Thursday, March 22, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: SINE DIE and DAYS GONE BY

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 22, 2007


At last Saturday’s end-of-the-session news conference in the governor’s Cabinet Room, Gov. Bill Richardson made a strange statement that nobody challenged at the time.

I suspect those of us sitting around the big marble table were either too exhausted from the 60-day session or were still trying to cope with the reality of an upcoming special session to make anything of it.

I believe the governor was responding to a question about whether it was risky to call a special session so quickly.

Richardson answered that all his special sessions had been successful.

Success is a subjective thing, I suppose. But when he said that, my mind wandered back to the fall 2003 special session, originally called to consider an overhaul of the state’s tax system.

But as someone who covered that special session, I mostly remember it for the hostility, acrimony and accusations that Richardson wasn’t communicating well with lawmakers.
I remember that session for the Senate voting to sine die — go home without acting on the Richardson tax proposals. It was sine die déjà vu Tuesday, when the Senate voted to adjourn only hours after convening. Just like 2003, however, they will have to come back as long as the House keeps working.

The 2003 special session came after a blue-ribbon task force on taxes made several recommendations. However, Richardson denounced many of the ideas and came up with his own plan. But there was bipartisan consensus in both the House and Senate to balk at the 188-page bill pushed by Richardson.

True, Richardson got a package of bills aimed at fighting sexual predators in that special session, though some said the state easily could have waited until the regular session three months later to pass those bills.

And by the end of that special session, the Legislature passed a huge highway-construction package. That was the program known as GRIP (Governor Richardson’s Investment Partnership, for the record. Who thinks up these acronyms?) But that was seen largely as a “face-saving” measure so the entire special session wouldn’t seem like a waste.

It seems fitting that a new highway package — known as GRIP II — is one of the items on the governor’s call.

Wisdom from Max: Former Rep. Max Coll, D-Santa Fe, currently recovering from brain surgery, said something back in 2003 that still makes sense today.

In an interview after that harrowing session, Coll, who was still a lawmaker then, told me: “When you’ve got a special session, you need to build a consensus ... before you go in. You can’t just walk in without it settled.”

Coll never was one of Richardson’s favorite lawmakers, so it’s not surprising the governor didn’t heed those words.

The call of the Peregrine: As the governor spends much of this week campaigning in California, an old issue that nipped at him during his 2002 gubernatorial race — his tenure on a software company’s board of directors — has re-emerged in a scathing piece in a San Diego paper.

Columnist Don Bauder of the San Diego Reader notes in his latest column that the trial of four former executives of Peregrine Systems Inc. is scheduled to begin next month. Bauder has covered the Peregrine scandal for several years.

The Southern California company’s chief executive was Richardson’s wife’s brother-in-law, Stephen Gardner — who last week pleaded guilty to three felony counts in connection with an accounting scandal that brought the company to bankruptcy. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

“During Richardson’s period on the board, Gardner was regularly telling directors that the Peregrine boat was sinking,” Bauder wrote. “But the public knew nothing about it. The company was releasing official reports telling how revenue was soaring.”

Richardson never was charged with any crimes. But he sat on the board of the company for about a year and a half in 2001 and 2002 — “the period in which the directors were trying to put a lid on the billowing financial scandal that would ultimately send the company into bankruptcy and many of its executives into criminal proceedings,” Bauder wrote.

Next month’s trial “means Dollar Bill is going to have to sharpen his Peregrine alibis for a national audience,” Bauder wrote. “In 2002 when he ran for governor, he got away with some lame excuses that may have worked in New Mexico then but won’t fly nationally now.”

When the Peregrine issue first came to light in 2002, Richardson responded that he helped uncover the financial problems of the company — though he also said he was unaware of the problems until he read news accounts.

Richardson in 2002 said as a member of the board of directors, he voted to fire Peregrine’s accountants and bring in new auditors to conduct an independent investigation. He also said he urged employees and investors be protected.

In 2002, Richardson’s Republican opponent, John Sanchez, tried to make Peregrine an issue, running television ads calling Richardson “an insider who got paid while honest people got hurt.”
Richardson won that year in a landslide.

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