Thursday, December 23, 2004

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: GARY J. ON E. SHIRLEY

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 23, 2004


Thanks to Public Regulation Commissioner E. Shirley Baca getting arrested on charges of marijuana possession at the Albuquerque International Airport earlier this month, marijuana is once again a hot topic around the halls of state government. There hasn't been this much chatter about pot here since Gary Johnson was governor.

Johnson, who was in office from 1995 to the end of 2002, became a national voice for reforming drug laws, though his advocacy undoubtedly hurt his relationship with many of his fellow Republicans and didn't win many Democratic friends in the Legislature.

In case you've been on another planet for the past couple of weeks, Baca's arrest touched off an uproar.

A majority of her fellow PRC members asked her to resign. Both Gov. Bill Richardson and state Democratic Chairman John Wertheim both have said she should step down. Some just shook their heads and said, "Eeee, Shirley ..."

The reaction has been so one-sided, it's almost hard to believe that just a few years ago there was a serious debate in the Roundhouse about decriminalizing weed.

So what does Johnson think about the Baca situation?

In an e-mail conversation this week, the former governor said, "I find the E. Shirley Baca story indicative of what is going on in this country every day. There are people in all walks of life that pay taxes, are good parents, are influential in their communities, and are law abiding citizens except for the fact that they smoke marijuana.

"I don't think it should be illegal to smoke marijuana in the confines of your own home doing no harm to anyone arguably other than yourself," Johnson said.

"All that said, Shirley Baca seems to be a hypocrite," Johnson said. "She smokes pot and yet it's not OK for anyone working for her. She advocates zero tolerance for anyone using drugs and alcohol within her office and yet it appears that does not apply to herself."

Baca reportedly told airport police that she occasionally smokes marijuana. However since then she has denied that she put the contraband in her suitcase where authorities found it.

"In my business and in state government I had drug policies that were not zero tolerance," Johnson continued I wanted to help individuals that might turn out to be drug or alcohol abusers."

"I don't remember her standing beside me when I advocated rational drug reform in this country," Johnson said. "I don't remember her wanting rational drug reform in her high-profile runs for the U.S. Congress. Come clean Shirley, and advocate change in our current drug policies. Prevent the future millions that will be subjected to arrest and incarceration. You are now one of them."

I'd just like to thank the governor: Many things have changed since the Johnson era. Back in those days, a big percentage of people in the room at a governor's press conference actually were members of the press.

But Bil Richardson is a believer in press conferences doubling as pep rallies. These events are packed with folks whose main reason for being there is to pay verbal tribute to the chief executive. I recently joked with a Richardson press aide about creating a new drinking game: You take a shot every time someone says, "I'd just like to thank the governor."

But last week was the ultimate. There was a press conference Friday to announce a holiday anti-drunken driving blitz and his proposal for spending $150 million on economic development, housing, water, energy, health and higher education projects.

The Governor's Cabinet Room was jammed with police from a whole galaxy of police departments from around the state, as well as bureaucrats from the various agencies in line for their share of the money.

Somewhere in the claustrophobic confides of the room were about three reporters - including The New Mexican's Ben Neary. The room was so crowded that reporters from the Associated Press and The Albuquerque Journal were left standing in the lobby of the governor's office. They didn't make their way into the press conference until the cops started leaving after the DWI announcement.

Fighting urban legends: Recently a co-worker sent everyone in our office an alarming e-mail about telemarketers getting a directory of cell phone numbers. The same dire warning was posted on my favorite internet music board too.

Like most alarming e-mails, it's not true. And if you don't believe me, ask Attorney General Patricia Madrid, who just issued a written statement debunking the cell phone/telemarketing scare.

"I want to reassure New Mexicans that this is just another 'urban legend' that spreads around the Internet like wildfire," Madrid said in the statement. "Even though you may trust the person who sent it to you, do not immediately trust the information contained in these messages. ... Research the claims in an e-mail before you press the 'send' button - don't help perpetuate 'urban legends' by spreading them before looking into their accuracy."

A good place to start is www.snopes.com, which specializes in urban legends and hoaxes.

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