Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More Mayoral Drama, Plus: Manny's Luck Runs Out; Vigil-Giron Tries To Keep Hers, And: Sen. Lopez Calls Off Koch Hearing; Our Complete UNM Coverage 

It's the race within the race--the early money drama gripping the 2009 contest for ABQ mayor. Whoever said campaigns are often decided before the first shot is fired was on to something. This race right now is all about who will be able to get in, and insiders were buzzing on Saint Paddy's Day about the fresh green that Republican Richard Berry was picking up. He was getting it from leprechauns who hailed from far away lands. That would be out-of-state operatives experienced in the arcane art--or something similar---of convincing Mr. and Mrs. Albuquerque to sign a form and chip in a five dollar donation to get State Rep. Berry on the ballot by the March 31st deadline. If they succeed, it could appreciably alter the landscape for the October election.

Our Alligators were quick to report the additional troops for Berry. How could they not when two of them were posted at the annual St. Patrick's Day Brother Mathias Dinner at the downtown convention center. They told our slithery friends that they hailed from Arizona and Maine and were brought in by the R's to make the final push to collect 3,280 five dollar donations for Berry and make sure he wins a place on the ballot along with Mayor Marty Chavez and former Dem State Senator Richard Romero whose final push should secure him a slot.

Bernalillo County GOP Chairman and interim NM GOP Executive Director Ryan Cangliosi confirmed the county party's escalating involvement in the the Berry effort.

"It is a Herculean effort to get these donations. We have formed what is known under city law as a measure finance committee and are using it to make the push to make sure Representative Berry gets a position on the ballot " informed Cangliosi.

He declined to comment on out-of-state operatives being brought in saying he was not "going to disclose strategy." But its clear this extra push is going to have the political bookies raising the odds on Berry, also known as "RJ," making the ballot.


The insiders were already framing a theoretical three way contest featuring two Hispanic candidates--Chavez and Romero--versus one Anglo. That is an uncomfortable prospect for Chavez who would appear to have the most to lose in such a field. But Berry has never painted on this large a canvas and he got an idea how fast the paint gets splattered as Chavez operatives began raising some questions.

Chief among the inquiries was whether Rep. Berry, serving his second two year term from the NE Heights, can collect "seed money" for his campaign while the Legislature is in session. Doesn't that violate the state prohibition against any fundraising by lawmakers while they are meeting? Well, the Berry may be fresh pickings on some matters, but perhaps not this one.

"I checked with the Legislative Council Service prior to getting in the race and I have a memo that says a state legislator seeking a municipal office is not prohibited from taking campaign donations. The memo was written by Paula Tackett, head of the LCS," Said Berry in a cellphone call from a Roundhouse buzzing with closing week activity.

Chavez or Romero or someone else could challenge that interpretation, but Berry dodges an early ethics bullet by using some foresight. Don't worry, RJ, the fun has just begun. The pistols will really start firing in a couple of months--if you get the chance to hang around and hear them.


This new city campaign financing law has all kinds of twists and turns. Here's another. By forming a "measured finance committee" and expressly advocating for Rep. Berry, the Bernalillo County GOP may have triggered a provision that allows Berry's opponents to qualify for "matching funds." In other words, if the GOP spent $5,000 on behalf of Berry, whoever else qualified for public financing might be eligible for the match from the public kitty. We say "might" because everyone involved in this deal is in uncharted waters. There is going to be a considerable level of confusion as we move forward.


Manny's luck ran out on Saint Patrick's Day. There's not much more to be said. We've done the requiems and the reminisces now former State Senate powerhouse Manny Aragon does the time--over five years of it for stealing cash from funds taxpayers put up to build the Bernalillo County Metro Courthouse. That he broke down and cried and rambled on for 20 minutes before the federal sentence was handed down didn't do much for what remains of his legend. But the prospect of going to prison---any kind of prison---is enough to cause anyone to lose it.

The question is will Manny's stunning fall from grace deter future would-be bilkers? For a time. But human nature being what it is, we suspect there's another Manny Aragon being rocked in a New Mexico cradle. Republican US attorney Greg Fouratt crowed again about the importance of the case his office prosecuted. Sometimes crowing is called for. This was one of those times.


More news now from a former high-powered state official mired in an ethics dispute and maybe something more serious in the months ahead. Former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is firing back at State Auditor Hector Balderas and an audit he conducted of of funds spent by the SOS in the 2006 election cycle. She dropped this response in our e-mail box answering the audit assertions.

Balderas said he found "severe mismanagement" of federal funds and that his office will forward information to the FBI, federal election officials and the state Attorney General's Office.

Vigil-Giron says in her written response that she believes she is being "exploited for political gain" by Balderas who she says aspires to higher office and details her responses to the audits findings. Here is a New Mexican article reporting the Balderas audit to which Vigil-Giron, now working at the state Workforce Solutions Department, responds. And another one on her response. At the center of the controversy is payments of $6,308,350 in federal voter education funds made to a media contractor by Vigil-Giron's administration to produce and purchase media time for voter educational spots.

PR man Collins
From one of our readers who has reason to know:

UNM has well over 50 positions which specialize in marketing, public relations, communications, or public affairs and (UNM President) Schmidly still has to hire a $10,000 per month public relations specialist.

The $10,000 a month contract the reader refers to was given to Mike Collins, a former spokesman for the national Republican Party who worked with Schmidly when he was president of Texas Tech. We have met Collins and found him affable and competent, but a fair question in these tight times is why UNM continues to put out this kind of money when they have dozens of able PR people already on the payroll. Not to mention the redundancy in the UNM lobbying operation.

Then there is the $1 million a year Lobo basketball coach hired to take the team to the NCAA tournament, but can't quite get there. He gets a bonus if he succeeds. Does he get a pay cut if he doesn't? And then there's the $677,000 payout to get rid of Lobo football coach Rocky Long, yet another taxpayer supported golden parachute.

The gentleman who presides over all of this, Athletic Director Paul Krebs, was given a pay raise of over $90,000, conveniently timed by the UNM President so it came before a salary freeze took effect. He now makes a stunning $400,000 plus a year.

They can let loose all of UNM's 50 PR flacks plus the 10 Grand a month fella and they are not going to convince many of us that something isn't seriously haywire. President Schmidly has an opportunity to restore confidence in his administration, but it isn't going to be done with baby steps. There is too much damage to be undone.


After all of that you might be expectant about that state Senate Rules Committee confirmation hearing of UNM Regents President Jamie Koch, nominated for another six year term by Big Bill and the recent recipient of a no-confidence vote by the UNM faculty. Big Bill announced Koch will step aside as Regents prez and be replaced by fellow Regent and former NM House Speaker Raymond Sanchez. Well, despite the foot high stack of questions needed to be asked of Koch about administering UNM, ABQ Dem Senator Linda Lopez, who previously promised "tough questions" for Koch, now says there will likely be no questions at all. The Chairwoman says:

Unfortunately, the clock may run out before the Committee can hold the UNM Regents’ confirmation hearings. In the long run this may prove to be for the best as the Legislature continues to monitor the Regents’ responses to extraordinary challenges unfolding on the campus. It is my hope we will hold those confirmation hearings during the special session the Governor will be calling later this year.

Well, Linda, who says for sure there is going to be a special session later this year? And aren't the Senators the least bit curious about those "extraordinary challenges" unfolding on the campus? Don't we need oversight now, after months of blaring headlines?

Sen. Lopez
The senator says because the Governor would not allow the Department of Public Safety to provide background checks of nominees, she had to get them done through the attorney general's office and it slowed the process. For Heaven's sake, Linda, the state of New Mexico knows the size of Jamie Koch's underwear. He has been around here for over 70 years. We can forego the background check. Two other UNM regent nominees, besides Koch, await confirmation. Meanwhile, the Governor's office hit back at Lopez and they hit hard:

Senator Lopez continues to make excuses for her failure to do her job...In her effort to make a political point, Senator Lopez has single-handedly delayed hundreds of confirmation hearings for regents and others appointed to serve the State of New Mexico...

Score this one for the Fourth Floor. Even though Big Bill can be blamed for some of the mess at UNM because of his appointments, he now looks like the proactive guy trying to get the "tough" hearing of Jamie scheduled. Linda's excuse about background checks will be faulted as feeble and will spark the speculation that she has been played by Jamie's gang. Meantime, Jamie continues to serve on the board pending the confirmation.

And what message does that send? Maybe that the party is back on. Bring back the punch bowl, Helen, the neighbors have stopped complaining! The lack of oversight of UNM is going to continue to be a big story. We fear it will end badly.

There have been rumblings that Linda is looking to make a play for higher office. If so, someone is going to have to take off her training wheels. This isn't Coors and Gun Club Road. This is the brightly lit statewide stage of La Politica and one of its lights just shattered on an actor who cracked under the pressure.

But such are the ways of our Enchanted Land. La Politica holds its sway as the peons man their plows. In New Mexico, we say with relish, "Carpe Mañana!"

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