Sunday, August 29, 2004

OFF TO NEW YORK

I'm flying to New York City today to cover the Republican National Convention for The Santa Fe New Mexican. I'll also be filing reports for KSFR, 90.7 FM.

I'll post most of my New Mexican coverage here on this blog, but also check the paper's Web site.

Here's the preview in this morning's paper:

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 29,2004



A month after the Democratic Party’s John Kerry love fest in Boston, Republican leaders from across the country will hold their own extravaganza to lavish praise on President Bush — and to officially nominate him and Vice President Dick Cheney for another term in the White House.

Like the Democrats, the Republican National Convention is expected to follow the three-Ps principle: Propaganda — pounding in the Republican message on television; Pep Rallies — getting the faithful charged up; and Parties — lavish receptions, dinners and other social events, courtesy of big corporations and other special interests that have found a fun-filled loophole in “soft-money” laws.

But, unlike the Democrats, a fourth “P” undoubtedly will be a significant part of the Republican convention story.

Protests.

While the protests in Boston last month seemed anemic and halfhearted, anti-war and anti-Bush activists have for months been planning for demonstrations and disruptions at the New York convention.

State Sen. Joe Carraro of Albuquerque, a convention delegation who served on the GOP Platform Committee, noted that several convention speakers — U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — “have different positions on different issues.”

Carraro said this will be a great symbol of GOP unity.

But while some of the speakers will have more moderate opinions than Bush on social issues such as gay rights, abortion and stem-cell research, Carraro said there will be no disagreement on the podium on perhaps the biggest issue of the campaign — the war on Iraq. All will agree with Bush that the war was necessary.

“This will showcase what the president has done and answer some of his critics,” Carraro said. “The president has to show he’s got party unity. If he’s unable to show that, he’s got a problem.”

There is little doubt, however, that New York will be anything but a huge display of party unity.

New Mexico delegation

New Mexico’s Republican Party is sending 21 delegates and 21 alternates to New York. According to a news statement earlier this month, the state’s delegation is among the most diverse in the convention, with 43 percent of delegates members of minority groups.

Delegates include some of the top GOP leaders in the state — U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, former Interior Secretary and U.S. Rep. Manuel Lujan, former gubernatorial candidate John Sanchez, state Sen. Joe Carraro, state Reps. Jeanette Wallace and Jane Powdrell-Culbert, Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and Public Regulation Commission candidate and former San Ildefonso Pueblo Gov. John Gonzales.

Before the Democratic Convention last month, much was made of the increased visibility the New Mexico delegation there would receive because Gov. Bill Richardson was convention chairman.

There hasn’t been quite the same attention paid to the state’s Republican delegation. Barbara Longeway of Albuquerque, the delegation’s coordinator, said in a recent telephone interview that the Republican delegation doesn’t have as many activities planned as their Democratic counterparts. “We don’t have Bill Richardson’s money,” she quipped.

But plenty will be offered to keep the delegation busy.

Like all delegations, New Mexico’s is invited to see a Broadway play tonight, courtesy of The New York City Host Committee and The New York Times. New Mexico delegates are invited to a performance of The Phantom of the Opera at The Majestic Theatre.

Also planned for the delegation is a tour of the Fox News studios Wednesday.

It’s not all fun and parties in New York for the delegation, however. Longeway said each state delegation has been asked to perform some type of community service in New York. New Mexico’s delegation has agreed to work for several hours at the Latino Pastoral Action Center in the Bronx. This is a Pentecostal group that has several programs including those dedicated to gang intervention, crisis counseling, an after-school academy and other activities.

Republican party time

Just like the Democratic Convention, the GOP will have plenty of breakfasts, receptions, fund-raisers for various candidates, luncheons, dinners, concerts and late-night parties — nearly all of which are sponsored by corporations and business groups.

According to politicalwatchdog groups such as the Alliance for Better Campaigns and the Center for Public Integrity, corporations, unions and other special interests are now using lavish parties at political conventions as a way to buy access and influence — skirting the new campaignfinance laws that prohibit “soft-money” donations to political parties.

Because of the restrictions, according to a report on the Center for Public Integrity’s Web site, “large quantities of cash have been pouring into host committee coffers and into hands of party planners, where lavishness is the name of the game.”

Domenici, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, will be honored at several such events during the convention. On Monday, the American Petroleum Institute is sponsoring a reception honoring Domenici at the River CafĂ©. On Tuesday, Dow Chemical is sponsoring a breakfast honoring the state’s senior senator.

And Wednesday, the American Gas Association, Edison Electric Institute, the National Mining Association, The Nuclear Energy Institute and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association are sponsoring An Evening By the Lake Honoring Chairman Pete Domenici at The Loeb Boathouse at Central Park.

In Boston, New Mexico’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a past chairman of the Energy Committee, was honored at special events including a harbor cruise paid for by the Interstate Natural Gas Association and a breakfast sponsored by Public Service Company of New Mexico.

According to a report by the Campaign Finance Institute, at least 38 companies that gave Republicans $80,000 or more each in soft money in the 2000 and 2002 election cycles also donated to the New York host committee to pay for the convention.

Fighting the man

Many have speculated that next week’s protests in New York could be the biggest at a convention since the 1968 convention in Chicago — which climaxed in what an official report labeled a “police riot,” where police clubbed and beat demonstrators.

Estimates of the number of anti-war and anti-Bush protesters expected to descend upon New York have been as high as 300,000.

Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe told The Associated Press on Friday that he was worried his party would be blamed if the demonstrations at the Republican Convention get out of hand. “I think they’re almost hoping for problems up here,” McAuliffe said of Republicans.

Demonstration organizer Jason Flores-Williams says he doesn’t care if the Democratic Party or John Kerry suffers because of the protests in New York. Flores-Williams is an activist, political writer for High Times magazine and a former freelancer for The New Mexican.

“It’s bigger than John Kerry or George Bush,” he said in a phone interview from New York on Friday. “We need an instillation of fear from the people to the people in power.

“In the end, I’m probably going to vote for John Kerry, but when you get down to it, Kerry’s just another Skull & Bones member.” The Skull & Bones Society is a secret organization at Yale University to which both Kerry and Bush belonged.

Rep. Joe Thompson, RAlbuquerque, an alternate delegate, said Friday that he thinks fears of protests are overblown. “I don’t expect there to be any effect whatsoever,” he said Friday. “They won’t disrupt our purpose for being there.”

Asked whether McAuliffe was correct that Republicans would benefit from violent protests, Thompson said, “Well, if we see Terry McAuliffe out there chucking eggs, that might help us.”

“There’s really a vibe here,” Flores-Williams said Friday. “The convention hasn’t even started yet, and already there’s been 90 arrests. Basically what’s happening now is there’s just a giant, constant protest.”

Shortly after Flores-Williams made that comment, another 200 people were arrested in a protest involving bicycles.

Today, 250,000 people are expected to march against the war in Iraq.

But Flores-Williams said Tuesday is the big day. “We’re calling it A-31, the day of direct action,” he said. “That’s the day we’re going to shut down Manhattan.” Sit-ins, marches and street theater are scheduled.

“If we don’t do something, we’re going to lose the American dream to the corporations,” Flores-Williams said. “We’ve got to fight the man!”

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has estimated the cost of security for the convention at $65 million. The federal government is expected to cover most of that.


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