Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Para Bealquin: Un brindis desde el Valle del Sur: Salud!

The selection of Bealquin Gomez to head the newly-installed offices of Congressman Harry Teague in Las Cruces (see below) appears to be an inspired choice. Mr. Gomez, who has lived for decades in La Mesa with his wife and two daughters, has extensive international experience, having traveled throughout the world during his career as an economist and extension specialist in the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service, marketing New Mexico agricultural products, including wine, pecans, chile, cotton, and other products. He worked closely with county elected officials, providing handbooks and educational programs. He also acquired managerial skills as executive director of the Farm and Ranch Museum Foundation in Las Cruces, a post he held for a relatively short time after retiring from the Department of Agriculture. He is well known throughout New Mexico, and he speaks flawless spanish.

While Mr. Gomez will of course be responsible for helping connect citizens throughout the district to the Congressman, he should be especially sensitive to the needs of the South Mesilla Valley, inasmuch as he has lived here for many years, and is well acquainted with the people, farmers, businesses, and politicians of the Valle.

Bienvenido, Bealquin; buena suerte, te deseamos lo mejor: un brindis: Salud!

Harry Teague's Congressional Office Will Open Saturday in Las Cruces: Public Invited

Congressman Harry Teague will open up his office in Las Cruces on Saturday. The office is located at 135 Griggs. The official opening and reception will be held from 12-3 p.m. on Saturday, January 31. The public is invited and encouraged to come. Mr. Bealquin (Bill) Gomez, of La Mesa, has been selected to head the office.

The local office telephone number is 522 3908. The Washington office telephone number is (202) 225-2365.

Friday, January 23, 2009

George R. Garcia, R.I.P

Funeral services for South Mesilla Valley resident George Garcia were held today at Immaculate Heart of Mary Cathedral, with Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, officiating. Garcia (no relation) died on January 18 at the age of 74, after a long illness.

George Garcia is well remembered by generations old enough to remember as an outstanding baseball player. His Las Cruces High School team became State Champion in baseball and he went on to the farm team for the Washington Senators and later the La Mesa Blue Jays.

He married Mary Helen Apodaca, the daughter of a prominent South Valley family. The Apodaca farm later pioneered the cultivation and processing of Louisiana-style chile peppers, building the largest chile processing plant in the U.S. Mary Helen is currently serving as State Representative of NM District 34 and his nephew, Joseph Cervantes, is State Representative of District 52. George was an active Democrat, serving at the time of his death as a District Director for the county. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, and four grandchildren.

During the three decades that I knew George Garcia I was always impressed by his quick mind, which he often used to make people laugh, by his effortless facilty with election statistics, and his gentle but stately bearing.

Gifts may be made to: NMSU Baseball Stadium Fund in memory of George R. Garcia c/o NMSU Foundation, Inc. PO Box 3590 Las Cruces, NM 88003.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nava Retains Education Chairmanship

Sen. Cynthia Nava was reappointed Chair of the Senate Education Committee today by the Committee on Committees of the New Mexico Senate. There was some speculation about the willingness of Sen. Jennings to have her reappointed to the position, inasmuch as she voted twice to oust Jennings from his position as President, once on December 2, in a Democratic caucus vote, and again yesterday, when Nava voted again for Sen. Carlos Cisneros, from Taos, for President, on the floor of the senate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Senator Jennings Reelected President. Sen. Nava Supports the Richardson Faction From the North

Senator Tim Jennings was reelected President Pro Tempore of the Senate early this afternoon by a vote of 23-19. Jennings won all 15 Republican votes and 8 Democratic votes to retain his presidency. Senator Carlos Cisneros, the challenger, met with Jennings yesterday, asked him to withdraw from the race, and when Jennings refused, perhaps miscalculating his own support, decided he would fight it out on the floor of the Senate today in the opening moments of the session. Jennings, who has claimed all along he had enough votes to remain President, prevailed.

This means power in the Senate will remain independent of Governor Richardson, and assure equal treatment for the South: Jennings is from Roswell, Sen. John Arthur Smith, Chair of Senate Finance, is from Deming, and Sen. Mary Kay Papen is from Dona Ana County. Whether Sen. Cynthia Nava, from our own Valle del Sur, will retain her Chair of Education is unclear, since she voted to support a faction of Northern liberals closely associated with Governor Richardson.

In reality it would have been difficult for the Senate as a body, and for Democrats in particular, to explain a victory for Cisneros, inasmuch as Cisneros and many of his closest supporters have been part of what might be dubbed the "Rubber Stamp for Richardson" faction, in contrast to the independent posture associated with Jennings and his supporters. Given the lame duck status of the Governor, now beginning his seventh year as governor, and the humiliation he faced in having to withdraw from Obama's cabinet in the face of an FBI investigation over serious ethical questions, it just didn't make sense for the Senate to take power away from the very senators who correctly predicted that the governor's spending spree would get the state into financial trouble, and hand it over to a faction that appeared to be completely uncritical of the governor's agenda.

One irony in this is that the Republicans in the Senate, in supporting Jennings unanimously, may have prevented the Democrats from shooting themselves in the foot.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The World is Watching: And It Will Remember

New Mexicans will have a chance on Tuesday to observe one of the first dramas in this brave new, scandal-ridden epoch of the Richardson administration. the choices could not be more stark in the election of the President Pro Tempore on the Senate floor, a position once occupied with great flair by Manny Aragon, soon to be photographed with numbers across his chest as he enters jail.

On the one hand there is Tim Jennings, a conservative Democrat, elected to replace the late Ben Altamirano. Jennings rules with moderate-to-conservative Democrats: Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, from Belen; Sen. Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, from Deming; New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Chair Mary Kay Papen, from Las Cruces; and Education Chair Cynthia Nava, from the South Mesilla Valley. Jennings gave a speech on the floor of the Senate in 2003, complaining about the use of abusive language by the governor in his office in front of a roomful of people, including Jennings' wife. Michael Sanchez (already elected Majority Leader for the next session), while loyal to the governor, has nevertheless maintained a dignified independence on many issues. John Arthur Smith has been dubbed "Dr. No" because he has consistently challenged the governor's lavish spending habits, arguing, accurately, that we could not afford the raids he made on our treasury. Mary Kay Papen has steadfastly refused to play cheerleader for the governor's spending projects, for which she has often been punished. Only Cynthia Nava has been a loyal Richardsonista, perhaps in part because of her close personal relationship with Ron Curry, one of the governor's cabinet officers.

On the other hand you have a faction of liberal Democrats, headed by Carlos Cisneros, from Taos, who would become President; Cisco McSorley, from Albuquerque, perhaps the most liberal of all senators, currently Judiciary Chair, who would be in a position to control reapportionment; Pete Campos, from Las Vegas, currently a member of the Finance Committee, who would become Finance Chair; and Phil Griego, from San Jose, Chair of Conservation, possibly a candidate for a future leadership position. Without exception this faction, and other senators siding with Cisneros (e.g. Richard Martinez, Peter, Wirth, and Bernadette Sanchez) have been steadfast supporters of the governor through thick and thin. And Richardson has made no secret that he supports the Cisneros faction. In December he called in several members loyal to Jennings, asking them to reconsider their support.

But that was six weeks ago. Given: the governor's humiliating withdrawal from the cabinet position; and the potential problems in the U.S. Attorney's office over CDR; and the new accusations from a former chief investment officer about alleged pay to play which cost the state $90 million in lost pension and State Investment Council monies; and a state auditor's report sent to federal and state prosecutors revealing egregious abuse of state funds; and a quote in the Wall Street Journal from Attorney General Gary King on January 17 who, when asked how many case of corruption he expects to bring in from his investigations, replied, "more than a handful," do senators really want to hand power over from a leadership that remained appropriately independent from the governor to the faction that was most closely associated with him? Consituents in 42 Senate districts are watching.

But there is more to watch than the Senate. In the next few days and weeks many political futures will be determined by the choices political actors make about their loyalties: to the governor, to the publics they serve, to what they think is right. They will be forced to live with these choices. People remember what happens in a crisis. President-elect Obama stated that he hopes in his inaugural address to capture, define, the spirit of the moment--a moment of crisis--in his speech. In New Mexico it is the opposite: the moment--also in crisis--is capturing us, defining us, telling us and everyone else who we are. When the moral authority of a regime is questioned a crisis results. People in positions of authority (but not tainted) must judge whether the old patterns of loyalty to the boss should be over-ridden for the common good, or to avoid the wrath of the public. And there is never enough information or certainty. Some will answer yes, others no. Some will do their duty as they see fit, others will strive to protect their future political careers. But people will remember who we were.

Who is Diane Denish in this crisis? Does she help the governor circle the wagons, or does she make a clean break and, if so, how much and for what purposes? Who is Senator Michael Sanchez, Denish's potential opponent in the primary election for governor next year? Does he vote with the party caucus or does he support Jennings? How seriously will Attorney General Gary King pursue these cases, after two years of seeming inaction? Will he really risk alienating portions of the Democratic Party? How well did State Auditor Hector Balderas investigate the housing scandal? How clear was he about tracing lines of responsibility, connecting dots? How will House members react to the crisis, after years of submission? And in our own South Mesilla Valley, who is Cynthia Nava? Will she ignore her constituents (who are not fond of the governor) and her colleagues from the South and vote for pro-Richardson faction from the North? None of these are easy choices. But we are about to find out what some of our elected officials are made of. And we will remember.

The Road to Pay to Play: Richardson Style

The following is scheduled to appear in on Wednesday.

There were two kinds of cautionary signals from the very beginning. One had to do with the governor's bullying style--rumors of a key staff member getting into a scuffle with the governor and being escorted out of the capitol by police; a speech that Sen. Jennings gave on the floor of the Senate, complaining about the use of abusive language; the hardball targeting in 2004 of Democrats who had challenged the governor; and other signs of obvious displeasure against legislators or lobbyists who disagreed. The governor appeared to have mastered the advice Machiavelli gave to the prince: it is better to be feared than loved.

The other had to do with money: the Richardson administration elevated fund-raising to an art form, at an unprecedented level of prominence and glamor, and the dollar amounts broke all records. There were fundraisers in-state, out-of-state, big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones. And people doing business or wanting to do busines with the state were at least as encouraged to contribute as anyone else, probably more. The governor, generous about lending his presence to fund raise for others, became a money raising machine, and very quickly the word got out that the governor's promise to attend a fund raiser was a guarantee of its success. Fund raisers received appointments to powerful positions on boards and commissions and in other ways proved they could manage to get plenty of face time with Big Bill.

But the governor was hugely popular, with a personality larger than life, a great sense of humor, and a captivating speaker, perhaps the best platform speaker in New Mexico political history. Moveover, Richardson let it be known from the beginning he was planning a return to Washington, possibly in a presidential bid in 2008. In the face of such popularity, why not? In a few years Richardson and those close to him might be batting in the big leagues: rocking the boat was dangerous, and it seemed downright petty to do so in the presence of such glamor.

This combination of the governor's immense popularity, his success as a fund raiser, his future potential, and his vindictiveness against opposition, stirred and garnished with countless anecdotes, made for a powerful carrot-and-stick soup. People had misgivings from the beginning--about policy directions, about spending decisions (which tended to be lavish), and aobut the governor's accumulating power. But these were shared only with the closest of friends. Misgivings disappeared from the visible political radar screen: taBOO.

Why two critical sectors of the political class of New Mexico--the news media and legislative leaders of both parties--chose to ignore the warning signals will be debated for years. In particular, the Albuquerque Journal, one of the greatest family-owned newspapers left in the U.S. today, normally an avid reporter of the fine print of gubernatorial action, seemed always to go along, expressing virtually no concerns. One theory is that Richardson astutely hired media persons, such as Bill Hume, into his staff, providing a potential back-channel for interpreting eyebrow-raising issues. Another is that the Journal, sensing Richardson had strong national potential, simply decided to give the big guy a chance at the long shot, hoping his fine print, if ever revealed, would not contain too many disappointments. Whatever the case, in-depth reporting about the administration's downside appeared to cease.

In the legislature, especially the House, leadership abandoned all pretense of independence, casting off the role of check and balancer in favor of the role of chief enabler. For the first year or two this was normal: honeymoons are expected. After a while though, it became a habit. Speaker Ben Lujan had a highly autocratic style and tolerated little deviation from the (mostly) governor's agenda. An unsuccessful move against him surfaced in 2006, in part because of allegations Lujan had protected his friend Smiley Gallegos in spite of credible accusations of serious wrong doing in Gallegos' administration of state housing programs, but mainly because of his autocratic behavior. It is unclear why the Speaker was so devoted to the governor's agenda, but in the wake of current scandals the House will have to work hard to reestablish its credibility as an independent and serious institution, and not all of this can be blamed on the Speaker.

The unique combination of virtues and vindictiveness in unlikely to appear soon in another governor in New Mexico, nor would it be tolerated again. So taking steps to prevent another Richardson seems unnecessary. Let us remember: Richardson did not invent pay-to-play in New Mexico. State Treasurer Jess Kornegay went to jail in the late 1970s. State Treasurer Earl Hartley pleaded guilty to misuse of funds in the 1980s. State Treasurer Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil are in jail today for sins committed in the 1990s and 2000s. President Pro Tem of the Senate Manny Aragon will be sentenced to jail later this year. What Richardson did was to flaunt fund raising, suggesting his success at it was a sign he had glamorous friends and national stature, rather than a red flag to be monitored with deep suspicion.

It is self evident that party leaders in New Mexico, slurping expensive food and liquor at lobbyist-paid-for events, help create a socially acceptable infrastructure for pay-to-play. This is only in part a legacy of the Richardson years. Some partisan activists long ago lost their ability to distinguish between "pay your dues," in the sense of "prove your commitment to our community," and "pay to play," in the sense of "let financial ties to power determine the outcome of public policy." Pay to play in New Mexico would be far less serious were it not for its partisan enablers, and if ambitious state law enforcement officials worried more about public corruption and less about offending powerful enablers.

If the Albuquerque Journal and members of the House should pause to reflect on their roles in the story of Richardson, the rest of the political class in New Mexico should re-examine its increasing tolerance of and growing addiction to the unprecedented flow and influence of money into New Mexico politics. Let's face it: the state has been up for sale for several years. Unless serious action is taken now nothing will change when Richardson leaves the state.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sunland Park Newspaper Folds

The Sunland Park-Santa Teresa Journal has folded, after getting off to a good start and publishing for several months. Ruben Segura, former mayor of Sunland Park, who edited the newspaper, confirmed that the bottom line financial condition of the paper was not strong enough to justify continuation. We regret this, since the South Valley has a strong need for a voice of its own, given the lack of attention by the surrounding newspapers. We wish Segura the best in his future endeavors. One ray of good news is that the El Paso Times has made a decision to increase its coverage of Dona Ana County.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The State of the State from the Valle del Sur

The following article will appear in the January 12 edition of Capitol Report (http://capitol

The year 2009 began in New Mexico with the political class lurching painfully toward the finish line of the Marathon of Uncle Bill, a six-year race so far. On the horizon for the past two years, the ending comes with a whimper, not a bang. Gone are the fantasies of Presidential glory, glamorous cabinet positions--taking Washington as triumphantly as he took New Mexico. The clock struck midnight and reality revealed itself as a pumpkin: the state is broke, the bills are coming due, the FBI is still digging through the mischief around Richardson, and it may take years for the legislature to recover from the shellacking it took from him. Are there lessons here? There should be plenty, but never underestimate the political class's propensity to forget from past mistakes.

While there is still a lot we don't know about Richardson's departure from state government (when it will happen, whether via resignation or an awkward sticking it out to the bitter end) this much is clear: Richardson has lost the capacity to control, once his strongest asset. He started losing touch with New Mexicans when he decided to run for President two years ago and lost interest in local affairs. He lost control over the political agenda as the state's financial situation turned sour last summer and the true costs of his projects (e.g. the Rail Runner) became known. Now the humiliating withdrawal from the Commerce job under the withering glare of the U.S. Attorney's office in Albuquerque has made closeness to Richardson a net drag, not an asset. This severs him even more from the already-flimsy political base he had left in New Mexico at the end of 2008, just as the political class fixes on the elections in 2010. All in all it is hard to imagine Richardson recovering enough legitimacy to be able to lead or govern with any degree of effectiveness. Think back to the last few months of the Anaya administration, with an approval rating of 17: this situation is worse.

In the state legislature, after years of slavish adulation and rubber-stamping for Papa Bill, the House, in particular, needs to rebuild its credibility as an independent and serious organ of government. How this is handled, and by whom, will help determine which legislators end up with strong political futures beyond 2010. How long the current House leadership, which depended heavily on pleasing Richardson, can hang on to power is unclear, but it is certain to face severe challenge. For the past few years the Richardson presence has sucked the oxygen away from most politicians, and there is a backlog of talented, ambitious politicians hoping to step into the vacuum. Richardson's misfortunes present an opening. At least in the short run, one's former relationship to Richardson--strong or weak--is likely to be a major fault line in legislative politics.

In the Senate Richardson's troubles may have an immediate impact on leadership. As it stands now, power is held in the South with: President Tim Jennings, from Roswell; Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, from Deming; Chair of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee Mary Kay Papen, from Las Cruces; and Education Chair Cynthia Nava, from Southern Dona Ana County. These four hold the keys to the room where the pie-to-be-split is held. Not a lot of money slips through without their tacit consent. But in November, openly proclaiming they wish to remand power to the North, a faction of Democrats close to Richardson openly challenged Jennings' leadership, which has been characterized as relatively independent of the Governor. If successful, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, from Questa, would become President. Sen. Pete Campos from Las Vegas would, it is rumored, replace Smith in Senate Finance, and Papen would be replaced as well. In the secret caucus vote on December 2 the Cisneros faction, it is rumored, won the fight 18-9. But Jennings immediately announced he was prepared to ask Republicans to vote for him on the floor for the Presidency in January. If they do, it will only take 7 votes among Democratic Senators for Jennings to retain his leadership of the Senate.

Unfortunately for the challengers, the Cisneros faction is composed of senators who were hightly deferential toward Richardson and in December, Richardson apparently called several Senators associated with the Jennings faction, asking them to reconsider their support. Given the governor's severely weakened status in January, however, it seems unlikely the Senate will hand power to the faction of Democrats most closely associated with him.

At the start of 2009 New Mexico is in bad shape--a challenge and an opportunity. As the public cries out for leadership at every level, in the face of economic strife, conflicts of interest and multiple public scandals, the challenge for the ambitious is to satisfy through good deeds. For the foreseeable future, though, the environment will be difficult for good deeds that cost money. With ethical standards at a dismal low point, perhaps a period of serious reform, which doesn't cost money and is badly needed, would be the strongest option. Let's clean up the state. Si no ahora, cuando?

Resendiz Fires Two Major City Employees

After firing two major city employees last week, Enrique Palomares (city attorney) and Gordon Cook (economic development director), Sunland Park Mayor Martin Resendiz will meet this evening at 7 pm with the city council to consider, among other things, replacements. In a story by Diana Alba of the Las Cruces Sun News this morning Palomares is quoted as saying given me "I was given assurances by the new mayor and his party," presumably that his job was secure.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Breaking News: Richardson Withdraws Name for Consideration in Obama Cabinet

Breaking News, Sunday, January 4: NBC's Andrea Mitchell has broken the news that Governor Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name for consideration as Secretary of Commerce in President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet.

Richardson's fate in the cabinet has been the subject of some speculation in recent days, since the announcement by the U.S. Attorney's office in Albuquerque that a Grand Jury was investigating the transfer of approximately $100,000 from CDR, a firm that was awarded business with the state, to two Political Action Committees controlled by the Governor.