California Speaker of the House and Jesse Unruh is credited with coining the phrase, "money is the mother's milk of politics," back in 1966, right after he and Ronald Reagan cut a deal to do away with open primaries. This move protected incumbent liberal Governor Pat Brown against the threat in his own party from Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, a moderate Democrat, who ran against him that year hoping Republicans would cross over and vote for him, and it protected conservative Reagan from the danger of a moderate Republican primary opponent who might attract moderate Democrats. By "closing" the primaries against these threats, it meant smart money in each party would flow to Brown and Reagan, respectively. As it turned out both won their primaries and Reagan beat Brown in the general election. When reporters asked Unruh to explain the contradiction that he, a liberal Kennedy Democrat, would cut a deal with the most conservative Republican politician in California in a relatively undemocratic move, Unruh replied with his famous phrase.
Yes, politics is about determining who gets the milk, when, and how much.
But what happens when the milk turns sour?
So sour that access to profitable favors time and again is given to a small group of insiders, often at taxpayer expense?
New Mexicans are beginning to get a glimpse of the answer to this question as the Albuquerque Journal uncovers one outrage after another in the "pay-to-play" culture that reigned during the Richardson administration.
The latest outrage is reported this morning in the Albuquerque Journal by Thomas J. Cole. It seems Santa Fe contractor Sonny Otero was able to sell a 12 acre piece of property to the state (that is, to us, the taxpayers) for $5.9 million, $3.2 million more than he paid for the land 28 months earlier. And (are you surprised?) he also made a contribution of $50,000 to Richardson's re-election campaign two months after the sale closed in January 2006. The state has done nothing with the land ever since. As Coles puts it, "The state never needed the property, doesn't need it today and may never need it."
Yes, money is the mother's milk of politics, but when access to that milk comes to depend much too heavily on one's contributions to political campaigns, taxpayers are justified in their distrust of the motives behind the actions of state government officials across the board, and justified in their feeling taxpayer money is being wasted in ways that undermine our confidence in the integrity of state government.