Thursday, October 20, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: DELAY vs VIGIL

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 20, 2005


The campaign is still very young, but by the campaign rhetoric already arising from the Heather Wilson/Patricia Madrid showdown, one might think that the 2006 First Congressional District race is a battle between Tom DeLay and Robert Vigil.

Republican DeLay stepped down as U.S. House majority leader after being indicted in his native Texas on felony charges of money laundering and conspiracy.

Democrat Vigil was indicted in federal court on 21 charges of extortion. He has refused to step down from his post, although his lawyer told the Associated Press Wednesday that Vigil “continues to weigh his options” whether he will resign because he feels the ongoing House impeachment proceedings against him are unfair.

In declaring her candidacy last week, Madrid issued a statement that spoke of “culture of incompetence, corruption and cronyism.”

“The marriage of special interest politics and the Republican leadership of George Bush and Tom DeLay and the complicity of Heather Wilson have failed New Mexicans,” Madrid said.

Even before Madrid got into the race, state Democrats were criticizing Wilson for taking nearly $47,000 from DeLay’s political action committee Americans for a Republican Majority. Wilson has returned the $10,000 she collected from DeLay’s PAC in June, but not the $36,959 she received from the PAC between 1998 and 2003.

But Republican leaders say the corruption issue could backfire on Madrid.

Enter Robert Vigil.

Last week on the eve of Madrid’s announcement, Marta Kramer, executive director of the state Republican Party, said the kickback scandal at the state Treasurer’s Office could bode ill for the entire Democratic ticket, but particularly Madrid.

Kramer recalled a scathing 1999 audit report on Vigil’s tenure as state auditor, which, according to the state police chief, showed “strong patterns of public corruption” at the auditor’s office during Vigil’s tenure there.

Madrid later said that the audit was “not unbiased” because of the long-standing political feud between Vigil and his successor as state auditor, Domingo Martinez. No state legal action was ever taken in the 1999 audit.

“Madrid turned a blind eye to the biggest corruption scandal in the state's history by refusing to investigate the state treasurer when called upon to do so by Gov. Gary Johnson in 1999,” Kramer said. “Madrid should first work toward ending corruption and promoting accountability in New Mexico before pointing fingers at Republican elected officials in D.C.”

Political Chatter: Some of Vigil’s thoughts about state politics were captured on tape by the FBI in conversations between the treasurer and San Diego investment counselor Kent Nelson — who was wearing a wire.

In May, while driving from the Albuquerque airport to The Quarters barbecue restaurant on Yale, campaign contributions were on Vigil’s mind. The deadline for reporting contributions was only four days away.

You’ve got to report at least some of your contributions, Vigil told Nelson, “so it'll scare some of your opponents away.”

“They gonna be scared?” Nelson asked.

“No, not that scared,” Vigil said, “but I mean it's at least it makes them think twice if you don't report anything.”

Vigil explained that it was too early at that point for opponents for the 2006 race to be coming out of the woodwork, “but if you don't have any money man, you'll get 'em lined up like hot cakes. They see a report and they see you don't have any money . . . the Governor's gotta report 2.6 million.”

He was close. Richardson actually reported $2.9 million in the May campaign finance reports a few days later.

In talking about big campaign coffers frightening off potential challengers, Nelson noted that Vigil didn’t have any Republican opponent in 2002. Vigil had a theory about that.

“Well that's because they thought I wasn't gonna win,” Vigil said. “Jan Goodwin, my opponent was being supported by the Republicans thinking she was gonna win.”

Three days later Vigil filed a campaign finance report with the Secretary of State that showed he’d collected $26,205 since the last report and had a total of $127,732 in his campaign treasury.

Something tells me that if Vigil stays in the race, this amount won’t be enough to scare off opponents.

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