations like the Health Sciences Center. The salary of UNM Executive Vice-President David Harris --total annual compensation$428,000--will also be rearranged. The furlough and pay plan did not go over well with readers like Mike Kruchowsi who penned this before Schmidly added to his statements:

..Did I get this right? You want others (far less fortunate and privileged than you) to voluntarily take a cut in pay, while you and your cohort maintain your current pay, merely shifting your hand from the right pocket, where all your salary had previously come from--an "oversight" you didn't realize until recently--to the left pocket...instead? But still the same "take" overall, right? ...Let all those other poor saps tighten their belts instead!

On Monday, after apparently asssessing reaction to his weekend announcement, Schmidly came with this: "The first University of New Mexico employee taking an unpaid furlough in the face of expected budget cuts will be President David Schmidly. "I announced at my cabinet meeting that I would be the first one to take this unpaid furlough," Schmidly said.

Schmidly's 15-day leave of absence will save the university more than $22,000 based on his annual base salary of $370,000.

So why didn't Schmidly announce this when he interviewed with the Journal for Sunday's edition? Were they time releasing the info? And will highly-paid ($428,000 in total annual compesnation recently) Executive Vice-President David Harris also volunteer to take the furlough? Whatever the case, UNM Prez continues to have a hard time getting ahead of the opinion parade, despite the big bucks UNM spends on PR machinery.

Schmidly and Regents Chair Jamie Koch, who is also a target of the no-confidence measure, will appear at a faculty meeting Wednesday. Until they offer up real change--a permanent reduction in compensation and the outright elimination of administrative positions---the hits are going to keep coming--from vox populi and the NM Legislature. Don't say we didn't tell you.


Meantime, ABQ Dem State Senator Tim Keller is getting in on the UNM action. He's proposed a constitutional amendment that would require the Governor's appointments of regents to win a two-thirds majority vote from the state Senate--not just a simple majority. Approval of the amendment has a long way to go, but we note its introduction as it signals another Senator's thinking on the state of affairs at UNM and points in the direction of increased accountability.

Val Kilmer
So the state and nation are facing one of the deepest recessions ever and NM GOP Chairman Harvey Yates wants to talk about----Vietnam and Val Kilmer? The party rolled out a news release Monday knocking Kilmer--a possible 2010 NM Dem Guv candidate---for using the word "punk" to describe some Vietnam vets in a 2005 edition of Esquire.

“Mr. Kilmer is making a habit of insulting New Mexicans, and yet Governor Richardson appears to keep up a very friendly relationship with him.." Yates said.

A 40 year old war is not what is on the minds of today's voters, except perhaps a few over 60 years old and who are part of the hard-right GOP base. Well, everyone is a sucker for a cheap headline once in a while, but if Chairman Yates is going to pull the New Mexico GOP out of its deepest funk since the 1960's, he's going to need to offer the middle of the road public new ideas and new faces, not diversionary tactics gobbled up by the Limbaughites but lost on everyone else.


Reactions to our Monday missive on the federal pay-to-play probe into Big Bill's administration. A lawyer/reader writes that federal grand juries are usually comprised of 16 to 23 members. We initially blogged that the number is 12...An insider e-mails to inform that it is his understanding that three different grand juries heard evidence in the corruption case of Democrat Many Aragon which ended with indictments and guilty pleas. We pointed out that legal insiders are talking about why the federal grand jury first empaneled in 2008 to hear the current pay-to-play case did not have its term extended. A new grand jury, sources say, was seated in January.

Steve Beffort
We ran an insider e-mail Monday that hit ABQ GOP State Senator Sue Wilson Beffort for sponsoring a bill that would cut the salaries of "exempt" state employees by 10 percent, much more than the two percent Big Bill has already ordered for certain employees. The Alligator snapped that Sue should look in her own backyard--her husband Steve Beffort pulls down six figures at the taxpayer-funded University of New Mexico--and his pay would not be cut under Sue's measure. But the Senator e-mails to say it's not so--her bill would give her hubby a pay haircut:

(My bill) would reduce the salaries of employees who are outside of the state personnel system and who make more than $75,000 per year. Since all employees of educational institutions... are outside the personnel system...the bill would only reduce the salaries of those in managerial or policy-making positions. Therefore, assuming executives at educational institutions are in managerial or policy-making positions, they would not be exempt from and would have their salaries reduced by 10 percent if the bill is enacted. Clearly, if this bill passes, my husband’s salary would be cut by 10 percent and I can assure you that there would be marital problems if he were to accept a bonus!!

Got that, Steve? A ten per cent pay cut, no bonus, and don't forget the Valentine's candy.

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