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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Soaring Gas & NM Scandals Are Backdrop For High Drama; Domenici's "B.S. Meter" Hits Red; He Tears Into Big Oil; And: Madrid Moves To Sever Serna 

NM Republican U.S. Senator Pete Domenici taking on Big Oil? Patsy Madrid going after fellow Dem Eric Serna? Rarely do we see a simultaneous shake-up of the state and national political landscapes, but claims of looting at the gas pumps and in the government in Santa Fe have realigned interests in a fascinating, if not bizarre fashion.

First Pete. He unleashed an attack on Big Oil that verged on the vitriolic, but it tapped directly into the vein of public outrage as he called for repealing $2 billion in oil company tax breaks, an investigation into possible price gouging and pronounced the political impact of soaring pump prices "absolutely devastating."

"Domenici knows when the public's bullshit meter hits the red zone. That's why he is still a senator. He understands and immediately acts with the public. He's not running for cover; he's leading. His statements capture the sentiment across the political spectrum," said one of my Alligators of the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Of course, Domenci had a tin ear when it came to the Dubai ports deal which also sparked public outrgage, but that one didn't shred the the family budget.

Also, Domenici and NM Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman championed the energy bill giving oil the tax incentives. But the nearly $400 million retirement package for an Exxon oil exec--"outrageous!" raged Domenici--has Pete dumping on his own legislation and making a U-turn that must be leaving the oil oligarchy aghast.

Domenici has been a longtime friend of the industry. Rarely, if ever, has he unloaded on them. KOAT-TV reported last night that since 1989 Domenici has received $580,000 in campaign money from energy interests. Senator Bingaman got $330,000 over the same period. Will Pete's tough talk translate into tough legislation? Let's see.


In contrast to Domenici, Bingaman defended the legislation he and Pete sponsored saying the tax breaks can't be blamed for high pump prices. He did call for a price gouging probe, but the statements from the two senators spotlighted their very different styles.

"Domenici has the core drive, the spirit and the determination to move on the big issues, and right now he may be the liberals' best friend in Congress because it will be the majority R's who have to make the changes," offered our in-the-know Gator on Pete who will turn 74 next month.

He may be the liberals best friend on some of this, but on the senate floor Wednesday he again called for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. The libs will continue to oppose him on that.

The senior senator's comment that the political impact of the energy crisis was "absolutely devastating" gave rise to speculation that he was concerned that ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson could be caught in the cross hairs and gunned down by a revolting electorate. Heck, that's not speculation. You know he is concerned, and so is she.

The price of gas is becoming the symbol for all that has gone wrong on the national scene; the never-ending Iraq war, the corporate, congressional and executive branch scandals; the anxiety over jobs and the health care system and a President unwilling, or unable, to make changes even as the nation turns against him.

The bottom line? When Pete Domenici's "bullshit meter" hits red, stand by. The times they are a changin'.

Back here in River City, the multi-headed monster of state scandals continued to cast a shadow over La Politica. The chief question lately among top-ranking Democrats is when and if state insurance boss Eric Serna will resign.

The news on the Serna front just keeps getting worse with the Santa Fe Reporter now tying stockbroker Guy Riordan to Serna's controversial Con Alma Foundation. Riordan was fingered as a kickback payer by ex-state Treasurer Michael Montoya at the federal corruption trial of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil. Riordan denies the charge. Meantime, attorney general and Dem congressional hopeful Madrid is escalating her investigation of Serna.

Predictions on the Serna front vary, with as many people checking in here who think he will hang tough as those who think he will throw in the towel.

"This is his last chance at the game. He won't quit. He's old school. He knows it is over for him if he does," argued one of my D's.

"For Patsy Madrid this may be the ball game. If she brings down Eric she may be able to get the "weak on corruption charge" off of her back. Eric and her go way back. It is a strange position for her. But this is political survival. She has no choice." Said another watchful Dem.


Will Big Bill try to get Serna to go? Maybe.

"Joe, Eric and Bill are old friends. Remember when Bill was in Congress? Eric promised to never challenge him in a Democratic primary. They have also been tight social friends. Eric is a political liability, but no Democrat wants to be the first to say he must go. With the Vigil trial and other investigations in the works, it is too sensitive for many of them," analyzed the watchful D.

It may be too sensitive for the politicos, but not for the electorate who will stand in judgment of how the scandals finally settle.

"The Serna thing seems like a must win for Madrid. She will have to go all the way with this, to the grand jury, the courtroom, wherever it leads. Her campaign is in place, but because of these scandals it has not built excitement or momentum. If she cannot break loose, the odds are that Heather will win again, despite the chaos nationally," remarked our Dem Gator.

The Domenici and Madrid developments underscore an essential truth of politics. The first order of business for a politician is to survive, and only the strongest do.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Campaign 06': It's A Gas; Pump Prices Pump Up Patsy, Plus: Big Bill Gets In On The Fun, And: A Senate Hopeful Rolls The Dice 

Those sky-high gas prices couldn't come soon enough for the campaign of Dem ABQ congressional hopeful Patricia Madrid. April has been the cruelest month for the attorney general as she has taken repeated hits from the R's for not aggressively investigating the state Treasurer's office as details of a major corruption scandal unfold day-by-day in an Albuquerque courtroom. They also piled on when she launched a probe of state insurance boss Eric Serna saying her past associations with the Dem politico tainted that probe. But now comes $3 buck a gallon gas and it's Madrid's turn to pile on.

Her recent news conference outside a gas station where she faulted the Prez and GOP foe ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson for the latest energy crisis received scant press notice, but if the petrol prices stay in this vicinity very long, her supporters are hoping it will be one of the breakthrough issues she needs to put Wilson on the defensive and keep her there.

Take a look at this simple, yet powerful idea for a TV spot from a Dem partisan. And the political voltage of high pump prices was reinforced Tuesday when the Prez entered the fray as motorists ponied up $50 and more to fill their tanks.

Advocates for Wilson and the R's are saying that while prices are high the D's really don't have any ideas to deal with the crisis, but who needs ideas when you have outrage?


Madrid's gnashing of the teeth over the fuel fiasco might cause discomfort for a fellow NM Dem. At her news conference she said: "While Heather Wilson and the Bush Congress are giving billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies, New Mexicans are paying the price.”

Hey, didn't NM Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman sign up with Energy Committee Chair and Republican Pete Domenici to pass those tax breaks that Bush signed into law at a well-hyped ABQ ceremony last summer? Yep.

Pete and Jeff said their measure also had incentives for alternate fuels but that the bill would not have an immediate impact on gas prices. Boy, they got that right.

Madrid's next step could be to tie the unpopular Iraq war to the high price per gallon. But the issue is a moving target. If the prices head south, Patsy's political pump could come up dry. For now, however, it's a nice spring break to be able to hammer a defenseless Heather instead of thinking about the trials and travails of Robert Vigil and Eric Serna.


As gas prices soar you might think there would be a hue and cry for another round of NM energy tax rebates to assuage the gas pains of Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico. But Big Bill, a former U.S. energy secretary, is so far holding the line on that notion. But he is having a good time again sticking a needle in the NM oil and gas crowd. He is renewing his call for the industry to donate $50 million which the state, he says, would be more than glad to distribute to hard hit consumers.

NM Oil & Gas Association honcho Bob Gallagher again says "nyet" to Bill's posturing and adds that the "free market" will take care of the problem.

Did you know Bob was a one time top aide to Bill? Sure was. At the Department of Energy. And in 03' Bill appointed Bob to the New Mexico State University Board of Regents which Bob continues to serve on. Oh, the web of La Politica!

The gas tank of GOP U.S. Senate candidate David Pfeffer may be hitting "E," but you gotta hand it to him. At the end of March he had $18,000 in the bank. This past Sunday he spent about $9,000 of it on a full page, black and white ad in the Sunday Albuquerque Journal (circulation about 149,000) lashing out at Dem U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman for not being tough enough on border enforcement.

It was a roll of the dice, and why not? An emotional issue like immigration is the type that gets hardcore R's off their seats. A one-time full page shot is probably not a bad way to go when you have so few bucks to make a splash.

Pfeffer's gamble comes just before we see what Farmington urologist Allen McCulloch does with the $128,000 he has in the bank. ABQ GOP State Senator Joe Carraro, also seeking the GOP nomination, is relying on ABQ name ID as he has less than $10k to play with.

And Pfeffer, a former Santa Fe city councilman, won't need any gasoline for his next campaign stunt--a 19 day walking tour of the NM-Mexico border to bring attention to the hot-button immigration issue.

Hey, with these gas prices, we may all be in for a long walk.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Big Bill's Two Campaigns; A Balancing Act, Plus: NM GOP Chair Still Firm On War, And: An Anti-War Song You Gotta Hear; It's Your Tuesday Blog 

Steve Murphy
Big Bill's Guv campaign is going out of its way to knock down a report from the national poltical blog the Wonkette that Big Bill held a retreat at the Guv's Mansion to "refine his message" for an anticipated 08' Prez run. The Guv's team insists that the retreat was to talk about the re-elect here, not a national bid, but on Monday the Wonkette remained skeptical. Since the Guv's folk are determined to take this quite seriously, and since we first brought notice of the report to NM, maybe we can help sort it out.

One of those at the retreat was Steve Murphy, a noted national Dem strategist who managed the 04' Prez run of Dem Richard Gephardt, perhaps giving rise to the report that the retreat was a confab over Big Bill's Prez prospects. But the Guv's campaign manager, Amanda Cooper, confirmed to me Monday that Murphy will be producing the TV and radio spots for the Guv's NM re-elect.

Murphy will be busy in NM this year as the veteran consultant is also doing the TV for Dem congressional hopeful Patricia Madrid. Murphy is with the firm Murphy Putnam Media (no Web site) in Alexandria Va., started in politics in the early 70's and has been in over 20 campaigns, including several for Dem governors.

It won't be Murphy's first encounter with La Politica. Back in 98' he went to bat for Dem congressional hopeful Phil Maloof who was the first opponent of ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Maybe Murphy's early Heather lessons will help him make the grade for Patsy.

Back to those strenuous objections by the Guv's team on the blog retreat report. Apparently they are sensitive to suggestions that he is more interested in the Prez run than re-election and fear this could turn off voters here, a line of attack already being mined by the GOP. Cooper did not entirely dismiss the Wonkette report, agreeing that the meeting "centered" on New Mexico strategy.

As for when the Guv will go up on the tube, it was a matter "being discussed" at the Guv's downtown ABQ headquarters on Monday, according to Cooper. Big Bill is unopposed in the June primary, but it's widely anticipated that he will have a TV buy in May to rally the party faithful. Since the Guv is unopposed, I pressed Cooper to give details on any May TV. "I don't want to be an Alligator," she responded. Maybe I should have promised her a T-shirt.


Cooper was not about to hem the Guv in on his campaign spending. In other words, that $10 million mark being bandied about could be reached. (The Guv rasied over $8 million in 02'.) Some Alligators said here Monday that in light of his renewed call for campaign ethics reform the Guv and his GOP opponent, J.R. Damron, could voluntarily agree to limit spending. Ah, hope springs eternal.

And what will the Guv's TV spots concentrate on when they do hit the air? Like the Guv's term, expect a wide variety of issues, but Cooper did speak glowingly of the Big Bill record on "jobs and the economy." You might say: "It's the economy stupid--again."

The bottom line is that whatever was discussed at the Mansion retreat, Big Bill has a delicate balancing act in running for Guv and also laying the groundwork for an 08' Prez run. He wants to do both without appearing to be riding too high on the Prez horse as he searches for votes on the ground in little ol' New Mexico.


He is among a dwindling number of optimists when it comes to the no-end-in-sight Iraq war, but NM GOP Chairman Allen Weh, a retired Reserve Marine colonel, who was called up to Iraq a couple of years ago to help train that nation's army, says when the "political angst" is gone Iraq will be "a success story."

Weh predicts it will take another "three or four years" to get the Iraqi army up to snuff and allow the U.S. to exit. Weh's sunny views are airing nationally on a video running on the national Republican Web site. (Click Episode 7.)


Of course, if the polls are right there are many more detractors than supporters of the Prez's war policy. Bush recently called himself the "decider" when cries grew loud for the firing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. That moniker is the launching pad for this wild anti-war, anti-Bush song airing on another national Web site. It reminds me of the 60's anti-war protests. Beatles fans and Bush bashers alike will get a kick out of this one, but R's will be getting out the earplugs.

E-mail me your news and comments. I received quite a few takes on the Monday minimum wage blog and will post some this week.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Cleaning Up The Mud: What Big Bill & J. R. Damron Can Do Right Now, Plus: Some Mop Up On The ABQ Minimum Wage, And: NM TV Anchor Heads East 

J.R. Damron
Big Bill has grabbed the garden hose as he attempts to wash away the mud of scandal and prevent it from sticking to him and other Dems. With the trial of ex-Treasurer Vigil in the daily headlines, the Guv is proposing yet another round of ethics reform. But any reforms proposed won't even be considered until Legislature 07'. (The last Legislature approved just one reform measure.) So what about the current campaign? With the help of several Alligators, here are some reforms that could be adopted immediately.

Big Bill and his GOP opponent, J.R. Damron, could voluntarily agree to limit the size of campaign donations which are completely unrestricted in our fair state. How about a $5,000 limit for both the primary and general. Would that cramp anyone's style?

The pair could agree to limit their overall spending. Does the Guv really need a $10 million campaign in a state of 2 million? Wouldn't half that amount get the job done?

Big Bill and Damron could also voluntarily agree to disclose on the Internet within 48 hours any campaign contribution received. Current reporting periods for politicos are few and far between.

The pair of Fourth Floor hopefuls could also immediately agree to fully disclose all travel paid for by outside interests, including plane travel.

That's probably half the suggestions that should be in the task force report asked for by the Governor. But why wait? Big Bill, heavily favored to win, could implement all these reforms without risking his re-elect and Damron could win kudos as well. Who, if anyone, has the courage to make the first move?


Mayor Marty
With passage of an ABQ minimum wage of $6.75 an hour, the ABQ Trib's Erik Siemers points out that NM's largest city is "just the fourth municipality to pass a minimum wage higher than the $5.15 an hour federal requirement. Santa Fe, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are the other cities."

Which brings us to the most undercovered aspect of the recent debate. Is the Duke City a liberal bastion like the cities above, perhaps out-of-step with the mainstream? Not at all. There are no wage battles in most cities because chronic low wages is not a severe problem. The market has adjusted the wage sufficiently upwards, while ABQ and New Mexico continue to be afflicted with too many low-wage jobs.

There is broad consensus on this point. In last year's ABQ Journal poll even a majority of Republicans were in favor of a minimum of over $7 an hour.


For generations ABQ's dreary wage environment has created an exodus of NM youth. Mayor Chavez has said as much in numerous speeches. He did not take the lead on the minimum. However, he is in the lead on another problem; the troubled public schools.

Giving a fair wage to the working poor makes ABQ more mainstream. Reducing their ranks through better education is the next step.

Chavez's bull-in-the-china-closet approach in pushing his reform proposals to give the city and Mayor more input into ABQ schools has stalled its progress. (The mayor of L.A. is taking heat for a similar proposal.) But this is a big idea. According to New Mexico First, only about 65% of NM high school students graduate, and only about 30% who leave high school do so with the credentials required to attend a four-year college. It's a good guess that the mayor's reforms have as much public support as the minimum wage boost.

Those who fought for the minimum might advance their cause further by getting on the bandwagon. For his part the mayor will continue to pound the table, but perhaps he'll use a softer headed hammer than the one he's accustomed to.


Media watchers were wondering just how long TV news anchor Jessica Kartalija would last in the ABQ market before being called up to the big leagues. They have their answer as Jessica tells me she will finish her three year stint at KOB-TV and KASA Fox 2 in June and take a reporting-anchor position with Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ.

The mid-20's Kartalija has anchored the prime time 9 p.m. news with Jeremy Jojola on KASA Fox-2 where she has won notice from the TV pros for her natural on-camera presence and upbeat style.

The San Diego native, who spent time studying in Spain, is now off to Baltimore, the number 24 market in the USA. ABQ is ranked 46th. "I am really excited!" She exclaimed.

Que tengas suerte Jessica.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Riordan Aftershocks Sway Roundhouse & ABQ City Hall; Top D's Run For Cover; Will Give Up Campaign Cash; A Blog Special With Exclusive Insider Info 

Guy Riordan
The full and fearsome prosecutorial power of the United States government set off more cries of "Abandon Ship" at the upper reaches of the New Mexican Democratic party Wednesday. Lieutenant Governor Denish, Attorney General Madrid, ABQ Mayor Chavez, ABQ State Rep. Al Park and Santa Fe Rep. Peter Wirth all announced they are donating to charity campaign contributions they received from securities broker Guy Riordan. Earlier, Governor Richardson announced he is giving to charity over $25,000 in contributions he received from Riordan and removing him from the state Game Commission. Ex-Treasurer Michael Montoya fingered Riordan as a kickback payer at the federal corruption trial of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil Tuesday. Riordan strongly denies the charges. He has been a prominent Democratic campaign contributor for decades.

Denish will donate to charity $10,000 of Riordan's campaign donations; Madrid $740; Mayor Chavez $1700; Rep. Park at least $500; Santa Fe's Wirth $500.00.

Montoya's stunner testimony was a worst case scenario for NM Dems, but the news could get worse. One top D told me the witness list for the trial contains the names of more well-known politicos who we will recognize and who have ties to the Governor and other office holders.


The news that prominent politicians were lining up to wash their hands of Riordan's money was broken by ABQ's KRQE-TV. In a special report on the scandal NM TV news dean Dick Knipfing posed to me the question that is most on the lips of the political community. "How is this going to impact the Governor?"

The most insightful answer, I told Knipfing, comes from a veteran Dem player. "The Governor's Teflon has been scratched."

A longtime Dem state legislator added: "There are a lot of people walking on egg shells. Wagons are being circled."

Knipfing wondered if the barrage of negative news for the Guv could create a tar baby for the state's most powerful leader in recent history. I put that one to our top D insider.

"This comes after a pile of other bad news. That's why I say his Teflon is scratched. But he is blessed with a weak opponent. The R's have not shown they can take advantage. This Guv is taking a a lot of of bullets and is still walking pretty strong, but if more names associated with him surface at the trial the damage could be more serious." He analyzed.

The Governor moved with brutal dispatch to sever his links with old friend Riordan. A source who was with Riordan as Montoya testified told me: "The Governor did not call Guy before his announcement removing him from the commission. Obviously, Guy was down in the dumps." He said.


As the aftershocks of the Montoya testimony swayed the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse and the 11th Floor of ABQ City Hall, the Senior Alligators of La Politica weighed the fallout on the coming election and a legal Gator was providing insight.

"It will be the congressional race between Madrid and Wilson most impacted. Heather Wilson again mentioned the state's many scandals in a speech before Republicans Tuesday. She was gentle, but the rhetoric will heat up. She will continue to charge that the scandals came under Madrid's watch. It could, if played correctly, be a decisive issue in the race." Said an experienced R.

A loyal Dem agreed that the Vigil and other scandals will be a key issue, but warned that if Wilson gets to gung-ho it could backfire.

"When she runs negative attacks her numbers could go down too. Madrid is not a direct player in the scandals, so how Wilson delivers the attack will be as important as what's in it." He argued.

But any way you look at it, the parade of alleged perpetrators is a body blow to the state's majority party which has been railing against the "Culture of Corruption" in Washington, only to see one of their most promising hopefuls in Madrid tied to the culture of corruption in New Mexico.


I consulted a top legal mind on the baffling question of why Riordan was not indicted by the Feds if he was involved in paying kickbacks to Montoya. He asked me if Riordan had testified before the federal grand jury. I checked with another very reliable source who told me that to the best of his knowledge Riordan was interviewed by federal agents several times and "told them everything he knew," but did not give grand jury testimony.

"If he was not called before the grand jury the most likely answer on why he was not indicted is that they do not have enough evidence against him--no phone calls, wiretaps, video or checks. They just decided to let Montoya testify to it and let it fall where it would." Our legal Gator informed.

U.S. Attorney Iglesias told KRQE-TV last night that he "will leave no stone unturned" in pursuing Montoya's allegations against Riordan.

The Vigil political earthquake was predicted when he was indicted, but predicting it and feeling it are two different things. What made it more pronounced has been the quiet as a door mouse behavior of GOP U.S. Attorney David Iglesias--until now. Not only does he have the Vigil trial underway, but federal indictments are expected in connection with the construction of two courthouses in Bernalillo county.

"It's been like a Cobra strike," said one stunned Dem.


In the days ahead expect more beneficiaries of Riordan's patronage to write checks to charity. And the Vigil trial will likely reveal even more troubling activity. Will the bevy of scandals roiling the state mark a turning point in our political culture, or will ex-Treasurer Montoya's infamous remark, "It's the way we do business in New Mexico," survive into yet another generation?

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beyond November: The Governor Who Would Be Prez; We Update, Plus: GOP U.S. Senate Race Fizzles, And: Vigil Trial Touches Guv Appointee 

A tidbit from the national political blog Wonkette serves as a good launching point today for an early take on our Governor's presidential ambitions. First the tidbit, then the analysis.

"We hear that Bill Richardson (D-NM) is hosting several top political consultants at the Governor's mansion this week, as part of a two-day retreat to refine his national message leading up to his 2008 presidential bid. Thoughts on how to deal with the mini-scandal over his exaggeration of his baseball...are most welcome." Zinged the D.C. based blog.

As for the Guv's national message, he seems to have many of them and on every imaginable subject thrown his way by the cable TV news broadcasts on which he is an ubiquitous presence. He may come to focus on fewer as the national debate sharpens in the months ahead and also so he can provide his embryonic candidacy with a clear definition, ala the John Edwards pitch of "Two Americas."


As a politician who naturally hugs the middle, Richardson's national appeal is clear; his trouble appears to be with the nominating wing of the party which often demands and gets ideological purity from its nominees. You might say Hillary Clinton has the same problem, perhaps making room for candidates with more edge.

Richardson is a tireless poll watcher; witness his increasing opposition to the Iraq war, coming well after the public moved. Also, excepting his initial and unsuccessful run for Congress in 1980, the Governor has been virtually unopposed. The safe, conservative course has been rewarding. But that will not be the case for the Prez prize.

While message will be critical, what will be more revealing is how he handles the sharp and increasingly negative campaigning he will be exposed to if and when he enters the upper tier of hopefuls. He has steamrollered over opposition throughout his career; negative attacks don't sting much when you have 20 point leads in the polls. But the playground he's entering is full of playmates who don't back off when bullied; they know how to score.

Grace under pressure and a thick skin are de rigeur in the battle for ultimate political power in the American nation. Despite his record of electoral success, these aspects of Richardson's political personality remain largely untested.

At 58, Bill Richardson still has something to learn about Bill Richardson. They will be lessons shared with and graded by New Mexico and the nation.


There's just no joy in Mudville, otherwise known as the desultory campaign for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate and the right to take on incumbent Democrat Jeff Bingaman in November.

The latest campaign spending reports shows fundraising for the trio of GOP hopefuls has fizzled, with Farmington urologist Allen McCulloch topping the field with $128,000 in the bank. David Pfeffer comes in with just 18 grand and ABQ State Senator Joe Carraro is down to single digits, with less than 10k to spend on his effort.

McCulloch made a splash last year when he raised nearly 200k from friends and associates in the Four Corners, but he has failed to build momentum. Still, he seems to be only candidate who will be able to do a TV buy and that may be enough to push him over the top.

Meanwhile, Senator Jeff is flush with nearly $2 million in the bank. Talk abut all dressed up and nowhere to go! In light of the sad state of affairs on the R side, Bingaman supporters may demand refunds.


Big Bill wasted no time in throwing overboard Guy Riordan, the securities broker he named to the State Game Commission and whose name surfaced in the federal corruption trial of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil. The Guv ousted Riordan from the state post last night and says he is going to return campaign contributions Riordan gave him. Ex-Treasurer Montoya claims Riordan paid him kickbacks for state business, sometimes in the restroom stalls of restaurants where they would meet. Riordan's attorney called the allegations lies. The feds have not indicted Riordan.

Political observers have been wondering if the treasurer scandal would brush against other political figures. They are getting their answer this week as the drama continues to unfold at the Federal courthouse in downtown ABQ. Riordan has given well over $20,000 in campaign contributions to Big Bill who now says that money will be given to NM charities. We blogged last week that Dem state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo was checking his records to see if Vigil gave him any campaign donations. He said if Vigil did, they would be returned. Vigil mentioned Armijo on FBI tapes, telling an associate Armijo was a candidate they should support.


Yes, Letitia Montoya was endorsed by the labor union AFSCME in the four way Dem race for secretary of state. But, no, she is not a member of the Public Employee Retirement Board (PERA) as we blogged. The secretary of state does sit on the board and the union says it thinks Montoya would do a good job on it, if elcted....By the way, Montoya is the decided underdog in the race. The frontrunners are Stephanie Gonzales and Mary Herrera. Ex-secretary Shirley Hooper is also contending. Montoya ran for the Dem nod in the 90's and lost. Gonzales is a two time winner. Herrera is Bernalillo county clerk. Vickie Perea, ex-ABQ city councilor, will lead the R's.

Glad to have you aboard. Drop me a line with your news and, as always, thanks for your continued support. We're #1, but still trying harder!

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Maxing Out For Heather & Patsy, Plus: Big Bill & Bruce King; Back To The Future, And: Jimenez Named Guv's New Staff Chief 

Trial lawyers are climbing aboard the campaign of Dem congressional hopeful Patricia Madrid and familiar biz interests are fueling the drive to re-elect GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. That's the picture drawn from a scan of the latest federal money reports. Also, both candidates are working to get their most ardent supporters to "max out." That means giving the legal maximum of $4,200. That's $2,100 each for the primary and general elections. It appears Heather and Patsy each had about 15 such generous souls in the first quarter of the year.

At least six trial lawyers associated with the San Diego law firm of Lerach, Coughlin, etc., maxed out for Madrid. The firm was in the news here in 2004 when it worked for the state in a lawsuit against Microsoft. ABQ trial lawyer Margaret Moses Branch is another who has given Madrid all she can. Heather's "maxers" are mainly businesspersons like Joe Badal, prez of a mortgage company, Roswell oilman Mark Murphy and Joan Woodard, an exec at Sandia labs.

A contributor maxing out is a fundraiser's dream. It's expensive for the giver, but it does stop those nightmarish phone calls begging for more money.

The overall money race is falling along predictable lines, although Madrid is outpacing what Dem candidate Richard Romero did two years ago. However, remember that Heather is not standing still and will no doubt raise more money than the previous cycle. Patsy has $836,000 in the bank, compared to Heather's $1.43 million. As the campaign matures, that advantage should shrink but expect incumbent Heather to still outspend Patsy by a similar percent she outspent Romero. Heather has now raised a grand total of about $2 million to Patsy's $1.136 million

As for the campaign, some insider Dems are anxious for Madrid to start getting visible. They are not consoled by national polls showing the R's in deep trouble and warn of Romero's 02' campaign when he had hardly any visibility in the primary and went on to lose by nearly ten points. They think Madrid, as the underdog, will need a nearly nonstop effort to unseat the entrenched Wilson.

"If you look at some campaigns around the country, they are already up with radio or TV. It is not too early. Beating Heather is going to take much, much more than what Romero came with. Madrid should not wait," argued a seasoned Dem. Other aggressive Dems even argue for going up with media now and staying up until November.

Illinois congressman and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rahm Emanuel will stop in ABQ today to give Madrid some of that sought after visibility.

Since something on the order of 98 percent of the incumbent U.S. House members get re-elected, one can see where the urgency comes from. Also, national consultants have had two bites at this race (02' and 04') and their formulas have failed. Time for some thinking outside the box?

Madrid has shown us the money, now it may be time to start spending it.


It's been a long, long time (the late 70's) since then Governor Bruce King fired Big Bill from a staff position with the Democratic party. But old feelings apparently linger and at the recent dedication of a room honoring King at the University of New Mexico law Library, the current Guv made himself a bit scarce as described by one of our on-the-scene Alligators.

"Governor Richardson didn't mix with the King crowd. He asked that a private room be reserved for him. He stayed in it and came out when the event began. After an introduction by (UNM Regents Chairman) Jamie Koch, Bill gave an amusing speech honoring Bruce. Bill left immediately after his presentation. Jamie's introduction was ham fisted. He noted that the relationship between Bill and Bruce was not good and recalled that Bruce had fired Bill. Meeting organizers feel that Bill wanted a private room so he wouldn't have to mix with the King partisans present."

Maybe the Big Guy was uncomfortable considering Bruce's son, Gary, is seeking the Dem nomination for attorney general as is Geno Zamora, former legal counsel to the Guv. Some Zamora backers insist Bill is siding with their guy, while the King camp is equally insistent that the Guv is not playing favorites in the hotly contested race which also features prosecutor Lem Martinez.

I don't know if ex-Guv Toney Anaya was at the dedication. He might have wanted a separate room too, seeing how his son-in law, R Jim Bibb, is the GOP nominee for attorney general. Lifelong Dem Bruce had to roll his eyes when he first heard that one.

Staff Chief Jimenez
Score one for the Alligators. One of them predicted here that James Jimenez, secretary of the NM Department of Finance, would succeed Dave Contarino as the Guv's chief of staff now that Contarino is moving over to the campaign. Jimenez was named by the Guv to the position Monday.

And you can't say Big Bill has a tin ear when it comes to criticism leveled against him for planning to let Contarino draw a taxpayers paycheck for serving as chief one day a week and another from the campaign where he serves as chairman. The conflict of interest was obvious. Monday the Guv changed his mind saying he did not want the "issue to be a distraction" and decided that Contarino will still be able to work part-time on the Fourth Floor, but will get all his pay from the campaign. It's the right call, especially in light of the many state scandals Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico are suffering through.

Don't expect any shouting matches over policy between the Guv and Jimenez. "He is quietly competent and will carry out what the Governor wants him to," said a longtime Santa Fe fixture of the former Rio Rancho administrator.

Jimenez's replacement at Finance is Katherine Miller, who has been executive director of the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.

Thanks for the company today and for your e-mails with the latest political news, comments and corrections. Keep em' coming and we'll keep the politics coming.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Light Guv To Do "Light" TV Buy, Plus: Mayor Marty Again Minimizes Minimum Wage, And: State Scandals In Motion 

NM Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, unopposed for renomination in the June primary, won't let voters forget that she is again on the ticket with Big Bill. I bumped into her at my ABQ neighborhood Starbucks where Diane checked in with the news that she had just shot a campaign commercial at an area park. Expect a "light TV buy" from the Light Guv in the weeks ahead.

Getting into campaign mode, I checked out her Web site and saw where she says the administration is "putting people above politics." Didn't former GOP Guv Gary Johnson campaign on the slogan, "People before Politics?" Well, I guess it's the kind of politics you are talking about.

While she has no urgent need to go up on TV, supporters of the Hobbs native point out that she is laying the groundwork for her own future gubernatorial bid and that name identification is a key issue. Believe it or not, there are many voters who can't name the officeholders below Big Bill.


While the Denish campaign may be unwittingly borrowing Governor Gary's slogan, she has not mended philosophical fences with him, but she has mended old wounds within her own party. She joined with Dem congressional hopeful Patricia Madrid to form a voters education group called
emergeNew Mexico, part of emergeAmerica, which is dedicated to recruiting Democratic women to run for elective office.

It's worth noting because Denish and Madrid staged an epic battle for the Lt. Guv nomination in 94' and Patsy even flirted with taking Diane on for Light Guv this year. Madrid beat Diane in 94' but she and Bruce King lost to Johnson.

Denish also recently gave a generous quote in a news release announcing the candidacy of Stephanie Gonzales for secretary of state. That duo staged a tough battle for the Lt. Guv Dem nod in 98. Diane won, but the D ticket again lost to Johnson.

One of the interesting things about New Mexico politics is that the Lt. Guv position does not lead to the Governor's Mansion. Ex-number two's Walter Bradley, Casey Luna and Roberto Mondragon all tried and failed. Denish will try to be the exception to the rule, but first the campaign at hand and getting re-elected.


Meanwhile, the man Denish teamed up with to form the Dem's 98' Guv ticket, ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez, has the Alligators wondering again if he just might someday switch his party affiliation to Republican. This in the wake of his announcement that he is "inclined to veto" an ABQ minimum wage bill because the proposed $6.75 an hour wage is a quarter more than he would like.

Chavez switching parties may be far-fetched, but when even the R oriented ABQ Chamber of Commerce, hardly one of those "radical" groups the mayor says he is worried about, is on board with the $6.75, it gets the talk going. Others speculate that the mayor is not one to let any proposal go through without his personal stamp, thus his bolt out of the blue on the minimum.

If the compromise wage, crafted by ABQ Councilor Heinrich and labor groups, breaks down, advocates pledge to again take it to voters and ask for $7.50 an hour. It would have a good chance of passing too. So by fighting for a quarter less, the mayor could see a buck more. Perhaps the mayor is betting that if the compromise can be broken and council goes for a $6.50 minimum, a referendum would lose steam.


The mayor is not the lone Dem bucking his party on the minimum. When he took over his West Side city council seat, populated with scores of low-income, hourly wage workers, Ken Sanchez, who served as Treasurer for the mayor's re-elect, said he would not be a clone of the 11th Floor. But Sanchez has joined Chavez in opposing the $6.75, renewing City Hall chatter that as the mayor goes so goes Ken. How does his wage stand play in Sanchez's heavily Hispanic, Dem district? The same way it plays for Chavez. And how will it play if Sanchez someday seeks the mayor's chair? You don't need a calculator to figure that out.

The city council is set to take up the wage proposal April 20th.


Will the federal kickback trial of ex-NM Treasurer Robert Vigil starting today in ABQ involve other prominent politicos before it's over? Here's a set-up report on the trial from the AP's Barry Massey.

Then there's the latest chapter in the long running saga of state insurance boss Eric Serna. The ABQ Trib's Kate Nash and I mulled over the charges against Serna as she was compiling a timeline on his career and the latest on what has become known among some insiders as "The Con" of Con Alma.

I told Nash many politicos believe Serna may resign to avoid the corruption charges becoming an issue in the election. They also said don't be surprised if he finds yet another state government job.

And catching up with another development. The wife of GOP Guv candidate J. R. Damron, Barbara Damron, is charging that politics forced her off a Santa Fe hospital board. Big Bill's camp denies it. Steve Terrell of the New Mexican has more on that one.

And we'll have more here tomorrow so be sure to drop by. And thanks for e-mailing me your news and political tidbits. There's a link at the top of the page.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Spring of Scandal: Vigil Trial Opens Monday As More Cases Percolate, Plus: Power Playing In NM House, And: Ken Zangara Bids Adios To La Politica 

From Washington to Santa Fe the Spring of 06' is threatening to go down as the Season of Scandal. And it's about to reach critical mass in our tarnished, but still Enchanting Land.

The federal kickback trial of ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil kicks off Monday, the attorney general's probe of longtime politico and state insurance boss Eric Serna is in high gear and a federal investigation into the construction of courthouses in Bernalillo county is also barreling ahead with insiders saying multiple indictments could result this year.

In Washington, it's the same forlorn headlines of greed, kickbacks and corruption. Neither party seems to have a great advantage in all of this with voter apathy, rather than outrage, a possible outcome as the public sinks under the sheer weight of the historic outbreak of wrongdoing.

But someone will vote in November and the party in power is the one that usually takes the hit. But here in New Mexico the Democrats have a strong state treasurer candidate, the R's have not found a for-sure auditor contender, the Governor, thus far, is basically unopposed and Senator Bingaman is poised for a fifth time return to the ethical swamps of the Potomac.

It seems the public vetting of the many scandals will be focused in the congressional race between Dem Attorney General Madrid and GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson. The story line will be simplified to something like: "Heather is part of the corrupt GOP Congress. Patsy is a no-show in investigating widespread NM corruption."

It could be a recipe for a low voter turnout as both candidates go increasingly negative and paint each other with the brush of corruption. But if someone manages to awaken the sleeping elephant, who knows what will happen.


Leader Martinez
The ABQ Bob Dylan-Merle Haggard concert this week brought together generations of fans who have followed the pair since the 60's and it also brought together a couple of generations of politicos. Wasn't that young ABQ Dem State Rep. Al Park enjoying the show at Tingley Coliseum with the party of middle-aged NM House Majority Leader Kenny Martinez?

We bring it to your attention because of continued below-the-radar chatter about when Martinez of Grants might make his move to assume the Speakership of the House, currently in the firm grasp of veteran Santa Fe Dem Ben Lujan.

There is restlessness and it has prompted insistent backroom grumbling that Ben should make way for Kenny or at least let everyone know there is a timetable. But doing that would make Ben an immediate lame-duck, not a position the powerful lawmaker would willingly place himself in.

Santa Fe wall-leaners say that Ben gets a two year re-elect this year and then maybe bows out in 08' and lawyer Martinez, whose father, Walter Martinez, once commanded the House, takes the baton. If that sounds too easy, maybe it is. Lujan seems quite happy, thank you, and while power may be hard to get, it is even harder to give up.

Ken Zangara, a longtime fixture of the NM Republican Party, is exiting the political stage. "No more politics for me. I have a business and family to concentrate on," blogs in the ABQ auto dealer who settled accusations with Attorney General Madrid this week that his dealership overcharged customers.

Zangara has been a key donor and fundraiser for the GOP. He was member of the "Bush Pioneers," raising over a hundred grand for the Prez's 2000 campaign and helping again in 04.' Ken and his wife Kathy even hung with the First Couple on occasion and Zangara was named to the Bush transition team for the Interior Department. He served as Bernalillo County GOP chair when the party was in shambles following the resignation of state GOP chair Ramsay Gorham.

At his zenith, Zangara was mentioned for a possible Bush ambassador appointment, but past legal woes with the car dealership and the recent ones, squelched his chances.

While Zangara leaves the stage to the sounds of catcalls from the Dems who say he is not giving anything up, but is being forced out, many "mainstream Republicans" say they appreciate his moderation and efforts to unify the minority party especially in the aftermath of the Gorham debacle.

Ken Zangara played the poltical game at the highest possible level, where the lights are brightest, the peaks the most pointed and the valleys the lowest. And so it will always be.

To those of you celebrating this weekend, Happy Easter. Drop by for another visit soon.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Big Bill's Cash Cow; No, Not The Campaign Cash, Your Cash, Plus: More Cool Political Stuff From The Home Of New Mexico Politics 

With his re-elect a foregone conclusion in the political chattering circles, Big Bill moved this week to preempt any images of a lame duck and said if he wins four more years expect another "expansive" legislative session in 07.' The only thing that could stop the peripatetic Guv is a plunge in state revenues. If he doesn't have any dough, the baking oven could be shut off. But a check with the director and chief numbers cruncher at the Legislative Finance Committee Tuesday reveals that the chances of that happening are slim to none.

"We are showing strength across the board" in revenue collection, informed David Abbey, staff director of the powerful LFC, who added that for every dollar uptick in the price of oil our little state nets $3.5 million a year. But the under covered story is natural gas. "That's more important than oil," he informs.

Get this. For every dollar spike up in natural gas another $130 million flows into the state kitty. Oil in New York closed near $69 a barrel Tuesday, near it's all-time record. Gas is down from its all-time high of about $12 bucks per thousand cubic feet and now trades near $7, still historically high.

"We are looking at over a billion for the General Fund this fiscal year in severance taxes and again next year. About 75 percent of that will come from natural gas and 22 percent from oil," crunched numbers cruncher Abbey.

The total take from oil and gas revenues for this fiscal year will be an incredible $2 billion, and another $2 billion next year if prices hold. Only a dramatic correction will end this decade long party. But Big Bill has already dodged the bullet. He's been blessed with soaring energy prices and historic revenues each year of his term. But If the good times continue to roll, excuses for our state ranking near the bottom in key measurements is going to wear mighty thin.


Big Bill sure isn't a Toney Anaya. Wasn't it 1986 when Guv Toney had to call a special session of the Legislature to deal with the impact of plummeting energy prices? Maybe that day will come again, but until it does Governor Big Bill is going to be as "expansive" as the state's bulging bank accounts allow.

This seems fine with Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico, but with billions still piling up, will the day soon arrive when they start demanding that more cash be placed directly in their pockets? Could that day come in Legislative session 07'?


Lem Martinez for NM Attorney GeneralSome cleanup on the AFSCME union endorsement of Dem Tom Buckner over Jeff Armijo for the state auditor nod in the June primary. Carter Bundy, political director for AFSCME, was accused by Jeff's uncle, Socorro city councilor Dan Armijo, of having a "vendetta" against Jeff, but Bundy and one of the five committee members making the endorsement, Larry Franco, told me that's not so. They said Bundy does not vote on the endorsements, the committee does and the committee went with Buckner because he was "most qualified." Also, it is Bundy's girlfriend, not wife, who works for the TVI foundation. Armijo is a member of the TVI Governing Board.

And I blogged that Dem secretary of state contender Letitia Montoya of Santa Fe won the AFSCME endorsement over Shirley Hooper, Stephanie Gonzales and Mary Herrera, but I forgot to tell you why. It's because she sits on the public employee retirement board and the government employee union, reports Bundy, was impressed with her work there.

Still one more. Dem Land Commissioner candidate Ray Powell wonders why we didn't mention that he won the AFSCME endorsement over Jim Baca. Well, we just did.


Some newspaper headlines Tuesday said that Big Bill chief of staff Dave Contarino will be campaign manager for the Guv's re-elect, but that title will remain with Amanda Cooper. (See Tuesday's blog.) Contarino will take the title of chairman and lead the overall re-elect. Expect Contarino to be heavily involved in media strategy, the critical TV spots, message development and handling the "free" media....

If Amanda, Dave or the Guv need any legal advice while hanging out in their downtown ABQ campaign headquarters, they won't have to look far. Sam Bregman, attorney for indicted ex-Treasurer Robert Vigil, has an office in the same building. If Sam can't help, the Guv's staff can chat it up with Attorney General Patricia Madrid who also has space there. All of this must be awfully comforting to Amanda and Contarino. You know how hard it is to find a good lawyer.....


And help me welcome aboard to our blog "Greetings, etc!, inc.," a full-service print and direct mail business that is available for your political campaigns, business needs, or personal printing. Jeanette Candelaria and her husband Martin Candelaria have been doing it since 1991.

Greetings, etc! provides full print and mail services direct mail, copy services, bindery, and graphic design. Their Web site is under construction but you can e-mail them at or call 505-242-7232 for specific info. Give Jeanette and Martin a call or e-mail today to learn how they can help you out.

And drop me an e-mail from the top of the page and help me cover the good, bad and the ugly of New Mexico politics. Alligator applications available upon request.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Auditor Hopeful's Name On Vigil FBI Tapes; There Could Be Others, Plus: Guv Staff Chief Will Serve Two Masters; Does That Fly? It's A Must Read Blog 

Jeff Armijo
Ever since the epic scandal involving ex-State Treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya hit the headlines Democrats have feared others would be dragged in and sour their political fortunes. Well, one candidate has now felt the finger of the federal investigation and insiders are weighing the impact.

According to federal court transcripts Angelo Garcia, the alleged bagman in the kickback scheme who served as a campaign fundraiser for Vigil, investment adviser Kent Nelson of California who is at at the center of the scandal and ex-Treasurer Vigil are heard on FBI wiretaps talking about supporting Dem state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo and getting him campaign funds.

That word comes from a Senior Alligator who has pored over some 700 pages of audio transcripts entered in the public court record by Vigil's attorneys. (Senior Alligator: Age 45 or over with 20 plus years of La Politica experience.)

"Vigil, Garcia and Nelson are on FBI tapes talking about support for Jeff Armijo and getting him campaign funds. Another conversation which is pretty funny has Vigil talking to Garcia about backing Tom Benavides who was running for auditor against Domingo Martinez in 2002. I checked the campaign reports and just about the only money Benavides got came from Garcia," reports our source.


Monday night Armijo told me: "I will have to double check my records to determine if he (Vigil) has given my campaign any funds."

"If he gave me money, I will return it." Armijo said.

I asked Armijo, 35, about his relationship with Vigil who was state auditor before being elected Treasurer. "Everyone in politics knows him. That's how I got to know him.
I am not going to sit in judgment of him. That is for the courts to decide. I am praying for him and his family."

The candidate also said he is "not part of the Santa Fe political complex" and that he will apply state auditing standards "fairly to everyone."

Vigil attorney Sam Bregman put the transcripts into the court file when he was making the argument that Vigil was just taking campaign contributions, not kickbacks, informs our reliable Gator who is familiar with the case.


Is Jeff Armijo the only politico who is mentioned by Vigil & Company? Probably not, says our source.

"These are not the only tape recordings Garcia and (ex-Treasurer employee) Leo Sandoval made. They were taping others as were the undercover FBI agents attending Vigil fund raisers. There are probably quite a few Dems who should be concerned," he warned.

Several Democratic insiders reacted to the news saying Armijo is simply mentioned in the tapes and that does not mean he has done anything wrong, but they agreed that any association with the tainted Vigil is sure to be fodder for the coming campaign.

Armijo won nearly 70% of the vote at the Dems preprimary convention and is the favorite to take the nomination, but possible negative campaigning apparently has him worried. His rival for the auditor nod, Rio Rancho's Tom Buckner, a deputy superintendent at the state regulation and licensing department, says Armijo has called him twice to urge him not to engage in negative attacks.

Buckner has taken a swipe at Armijo saying he he would not be a tough watchdog. When informed of the FBI transcripts, Buckner said: "That's interesting. I'll be taking a look."

But Armijo, a Socorro native, did not seem shaken. "The ordinary people of New Mexico will decide this race, and I am campaigning for their votes," he assured his supporters.


Meanwhile, Dan Armijo, former Socorro city councilor and Uncle to Jeff, delivered a blog e-mail slam over the AFSCME union endorsement of Buckner over Jeff.(See Monday's blog.) Dan Armijo claimed Carter Bundy, political maven for the union, has a "personal vendetta" against Jeff who is an elected member of the ABQ TV-I Governing Board. Bundy's wife works with the TV-I foundation.

A final note: Armijo told me he met for four hours recently with State Auditor Domingo Martinez and was briefed on the operations of of that office. Martinez is running for Santa Fe County Assessor. I asked Armijo if Domingo was endorsing his candidacy. "Joe, why don't you give him a call. It could be interesting," Armijo commented. Maybe I will.

Chief-of-Staff Contarino
The other breaking political news Monday was the shifting of Big Bill Chief of Staff Dave Contarino to the Guv's re-elect campaign. Well, a partial shift anyway. Contarino will continue to draw a state paycheck as a part-time chief of staff and another check from the campaign where he will serve as chairman and strategist. The Guv called the arrangement "common" among Guv's seeking re-election, but that doesn't mean questions are not being raised.

The conflict of interest issue is obvious. If you are getting two paychecks, you have two sets of loyalties. Which one prevails, the public's or the political?

Contarino has a first-rate political mind and will no doubt serve the Guv's re-elect well as he did in 2002. Still, insiders wondered why the Guv risked more hits and questions down the road and did not have Contarino make a clean break.

The Guv's argument that Contarino was "indispensable" failed to impress. But a Gator familiar with the Guv's thinking said he has come to depend on Contarino for day-to-day operations. Another speculator felt that by the time Labor Day rolls around Contarino will be entirely gone from the Fourth Floor and full-time in the campaign war room.

The Guv did say he would name a new staff chief shortly, even as Contarino stays on for one day a week. Speculation on the replacement induced head scratching among several Gators, but James Jiminez, head of the Department of Finance and Administration, was one possible popping up. Jiminez was once Rio Rancho city manager and has the skills for the demanding job.


Finally, an R asks: Would a White House chief-of-staff be permitted to pull a Contarino?

What? Is someone running for President around here? I really need to check my e-mail more often.

Speaking of e-mail, Yours is always welcome. Use the link at the top of the page.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Going Into Labor; Top Union Endorses Dems; A Few Surprises, Plus: The Folly Over Foley, And: My Bottom Line For A New Mexico Monday 

There were a few eyebrow raisers when one of the top NM labor unions tied to the Dems came out with its endorsements for the statewide June 6 primary races. Eyebrow raising enough for me to mull it over with Carter Bundy, head gun of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) who detailed the reasons why Geno Zamora got the 12,000 member union's nod for attorney general and why Gary King did not; why Dem Jeff Armijo was shunned in his bid for state auditor with D Tom Buckner getting the green light and why dark horse secretary of state candidate Letitia Montoya was the favorite over Stephanie Gonzales and others.

First to Geno. Bundy recalls Gary King's record in the state legislature fondly, but said Geno "worked hard for the endorsement."

"It was a really tough decision and we toyed with the idea of doing a dual endorsement of Gary and Geno, but in the end Geno won out. He has been an advocate for us." But Bundy added that if Gary wins the nomination, he can be assured of "our full support." Dem AG candidate Lem Martinez never made it on the union's radar because he has supported privatization of some government services outside of public safety.


The most interesting endorsement by the union went to Tom Buckner over Jeff Armijo for Dem state auditor. "Tom is easily the most qualified for the job," declared Bundy.

He refused to comment on the backroom controversy swirling over Armijo in the Democratic ranks, but I will.

It seems Jeff, to put it charitably, is seen as a bit unpredictable by some of his party brethren who have been complaining about him behind-the-scenes for months. As the only Hispanic in the race, he stands a good chance of going all the way. Another Alligator said Armijo's support of a past budget from ABQ Mayor Chavez that labor said would mean layoffs also hurt Armijo who has family ties to the mayor.

For his part, Buckner, the deputy superintendent for the state regulation and licensing department, has taken it where he has to if he is to have any chance at the upset. He is accusing ABQ travel agency owner Armijo of having no plans to be a watchdog as auditor and invokes the names of indicted ex-Treasurers Vigil and Montoya and tries to tie Jeff to their infamy. Frontrunner Armijo is laying low.

As for the R's, their candidate, Dan Alvarez, agreed to be placed on the June primary ballot, but wants the state GOP to find another candidate for the general. However, Alvarez is now saying if noone can be found he will stay in the race.

And what do all these endorsements mean beyond a nice press release and a write up in your little ol' blog? Well, practically speaking not a whole lot more, not until later anyway. The union, says Bundy, may throw some primary cash at the candidates, but not much. Still, word about the favorites does go out to the thousands of union households in these down-ballot races and one supposes that can't hurt, especially in a close battle.


Rep. Foley
It looks as if GOP State Rep. Dan Foley, archrival of Big Bill, is going to have the last laugh this time. The Dems boasted here recently that they would throw everything they had at Foley to keep him from getting re-elected. But it looks like everything was a whole lot of nothing.

First, Dem challenger Wanda Valentine failed to file a declaration of candidacy and will be tossed off the ballot. Not that she had much of a chance of beating Foley, but Republican Steve Gavi, with the help of the D's, might have had at least a shot at the upset, but he too fell on his sword by failing to file proper petition signatures. A court ruling is expected to kick Gavi off.

Foley was most recently in the news for having the NM National Guard perform a fly over at the opening of a Roswell car dealership whose owner is a big contributor to Foley's campaign. Gavi got off a parting shot after he ended his candidacy telling the Roswell Record that Foley had the ability to get dubious flyovers, but not funds for a Veterans Service Center.

Whatever Foley's follies, they are not going to be vetted by voters this November thanks to his befuddled opponents. It also means Big Bill can look to have more salt thrown in his eyes by the combative onetime Marine and insurance company owner. Meantime, the Guv can continue to do payback by vetoing Foley's capital outlay bills.


I knew I was going to hear about it when I blogged here were no elevators in Hobbs, so when GOP U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce got stuck in the Capitol elevator with some colleagues, I speculated that the Hobbs native could have been freaked out more the than others trapped because he was in such unfamiliar confines, but reader Tom Williams, Hobbs native and now of Philadelphia, e-mails this in:

"Joe, I lived in Hobbs for 18 years. I can assure you that the Broadmoor Building, a five story structure, had elevators, the only place that did....I am embarrassed to admit, though, that trips to Albuquerque in those days sometimes included elevator riding for the pure fun of it in the building at San Mateo and Central. It seemed like an immense skyscraper to us at the time."

That reminds me of ex-ABQ Mayor Jim Baca who recalled that he used to get thrills as a kid riding the escalator up and down at the downtown Sears Building. But the guy with the biggest elevator thrills these days is Big Bill. He gets a ride anytime he wants to the coveted Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse.

Remember to e-mail me your political news from the link at the top of the page. We need your help to keep the politics coming. We won't use your name, unless you like, but we will use your solid news tips.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Tracking the Trends In Election Year 06,' Veteran Pollster Weighs The Numbers; It's All Up Next On Your Friday Audio Blog 

What's going on out there? You can put your finger to the wind, listen over the fence to your neighbors or, if you hang out around here, check in with longtime New Mexico pollster Brian Sanderoff. We recently crystal balled state political trends with Sanderoff, who has tracked the action for the ABQ Journal since the 80's, in a series of e-mail exchanges. You're invited to eavesdrop by clicking on the Friday audio blog. Enjoy.
this is an audio post - click to play

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Heinrich Maneuver: ABQ Liberals Look To Pass Torch To Council Prez As He Keys In On Minimum Wage, Plus: Mayor Marty's Musings 

Councilor Heinrich
He may be a reluctant torch-bearer, but Albuquerque liberals seem ready to pass their torch to ABQ City Council President Martin Heinrich who has negotiated his way through a thicket of opposition and appears poised to deliver a higher minimum wage to workers in the state's largest city.

ABQ liberals have been in mourning since last October when the mayoral campaign of ex-city councilor Eric Griego went down in flames, but with Heinrich taking center stage on an issue near and dear to their hearts, they are naming him as the new Duke City poster boy for the liberal cause in the years ahead.

Heinrich, just 34, downplays his new position on the brightly lit stage of La Politica saying he is "taking issues one at a time" but he does not disagree that he follows in the path of Griego and ex-ABQ mayor Jim Baca who was first in this line of high-profile liberal city voices when he took the mayor's chair in the 93' election.

"I think people first look to see if you have a set of core beliefs. Whether you are liberal or conservative is less important. They want someone to stand up for what they believe in," Heinrich asserts.

When it comes to the minimum wage this Democrat representing ABQ's SE Heights has done that and more. He's been fighting the good fight for better than a year, seeing the measure go down in the city council and then die again in a hard-fought referendum last year. It then received another death blow when Big Bill's statewide minimum wage proposal failed in the final moments of this year's legislative session.


Today Heinrich is "cautiously optimistic" that he has the five council votes needed to boost the hourly minimum to $6.75 an hour and a bit more in future years. If he prevails, it will be one of the most significant economic measures passed in recent city history and will place him on the short list of future mayoral candidates. Not that he wants to be there.

Heinrich is up for re-election next year. He told me he is leaning toward the run, but it is still early. He toyed with the idea of running for land commissioner this year, but chose to stay out of the battle of the heavyweights for the Dem nomination featuring Ray Powell and Jim Baca.

A friend of Heinrich's told me the land commission post, rather than the mayor's job, has more appeal to the environmentalist politico.

Whatever his ambitions, by owning the minimum wage bill the first term councilor has grabbed the limelight from ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez who consistently opposed the measure and who only recently played catch-up by saying he would sign the Heinrich bill or something very similar.

"I respect the mayor for changing his mind," Heinrich said. But the mayor and his political advisers may be kicking themselves for letting this one go.


Something the liberals like about Heinrich that they did not like about Griego and Baca is his personality and his penchant for working with others.

"He is not contentious and is a good listener. He has moved the council meetings along and has welcomed comment at the meetings from the mayor and his administration. He's off to a good start. Let's see where it leads," offered one of my tapped-in sources who is a regular fixture at the downtown Government Center.

Heinrich was recently appointed New Mexico's Natural Resources Trustee by Big Bill, replacing Jim Baca. And Big Bill has been a presence in this minimum wage battle. "He has advised me to work with all the sides and I have tried to do that," Heinrich said of the Governor.

Getting the wage boost is important to Big Bill who would like to make up for his legislative defeat and avoid the matter again going to a city referendum in the middle of his re-elect campaign.

Heinrich says he does not see himself as the city's new "liberal leader." But when the working poor start seeing more bucks showing up in their paychecks, Heinrich will be the political beneficiary. And once the liberals and progressives see he can deliver, they will naturally expect more. Whether Heinrich likes it or not, there's a torch out there to be passed and it appears to be etched with his initials.


While Mayor Marty may be sidelined on the minimum wage measure, he's still plenty busy. And he's letting everyone know about it on his new blog. Chavez is a rarity in modern politics; a politician who writes a lot of his own stuff and is good at it. His Honor even allows you to leave comments, but before you get any indecent ideas, be aware that they are screened by a moderator.

Also, if you post a derogatory comment your computer is tracked by APD, your business license is examined by Chief Administrative Office Bruce Perlman, your photograph is published in the ABQ newspapers and your car is towed.....Just kidding. We missed April Fool's Day around here. All of that is false except the parts about Marty blogging and Perlman examining your biz license.


How about some Friday audio blogging? Come back tomorrow when we will take a look at some tantalizing tidbits from veteran New Mexico pollster Brian Sanderoff. That's tomorrow on your audio blog.

Thanks for joining me here today. I appreciate the company and your e-mails.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dem AG Race Set To Heat Up; King Prepares For Attacks, Plus: News On the Luna House Seat, And: Some Bottom Lines 

Gary King
Get ready for down and dirty action in the three way battle for the Dem nomination for NM attorney general. So say the campaign insiders as they prepare for all out battle for the prize that features three strong contenders who came out of the preprimary convention vitrually tied and who now see this race as anyone's to win.

All three camps agree that Gary King has the lead before the fireworks begin. A poll released to us by the Geno Zamora campaign shows Gary garnering 44%, Santa Fe's Geno 9% and Lem Martinez 8%. Undecided is put at 39%. But the Zamora poll, conducted in late February, claims King's support is "very soft" and if Zamora has the resources to "effectively communicate" he can take the race.

"They are laying the ground work for a negative campaign against Gary," asserted a King operative. "We are ready."

The Martinez camp also sees the fur flying and soon. But it may be headed in Geno's direction, not Gary's. "Geno is the heartthrob of the Democratic Left, but when they hear about his record as a private lawyer, they may not feel that way anymore," teased a Martinez insider.


King released a poll late last year that showed his support in the mid-30's, so the Zamora poll actually shows him growing. But King's third place finish at the preprimary when expectations were that he would finish first has helped Martinez and Zamora on the fundraising circuit. It appears both campaigns will have the money to take this thing negative on statewide television.

The Zamora poll also "pushed" voters to see how they would react to negative information about King. After that, voters moved to the Zamora camp and he took the lead. The campaign did not say what kind of info voters were fed before the went south on Gary.

"Let's face it. As the solo Anglo, Gary has the lead. But if they think his support is soft the only way they are going to find out is to attack him, and they will," analyzed another Dem insider.

Martinez, district attorney for Sandoval county, thinks the recent murder of a Bernalillo county sheriff's deputy will make voters more likely to support a prosecutor such as himself. "They (voters) are a lot more worried about crime than they were two weeks ago" asserted the Martinez operative.

With little action at the top of the ticket, the Dem AG's race is the one to watch. And it could get complicated with each of the candidates firing away at their two opponents. But first expect a wave of positive "image" spots touting the credentials of the trio. Once they establish themselves, katy bar the door; we're going into war mode. Expect the first wave of TV ads in a week or two.


The contest to replace the dean of the NM State House, Fred Luna, just got a lot less complicated. Salomon Montano has withdrawn, leaving newcomer Elias Barela as the only Dem in the race. That word comes from the Barela campaign. Barela will face R Jackie Farnsworth who twice challenged Luna but each time came up short. The R's have targeted this one saying Jackie may have lost last time but she came close and the Valencia county district is getting more R. But the Barela camp is spinning that this one is theirs, saying Democratic performance for the Luna seat is 56%. Luna announced he is retiring after a 35 year career in the Legislature's lower chamber.


Sen. Fidel
They say you learn from your mistakes, And that seems doubly true when it comes ot NM politics. Take Monday, when I blogged that the chair of the state Senate Finance Committee was Hispanic. Not true. And I should have known better having profiled Chairman Joe Fidel and his Lebanese descent back in November of 03'. I know. They say the memory is first to go.

In any event, Joe's son, ABQ attorney Mark Fidel, e-mails in to remind us that his dad, now 82, is indeed Lebanese and that the senator's family came over around 1920 and was given the name “Fidel” by Ellis Island officials, who commonly changed names they could not pronounce. Fidel is regarded as a Spanish surname for “faith” so the senator is often thought to be of Hispanic descent, but his original name is Fadal.

Mark says his father, who represents the Grants area, is a pretty good Spanish speaker, “more so anymore than Arabic.”

I wonder if “Fadal’s” family would even make into the USA today given the paranoia since 9/11. Their story prompts the question: What if no one wanted to come to America? The fact that so many do means the dream is still alive and freedom rings. May it ever be so.

E-mail me your latest politcal news, comments, corrections by using the link at the top of the page. I look foward to hearing from you.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

South Of The Border, Down Mexico Way; Awaiting Astorga & Any Politics To Follow, Plus: Barnett Postal Job Draws Fire 

New Mexico political junkies awoke Monday ready to tune in on the ABQ visit of First Lady Laura Bush on behalf of GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, but what is thus far the top New Mexico news story of 2006 screamed back into the headlines in the wee morning hours with the capture of accused cop killer Michael Astorga. The junkies dropped Laura and got their fix weighing the political implications of Astorga's capture, who Big Bill's opponents hope will be New Mexico's Willie Horton.

But Big Bill is not one to let events overtake him and he swung into action saying he will use his touted diplomatic skills to try to get Astogra "expelled" from Juarez so he can face the death penalty. That's an issue because Mexico has a law banning extradition of fugitives who face the death sentence. Astorga was expelled to the U.S. around 2:30 a.m. today. Terms of any agreement had not yet been announced.)

"The Governor is trying to get back to even," offered one of my Senior Alligators. "He has taken a hit because the state parole board released Astorga from prison. If he can help persuade Mexico to give up Astorga and still have him face the death penalty, the governor will have scored." He analyzed.

That would still leave the Guv's operatives to deal with the parole board issue, but a diplomatic coup would go a long way toward defusing it. And, if the GOP track record of ineffectual attacks on Big Bill extends to the Astorga case, it could end up a wash in the coming campaign. (His national foes could be more persuasive.) The irony that Astorga's break to Mexico gave the Guv the opportunity to get back on the offensive was lost on no one.


Early parole and murder of a sheriff's deputy are incendiary and emotional items for campaign lit and TV. One campaign veteran told me last night he recalled that the R's used the notorious 1996 ABQ Hollywood video murders to help defeat Dem House Speaker Raymond Sanchez in 2000. (By the way, Ruidoso, NM defense attorney Gary Mitchell, who was named Monday to defend Astorga, was the attorney for Hollywood killer Shane Harrison.)

"A letter from a relative of one of the murder victims was sent into the district faulting Sanchez for blocking tough-on-crime measures," he recalled.

As for GOP Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White who is up for re-election this year and known to nurse other future political ambitions, the capture of Astorga was a mixed bag. They got their man. Sort of. It was the Mexican police that made the bust. Astorga successfully eluded the sheriff's posse for nearly two weeks. But a win is still a win and with Astorga behind bars, White's deep sigh of relief was loud enough to crack the still, gray dawn of a memorable New Mexico morning.


Ex-Rep. Roberts
As they promised, former NM legislators Earlene Roberts and Ron Godbey have gone public in their efforts to thwart the White House nomination of ABQ GOP lawyer-lobbyist and former NM GOP National Committeeman Mickey Barnett as a governor of the U.S. Postal Service.

Roberts, who lost her seat when a breakaway faction of the GOP led by Barnett fielded a primary foe against her, let loose in a letter to GOP Maine Senator Susan Collins who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee which must pass on the Barnett nomination.

"Mr. Barnett is a paid special interest lobbyist. In his work for his private clients, he has practiced the politics of personal destruction and intimidation. This has included threatening state legislators with primary opponents when they do not vote for his legislation even if it requires voting against their constituents or the Republican Party platform."Blasted Roberts, the former House Minority Whip of SE NM.

And ex-Bernalillo county State Rep. Ron Godbey, who ardently opposed Barnett and GOP Guv Johnson when they advocated legalizing drugs, is also on the warpath.

"Mr. Barnett has ignored my request to voluntarily withdraw his name for consideration from the Presidential appointment to the Postal Service. I've contacted former legislators familiar with Mr. Barnett's chicanery. Eight (for sure) have agreed to come on board with letters to the Senate committee opposing Barnett's confirmation." Scalded Godbey from his new home in Texas.

Mickey did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The well-know lobbyist and former NM state senator may have reason to worry about his White House appointment. The ex-legislators point out that confirmation by the senate is not a no-brainer and that several nominees in recent years failed to make the cut. Hearings have not yet been scheduled.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

New Hampshire Rates Big Bill: "Perfect Resume," But "Unfocused," Plus: Hispanic Factions Hit Guv: Fair Game? And: My Bottom Lines On A NM Monday 

Big Bill's New Hampshire excursions have put him on the map in the nation's first Prez primary state, but what do Dem voters who have had a chance to give him a look make of him? We get the first clue from a focus group of Democrats recently conducted in the Granite State by GOP pollster Frank Luntz. It indicates that the initial reception to the NM Governor is good, but D's question whether he's ready for primetime:

"Gov. Bill Richardson's story "is the complete package. The question is, is that enough? His resume, for those who know it, is perfect. He's an outsider with an insider's knowledge. But despite his stellar credentials and easy speaking style, his presentation is seen to be somewhat unfocused, and his greatest challenge is to prove that what he did in the small state of New Mexico can translate to a national stage. He's got a good message and the right platform, but the delivery isn't quite right -- yet."

The favorite in the Luntz focus group was Virginia Guv Mark Warner.

Back here on the ranch, Dems are starting to play down expectations that Big Bill will top the 60% percent mark in his re-election bid. This in the wake of that insider poll we reported on last week giving the Big Guy a 56% approval rating.


You would think some of the most scathing criticism of the Guv in this election year would be coming from the NM GOP. They are doing their share, but surprisingly it is several Hispanic groups, the Hispanic Roundtable and La Lucha, that are scoring this Governor for allegedly turning his back on Hispanics. To the chagrin of the Guv's political operatives, they re doing it in a very public way.

Take this recent opinion piece from Ralph Arellanes of La Lucha in which he rips the Guv's Spaceport and commuter train plans saying the millions could be used to improve the lot of Hispanic New Mexicans who he says suffer a 34% poverty rate. And Both groups tear into Big Bill for not hiring enough top-level Hispanics in his administration.

The Guv's operatives see these groups as outside the mainstream and are not about to engage them in public. For Richardson the line of attack is nothing new. When he first ran for Congress he was chided by some NM Hispanics for being a "carpetbagger" from back East. He worked relentlessly to shed that image, but his national ambitions have stoked old resentments. And it can make for odd alliances; these Hispanic groups and GOP Chair Allen Weh both disapprove of the Spaceport and the train deals, revealing one of the many crosscurrents in our complicated La Politica.

You cannot argue with the Hispanic Roundtable and La Lucha that Hispanics come up short in all the key rankings, education, child poverty, etc. But that is not something that has just occurred the past few years. Unfortunately, it has been that way for generations.


Should La Lucha and the Hispanic Roundtable hold other Hispanic politicians, as well as the Governor, responsible for their complaints? It's a fair question. The last we checked the Speaker of the NM House, the Senate President Pro Tem, the State Auditor, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State were all Hispanic. Back in the Legislature, the Senate Majority Leader, the House Majority Leader, and the chairmen of key committees are all Hispanic. And the list goes on, topped off by the fact that probably well over 70% of the state government workforce is Hispanic.

No one politician is responsible for New Mexico's perennial cellar dwelling in important quality of life measures. It is a burden shared by the entire political structure.


Is it a sign of things to come? A bunch of Republican U.S. House members, including our own Rep. Steve Pearce, was recently stuck together in a Capitol elevator. After half an hour in the the lift one of the lawmakers reported it was starting to get "pretty gamey" in there. Being from Hobbs where there are no elevators, one wonders if Pearce was the most freaked out by the incident, but having been an Air Force fighter pilot, one suspects he escaped any lasting trauma. As for the incident being a harbinger of things to come, maybe it is for some of Pearce's fellow R's, but not him. He is a cinch for re-election to a third, two year term....

When I profiled her last week, GOP State Treasurer candidate Demesia Padilla told me what she could about the origination of her first name. But leave it to the Alligators to fill in the blanks. From deep in the historic ABQ South Valley comes the story of the roots of Demesia:

"Demesia's name derives from the Greek Goddess Demeter who was goddess of the Earth's fertility and harvest. The Roman equivalent is Ceres from where the word cereal comes from. The candidate is not the only Demesia. One Demesia Padilla who is very much alive is a member of Rio Grande High class of 65'. She is a Democrat. Demesia was a fairly common name among the Spanish of the ABQ South Valley when it was agrarian. With the decline of agriculture, the name fell into disuse."

When you run for political office you sometimes learn things about yourself you never knew, at least around here....

Thanks for the company. Drop me an e-mail with your latest news. There's a link at the top of the page.

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