Wednesday, November 09, 2005

LOTSA POLITICAL NEWS

The big news of course is that Former Treasurer Michael Montoya pled guilty to extortion and has agreed to cooperate with the feds' investigation of corruption in the Treasurer's Office.

Here's another couple of stories I did for today's Santa Fe New Mexican:

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Gov. Bill Richardson’s headaches over a magistrate court position in Rio Arriba County aren’t over yet.

On Tuesday, David Gregorio Valdez, Richardson’s latest selection to fill the vacant judgeship, informed the governor’s office that he was withdrawing his name because he had not been truthful during the selection process.

Richardson announced Friday that he was appointing Valdez, a longtime probation officer with the state, to take the place of Judge Tommy Rodella, who resigned in July during a dispute with the governor over a drunken driving case.

But on Tuesday morning, Valdez called the governor’s office and admitted that in 1983 he had been found in contempt of court for failing to pay child support, Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley said. Valdez hadn’t disclosed that information prior to his appointment, Shipley said.

“Valdez misled the Governor’s Office by not disclosing the information on his appointment application and lied about it when questioned by Vince Ward, deputy chief counsel for the governor,” Shipley said in a written news release.

“Furthermore, a background check of electronic law enforcement and court databases revealed no indication that such an incident had been reported to the state,” Shipley said.

Shipley said he doesn’t know what prompted Valdez to come clean on Tuesday.

Shipley said that during the selection process, Valdez had faxed his divorce papers to the governor’s staff. However, the papers didn’t include anything about the contempt of court citation or the delinquent child support, Shipley said.

In announcing the appointment last week, Richardson said, “David Valdez is known throughout the county for his integrity, fairness and his dedication to Rio Arriba and its people. His 12 years of experience as a probation/parole officer make him very familiar with New Mexico's court system. He also shares my goals of getting tougher on (driving while intoxicated), domestic violence and crimes against children.”

Valdez had not yet taken the oath of office or received a letter of appointment from Richardson, Shipley said.

Valdez was one of 24 candidates to apply for the job, which has been open since Rodella — appointed only a few months before — resigned.

A selection committee had gone through the two dozen applications and come up with a short list of Valdez and four other applicants, who were interviewed by Richardson.
Shipley said he doesn’t know whether Richardson will chose a new judge from the other four finalists or start the process over again.

Richardson’s appointment of Rodella — husband of state Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-San Juan Pueblo — was controversial from the beginning. The governor said he was caught by surprise when an EspaƱola paper obtained an internal affairs report showing Rodella was investigated in the early 1990s for allegedly pressuring other officers to fix traffic tickets to help his wife's legislative campaign.

Richardson stood by the appointment until Rodella made headlines again for driving to the Tierra Amarilla jail on July 4 to obtain the release an acquaintance arrested on a drunken-driving charge.

After Rodella’s resignation, Richardson’s staff came up with an application form that asked more pointed questions. He also created a screening-committee progress to look at the applicants

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The executive director of the state Democratic Party — who recently has come under criticism from some members of her party — is leaving her job to work on a Ph.D.

Vanessa Alarid, who has held the party position since May 2004, will pursue a doctorate in political science at Columbia University in New York, where she earned a master's degree from the university’s School of International and Public Affairs.

“Vanessa’s a great leader with valuable ties across New Mexico,” party spokesman Matt Farrauto said Tuesday. “She has done wonders to bridge the gap between elected officials and party activists. She’ll be remembered for her strength, intelligence and integrity.”

Alarid’s departure, Farrauto said, had nothing to do with the recent controversy over the state party’s contract with Richard Buckman, a Mississippi political operator who happened to be Alarid’s boyfriend.

Under the contract, the party paid Richard Buckman $40,000 between December and September for unspecified services.

Some party activists have questioned the value of Buckman’s services and the propriety of the contract.

State Democratic Chairman John Wertheim said last week that Buckman’s relationship with Alarid had nothing to do with his getting the contract. Wertheim said Buckman was instrumental in getting retired Gen. Wesley Clark to speak at a fundraising dinner in Hobbs.

Buckman’s contract was terminated by mutual consent in September, Wertheim said. Buckman currently is in the entertainment business in Los Angeles.

Farrauto said he wasn’t sure exactly when Alarid will leave, but said she’ll stay on at least until after the Nov. 19 state Central Committee meeting. Her classes begin in January.

Alarid is the granddaughter of former state Sen. Michael Alarid. She has worked in the offices of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Gov. Bill Richardson during his tenure as a Congressman. Alarid also worked in the state Office of Homeland Security in the Richardson administration.

Before taking the job with the state party, Alarid was a majority analyst for the state House of Representatives.

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