A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New MexicanSeptember 29, 2005
The last we heard from state Sen. John Grubesic, it wasn’t pretty.
In late July he was in the news for an incident in which a neighbor had reported him for allegedly speeding and nearly hitting her children on Star Vista Road. When a sheriff’s deputy went to talk to him, Grubesic responded angrily, yelling and cursing at the officer — who captured it all on tape.
This was just a few months after another incident in which Grubesic had wrecked his sports utility vehicle and intially lied to state police about what had happened.
Grubesic has apologized for those incidents. He recently even apologized to me personally, though his worst slight to yours truly was not returning my phone calls following the last incident.
He’s purposely kept a low profile since then. Grubesic said in an interview this week that he’s been involved in counseling and Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I attempted to scurry back into my private life and ignore the insanity of politics as best I could,” Grubesic wrote in an email to selected local journalists. “However, recent events have reminded me why I decided to run for office — to be a different kind of leader, vocal, independent and unafraid.”
Said Grubesic, “I admit that I have spent the majority of my short career battling my personal demons (with varied success) and little time focusing on the evils of politics.”
The “recent events” that Grubesic says have compelled him to speak out are the upcoming special session of the Legislature — which he says will be a waste of time — and the recent kickback scandal in the State Treasurer’s Office — in which State Treasurer Robert Vigil and former treasurer Michael Montoya are facing federal extortion charges. This scandal could mean big problems for Democrats, Grubesic said.
Hot air and alligator briefcases: Grubesic said Richardson’s proposal to put $75 million toward gas tax refunds for all state taxpayers look like “ a quick fix designed to accomplish nothing more than garner good press.”
The senator said he likes an energy plan proposed by New York Gov. George Pataki, which, Grubesic said, provides tax credits for alternative vehicles and incentives for alternative fuel production.
“Oil is a finite resource,” he said. “Continued consumption is not the answer. ... Giving rebates or getting rid of the gas tax encourages people to continue to drive and consume, not conserve.”
Grubesic dismissed Richardson’s call to crack down on gasoline price gouging as “hot air.”
He recalled a previous ineffective attempt by the state to challenge the petroleum industry in the ‘90s when Congressman Tom Udall was attorney general. Udall was looking at possible gasoline price-fixing in Santa Fe. Grubesic was working for the AG then.
“I was two years out of law school, had no experience with anti-trust law and was asked to assist in the case the night before a hearing in Carlsbad,” he said. “The industry had strategically filed three separate suits in New Mexico to quash our investigatory subpoenas and all of them were in oil and gas country. When I showed up for the hearing there were 10 attorneys on the other side. They promptly crushed me and helped me pack up my cardboard box in my rental car to go back to Santa Fe, while they packed up their alligator brief cases and flew back to Houston on their private jet.
“We don’t have the people or the money to go on this wild goose chase,” Grubesic said. “Even if we could design an enforceable law and had the manpower behind it, the oil and gas industry would come up with some reason why prices are so high. These guys have been gouging us for years and are well prepared to fight this battle.”
Trouble at the Treasurer’s Office: Grubesic suggested that the speciual session is a “smokescreen” to draw attention away from the looming kickback scandal — even though the governor had been talking about a possible special session well before the FBI arrested Vigil and Montoya.
“As Democrats we should be worried,” he said “I know for a fact that there were memos and an audit lying around in various state offices that nobody dealt with or completely ignored. These activities were known about, but nobody had the guts to do anything about them. The Feds are doing it for us. Now we have lots of tough talk from the very people that sat on their hands while these guys took sacks of money out the back door.
“The only way to move forward is to acknowledge what has happened. As Democrats, let’s be honest and admit our failures and vow to fix it by doing a complete and honest investigation of how far this scandal goes, where the money is within our party, who knew what, when and why nothing was done.”
When asking where the money is, Grubesic acknowledged that he might have an idea where $50 of it went.
He is one of the three dozen Democratic candidates who received small contributions from Vigil in 2004. Others from the Santa Fe area include Sen. Phil Griego and Rep. Peter Wirth, both of whom received $50 from Vigil.
“I’ll return it or donate it to charity,” Grubesic said of his $50. “I don’t want it.”
Note: This morning, after this column appeared in the paper, Rep. Peter Wirth called to say that he returned his $50 contribution from Robert Vigil.
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