Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Down And Dirty Downs Deal? State Panel Set To Approve It Today, But Not Before Alligators Get In Final Licks, Plus: Obama NM Numbers 

What's been referred to here as the Down and dirty Downs deal is expected to be rubber-stamped by a state panel today--a panel that is chaired by Governor Martinez who is taking her first major ethical hits over how and why a 25 year lease for the Downs at ABQ was approved on a 4 to 3 vote by the State Fair Commission. The agreement allows the Downs to locate a new and lucrative casino on the Expo grounds in central ABQ.

We've been covering the machinations on this deal, pointing out that it includes many of the major players in state GOP politics. As the state Board of Finance--whose membership Susana controls--prepares to vote today, one of our Alligators lays out the connections in detail and has insider info you won't get anywhere else:

The insider sleaze surrounding the Downs lease and casino reeks of the cronyism, corruption and pay to play politics that is usually associated with Gov/ Martinez's predecessor but in this case, will receive Martinez's personal stamp of approval with her vote today.

...It's the names the public doesn't know that matter. Paul Blanchard, Pat Rogers, and Dan Mourning aren't household names. But former Sheriff and Chief Public Safety Officer Darren White is. And Martinez political advisor Jay McCleskey should be.

Start with Blanchard, an owner of the Downs. Blanchard was a close personal friend of Gov. Bill Richardson's and a huge campaign contributor. In the governor's race Blanchard contributed $50,000 to Diane Denish and $70,000 to Susana Martinez. This despite the fact Blanchard is hundreds of thousands (if not millions) behind on his payments to the state with the lease he currently holds.

After Martinez's election, Blanchard hired attorney and NM Republican National Committeeman Pat Rogers to represent the Downs. Rogers was also a contributor to the Martinez campaign and a member of her transition team.

Blanchard's smartest political move, however, may have been hiring Darren White as a "consultant" on the lease renewal after White, ABQ's former Chief Public Safety Officer resigned. White was a supporter of Martinez's in the GOP primary, showing up prominently in mailings and TV ads. White is also close personal friends with Martinez consultant McCleskey and Dan Mourning, the interim Expo manager and Martinez appointee who negotiated the Downs casino lease.

No one knows how much Blanchard is paying Rogers or White, or if he has any other politically connected individuals on the Downs payroll. The financial relationship with White is particularly germane; not just because of White's relationship with McCleskey and Mourning but because Blanchard hired White in the middle of the Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

The common link is McCleskey, who counts Albuquerque Mayor Berry as a client along with Governor Martinez. Two of the three members of the Downs evaluation committee have worked for Berry. The other one hired McCleskey to run "Citizens for Greater Albuquerque" during the 2003 city elections.

Did these insider connections result in the Downs casino lease being shoved through at what was supposed to be a State Fair Commission "workshop"? They certainly call into question Martinez's claim this lease was "competitively bid." After all, Team Blanchard only had one other competitor for the Downs lease. And even though their proposal would have paid the state $1 million dollars a year more in the first year of the lease alone, for some reason Blanchard won.

Were the machinations behind the lease award "bold"? In the worst sense of the word they were. Did they represent "change"? Not in the slightest.


And there's more. State Fair Commissioner Charlotte Rode, a Republican, objected to the controversial Downs deal and comes with this missive addressed to her fellow commissioners urging the state to reject the Downs deal:

I have seen strong evidence of corruption that concerns me and is sure to bring legal challenges to the state should you decide to rubber stamp this lease. Being ill-advised does not release us from our responsibility to the taxpayers of NM. Those concerned with good government must cast their vote based on a thorough understanding of the facts, not information they are spoon fed by lobbyist or relationships with those whom have influence over their lives.

As the Governor is the only representative of the people involved in this entire process and she won her election by taking a stand against corruption and promising transparency, then we in turn, should also live up to that promise. If you know the facts, you could not in good conscience vote to approve this lease. The people of NM and the legal powers that be are watching. I urge you to postpone this vote until the evidence of corruption can be fully vetted by an independent inquiry...

Throughout this year, the Downs and the State have acted as a team. A partnership with no delineation between Lessee and lessor, State and contractor/Bidder. It is unethical at the very least and likely illegal. Please consider the facts before you cast your vote.

It's not just the R's wheeling and dealing on the Downs. Dem House Speaker Ben Lujan says the deal is fine with him and he wants state approval. All indications are he and Susana will get it today.


The Downs dealing and other controversies apparently aren't taking any toll on the Guv's popularity. The state GOP released a poll from Republican polling firm POS that shows Susana's approval rating is sky high:

Governor Martinez has a 65% approval/29% disapproval rating for her job handling. The Governor’s approval rating has actually improved over the course of the year, from 59% approval in March to 64% approval in August to 65% in the current survey. Among Republicans, Martinez holds a 90% approve/7% disapprove rating; among Independents, 62% approve and 29% disapprove, and; among Democrats, Martinez is at 49% approve/44% disapprove...

The state GOP attacked the Dem oriented PPP poll this week that indicated the Senate seat here is "Lean Dem." You won't hear them questioning any bias in their own survey. The poll was conducted last week.


Big Bill, tracked down at the Roundhouse where he was giving satellite interviews on North Korea, wished reporters "Merry Christmas" when asked about that sexsational Federal grand jury investigation we blogged about in detail Monday. He offered no further comment. We're sure the hearts of the scribes were warmed by the seasonal greetings, but the question is how the former Guv can have a happy holiday season with what is hanging over his head.


The Dem oriented PPP poll has Obama at 49% approval in New Mexico (46% disapprove). We would characterize that as being in fairly good shape for re-election here. One number is both good news and bad--his 72% approval rating among Dems. That is too low, but he has a good chance of improving it. If he does only a bit, he pushes through the critical 50% level (although he might already be there given the poll's margin of error).

Hispanics and Native Americans are important for Obama in NM. He is tapping into that support early. For example:

The All Indian Pueblo Council (AIPC), a consortium of 19 Pueblos of New Mexico and one Pueblo in Texas, announced its endorsement of President Barack Obama for re-election. Obama for America National Campaign Manager Jim Messina accepted the endorsement at a ceremony on the Sandia Pueblo in New Mexico, followed by a meeting with tribal leaders.

The Prez handily dispatches all the major GOP candidates in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, breaching the 50% level against all of them.

Like we said, for all his problems Obama starts out here with reason for optimism.


"Who needs the Sierra Club," ABQ Dem congressional candidate Marty Chavez might ask. The powerful enviro group came with an early endorsement of Eric Griego, one of Chavez's rivals for the Dem nomination, but Marty answers with a nod for his candidacy from none other than famed actor and enviro Robert Redford:

Marty Chavez is a 21st Century thinker who will encourage creative solutions and lead through innovative problem solving. These are challenging and complicated times and never have these approaches been more pertinent to the issues we face as a nation. In order to meet the needs of the next generation of Americans we have to elect leaders who aren’t afraid to break the mold of conventional thinking in their representation of the public interest..

It doesn't hurt that Redford has long ties to New Mexico and has been a friend to the state and its people. It might not match the fund-raising and grassroots power of the Sierra Club, but the Redford endorsement does show that Chavez isn't going to give Griego too much rope.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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