Thursday, November 03, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: MORE ON MR. BUCKMAN

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 3, 2005

If nothing else, Mississippi political operative and all around colorful character Richard Buckman stirred things among New Mexico Democrats.

First there was his “sweetheart” contract with the state Democratic Party for which he took in $40,000 between December and September — while his real-life sweetheart Vanessa Alarid worked as the party’s executive director.

State party chairman John Wertheim insists that Alarid had nothing to do with the contract with Buckman’s TCB Consulting firm.

Then there was his precedent-setting drunken driving case.

Although two Albuquerque police officers said Buckman showed signs of intoxication — bloodshot, watery eyes, slurred speech and the strong odor of alcohol — and although he failed a field sobriety test when he was pulled over in the early morning hours of Oct. 27, 2004 — the charge was thrown out.

A judge ruled that the field sobriety test was invalid because Buckman was too heavy.

Police guidelines say that DWI suspects more than 50 pounds overweight shouldn’t be given certain physical field sobriety tests involving balance. Buckman’s DWI charge was dropped.

Buckman didn’t return phone calls made Tuesday and Wednesday to his Los Angeles office. He’s now working in the show biz world with a company called Sand Castle Entertainment Group.

But even before Buckman came to New Mexico, Buckman’s name was attached to controversies in other states.

The Wall Street Journal in March 2004 reported that Buckman approached an associate of U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss. with an unusual offer concerning the Democratic filibuster of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

According to Pickering, Buckman had proposed a deal: Democrats were willing to end their opposition to the nomination of the congressman’s father, Charles Pickering Sr., to a federal appeals judgeship.

All the younger Pickering had to do was agree to a redistricting plan that would effectively eliminate his Congressional seat.

Buckman, in a Mississippi paper, denied trying to influence the confirmation of Judge Pickering.

Charles Pickering became a federal appeals judge, eventually getting a temporary recess appointment by Bush. He resigned late last year, shortly before his term was up. Chip Pickering still is in Congress.

(Strange aside: An online Fox News article about the alleged Pickering proposal says Buckman is “formerly a GOP consultant.”)

Also last year, Buckman found himself in the middle of an ethics fight in D’Iberville, Miss. — though he was not accused of wrongdoing himself.

According to accounts in The Sun Herald, a Biloxi, Miss. paper, Buckman was hired as a consultant on economic development issues in 2003, receiving a monthly retainer of $1,500. But when a Buckman associate went to pick up his money, the city manager said he had to go talk to a city councilor about the check.

D’Iberville Councilor Oliver Diaz said that he had made a personal loan to Buckman. Diaz said he and Buckman had agreed that if Buckman couldn’t pay his loan, Diaz would keep his consulting check.

Buckman had fallen behind on his loan payments, Diaz said.

“Richard and I are still friends. In fact, he still owes me $500,” Diaz was quoted in The Sun Herald in April 2004.

Diaz in December was found to be in violation of the city’s ethical code and was forced to reimburse the city for $1,500.

Love & Gloating on the Campaign Trail: For another perspective on Richard Buckman, check out Stump Connolly's account of meeting "a dark, brooding man in a dark suit and camel's hair coat leaning into my shoulder" while covering last year's Wisconsin primary. Buckman eventually asks Connolly, "Just paint me clean! Just paint me clean, brother."

This is where I stole the photo of Buckman -- with Stump's blessing. Be on the lookout for a soon-to-be-published book by Connolly based on his coverage of the 2004 election.

Pigskin preview: Perhaps state government is trying to create less news about kickbacks and more about kick-offs.

Whatever the case, the state is advertising for proposals for consultants who will study the feasibility study of attracting a National Football League to New Mexico.

James Jimenez, secretary of the state Department of Finance and Administration said in an interview Wednesday that this request for proposals came about as a result of talk earlier this year about trying to lure the New Orleans Saints franchise to the state.

After Saints owner Tom Benson talked about the possibility of moving the team out of New Orleans — and this was well before Hurricane Katrina — Richardson sent representatives to talk to the team management.

It’s not likely that New Mexico will get the Saints, Jimenez said. But Richardson wants to study everything that is needed for the state to be in the position of being serious about trying for an NFL team, he said.

“We want to know what are the business requirements, what’s expected of a public entity, what kind of stadium would be required, the number of tickets you’d have to sell,” Jimenez said. “Everything needed to make New Mexico more attractive.”

The maximum the state will pay for the study is $150,000, Jimenez said. The deadline for proposals is Dec. 2.

And though I’m sure it’s premature, my vote is to call the team The New Mexico Jackalopes.

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