Thursday, September 22, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: IT TAKES TWO TO MAKE A TWO-PARTY SYSTEM

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 22, 2005

According to state Republican leaders, the charges of extortion and racketeering against state Treasurer Robert Vigil and his predecessor Michael Montoya was a clear illustration of what happens when you don’t have a healthy two-party system in the state.

"This is a wake up call for voters to insure they elect some Republicans to offices Democrats have held for years, and to throw any politician out of office when there is any hint of impropriety," said GOP state Chairman Allen Weh about the arrests of the Democratic politicians.

“The voters of New Mexico have the responsibility to ensure that we have a healthy two-party system,” said Marta Kramer, executive director of the state Republican Party.

Maybe they’re right. Perhaps we all should have taken a more serious look at the Republican who challenged Vigil in 2002.

Let’s see, what was his name?

Her name?

Actually there was no opponent in this race. Vigil had a tough primary battle, but the GOP let him slide in the general election.

This despite the fact that a scathing audit report of Vigil’s tenure as state auditor made public that year showed “strong patterns of public corruption,” according to the state police chief.

The Elephant party has to be kicking itself for giving that race away. In another 2002 statewide contest in which the Democrats nominated a candidate with ethics that were questioned — former Santa Fe Mayor Art Trujillo — Republican Pat Lyons won.

There wasn’t much evidence of a two-party system in the last election’s legislative races either. Republicans didn’t field candidates in 25 races out of the 70 House of Representatives seats. (Democrats still hold 42 out of 70 House seats.)

And 12 of the 24 Senate Democrats won without an opponent in 2004.

In fairness, the Democrats didn’t even try in a huge number of races — 13 seats in Senate and 18 in the House.

It’s true that the last legislative redistricting basically cemented the status quo.
But as Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said a few years ago, “The bottom line is that all the numbers don’t mean a damn thing. A great candidate from either party who works hard can beat a mediocre candidate.”

The Year of the Child: If it were legal to consume alcohol in the Roundhouse, observers could get drunk fast just by taking a chug any time a politician earnestly declared that it’s important to pass or defeat a bill “for the sake of the children.”

But —- if you can believe an FBI affidavit —- the state treasurer has taken the art of pandering for the sake of the wee ones several notches up. In fact this scandal just might be the first instance of racketeering “for the children.”

According to the FBI, Vigil was captured on tape with a “cooperating witness” talking about helping his wife’s favorite charity, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, by shaking down private investment advisers who contract with the state for contributions.

At one point, Vigil tells the informant, “Where is there a law that doesn’t allow you to help kids, you know. Bunch of bullshit ...”

FBI Special Agent Drew McCandles apparently wasn’t moved by the idea of kickbacks for the kiddies. He wrote in his affidavit, “Although altruistic in appearance, the charitable contributions had the same effect as cash; they were quid pro quo for business with the New Mexico State Treasurer’s Office.”

Protect us from the gas guzzlers: Thanks to my colleague Ben Neary for this one.

Gov. Bill Richardson held a press conference at a Santa Fe gas station Tuesday to announce he’s calling a special legislative session. He wants a rebate program for taxpayers to cover higher oil and gas prices.

“The nation is in a continuing energy emergency because we’re over dependent on oil and gas,” the governor told reporters. “It’s a reflection of weak, shortsighted national energy policy.”

Richardson drove to the press conference in a Lincoln Navigator, his preferred ride since he stopped tooling around in a Cadillac Escalade. According to the Web site www.fueleconomy.gov, Lincoln’s behemoth SUV gets about 13 mpg in the city while the Caddy was good for a whopping 14 mpg.

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