As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 2, 2006
What do you do when you’re the governor and you’ve already filled the executive branch’s 647 exempt positions, but you’ve still got friends, political supporters and their relatives who need work?
According to a report by KRQE Channel 13 investigative reporter Larry Barker, when you’re Gov. Bill Richardson, you just create new jobs “out of thin air.”
So what’s the big deal? Didn’t Richardson promise to create lots of new jobs?
“The practice is so common that state agencies have coined a name for it,” Barker said. “When the governor sends a new hire down to claim a job that doesn’t exist, they call it ‘a gift from the North.’”
Under state policy, departments can hire temporary exempt employees for periods for no more than three months. The governor must approve any extension of that period.
But, Barker said, there’s no evidence that Richardson ever approved extensions for these “temporary” employees. According to the report, the extensions were done informally with no paper trail.
One state senator calls the practice “illegal.” The administration denies any wrongdoing.
Whatever the case, it’s bound to be an issue in the upcoming campaign. Even before Barker had run his report Wednesday night, the state Republican Party was sending mass e-mails touting the segment “on Bill Richardson and his abject cronyism.”
That "C word" is popping up more frequently in GOP statements about the governor. Of course, state Democrats have been using the same word to try to link U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson to the Washington, D.C., lobbyist scandals.
The gift catalog: Among those “gifts from the North” featured in Barker’s report:
* Ed Stapleton, husband of House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, makes $40,000 annually as a racing clerk at the state Racing Commission. The racing-clerk position actually was occupied by another employee. That person got to keep her job, but she only makes $26,000 a year.
* Steve Gallegos, a former Albuquerque city councilor and Bernalillo County commissioner, was paid $83,000 to be legislative liaison for the state Transportation Department. Gallegos resigned this week to run in the Democratic primary for the seat now held by incumbent Public Regulation Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy, who cannot seek re-election.
* Randy Romero, brother of former ambassador and Richardson ally Ed Romero, gets paid $62,000 for a “temporary” exempt job at the Labor Department.
* Former state Rep. Bennie Aragon — who is the uncle of former state Senate powerhouse Manny Aragon — is paid more than $55,000 as “special projects coordinator” for Expo New Mexico (formerly known as the State Fair).
* Democratic political consultant Harry Pavlides got a $42,000 secretarial job at Expo New Mexico.
* After Richardson appointed Sharon Maloof — part of the influential Maloof family — to be deputy tourism secretary, he created a $74,000 position for another deputy secretary to handle the budget and administration of the department.
The way it works: State Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, said on camera the practice is illegal. McSorley estimated as many as 65 jobs were created by the administration in this manner.
“This is not the way government should work, but unfortunately, this is the way it has worked,” McSorley said.
Former Gov. Gary Johnson told Barker he never made such hires during his administration.
“I would just suggest that today you got a whole new layer of upper-level bureaucrats that are getting in the way of state employees doing their jobs,” Johnson said. “Which is significant. This is not insignificant.”
Richardson’s chief of staff defended the practice. “They are clearly qualified for the jobs they are doing in these agencies,” Dave Contarino told Barker. “If there are misclassifications that do not accurately reflect those jobs, then we will have to deal with that. But they are working every day doing the jobs that their Cabinet secretary (has) tasked for them under the governor’s direction.”
We thought he was primping: Last week The Drudge Report offered a sneak preview of a new political book, Strategery by Bill Sammon. The book quotes Bush political guru Karl Rove predicting that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will capture the 2008 Democratic nomination for president but will lose in the general election.
According to Drudge, Rove says “the ‘hard-driving’ Clinton will easily vanquish Democratic primary rivals like Richardson and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who are merely ‘preening for the vice presidential slot.’ ”
Correction notice: This column originally said that Steve Gallegos would run against incumbent PRC member Lynda Lovejoy. Actually Lovejoy can't seek re-eelction because she's serving her second term.
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