Thursday, April 12, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: SHAKE-UP AT NM MAG

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 12, 2007


There was one little island of state government that for at least the last 20 years or so was seemingly free of political meddling.

That was New Mexico Magazine, the official state tourism magazine. It’s had the same basic staff for a couple of decades now, producing a highly praised and self-supporting monthly publication through a variety of administrations.

There have been news dogs among the daily press who have fantasized about slipping the surly bonds of daily deadlines and moving over to New Mexico Magazine for an easier-going pace, a seemingly stable work environment and PERA retirement benefits.

That’s why recent news about a staff shake-up was ominous. Could it be that idea of the state magazine as an oasis was just a mirage?

Emily Drabanski, the magazine’s editor for 21 years — that means she’s worked there during the administrations of Toney Anaya, Garrey Carruthers, Bruce King, Gary Johnson and the first four years of Bill Richardson — is being shuffled to a kind of nebulous position: editing books published by the magazine, overseeing the state vacation guide and working in community outreach and public relations.

Her former position will become exempt from state personnel-system protections — which means the future editor will serve at the pleasure of the governor.

Arnold Vigil, who had been the book editor, has been moved to another position.

Full disclosure here: I consider Drabanski and Vigil and others on that staff personal friends, and I knew and worked with a few of them well before they went to work for the magazine.

Furthermore, I’ve written articles for New Mexico Magazine — on topics such as music CLICK HERE and scroll down), bolo ties and Blake’s Lotaburger — and, a few years ago, contributed a chapter to a book published by the magazine.

No, there’s no evidence of overt political meddling. And in fact, Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti is on record saying Richardson has nothing to do with the changes.

But in an administration known for putting its own stamp — and its own people — at virtually every level of state government, you have to be suspicious.

And the official explanation for the changes smells kind of fishy.

Supposedly it’s an effort to “attract younger readers.” Consultants determined “the magazine is geared toward your uncle. You need to gear it toward your nephew,” said Cerletti — who has always reminded me of a kindly uncle.

So there’s going to be less on ghost towns, woodcarvers and Billy the Kid and more on video games, poetry slams and extreme sports?

I don’t think so. Look at the advertisers in the magazine: Resorts, high-end restaurants, racetracks, art galleries. These are places frequented by a lot more aunts and uncles than nieces and nephews.

It will be interesting to see who will fill the editor’s position. Will it be an administration-friendly journalist who hasn’t already been hired? Will it be a relative of some campaign contributor?

Maybe somebody’s nephew.

What’s best for New Mexico: Speaking of campaign contributors, a recent story by The Associated Press’ Barry Massey contained a statement from the Governor’s Office that has become almost like a mantra.

The story dealt with Forest City Covington, a land development company that loaned Richardson a corporate jet during his 2006 campaign, and which will benefit from taxpayer-subsidized bonds authorized in a bill the governor signed last week.

“The governor makes decisions based upon what is best for the state — period.” spokesman Jon Goldstein said.

Sound familiar? Here’s a quick collection of quotes that are variations on that theme:

* “The governor does not make any decisions or is not impacted by any contributions whether that’s a money contribution or event or whatever.”
— 2006 Richardson campaign manager Amanda Cooper in March 2007 regarding a highway interchange near Belen that will benefit Coast Range Investments, which donated to Richardson’s gubernatorial campaign and whose president, James Foster, contributed to Richardson’s campaign and loaned him a corporate jet.

* “The governor makes decisions based on what’s best for New Mexico and ensuring that taxpayers get the most for their money. It’s important to note that the DGA represents 22 governors and enjoys broad support from individuals and companies around the country.”
— Spokesman Pahl Shipley regarding tens of thousands in contributions to the Democratic Governors Association during Richardson’s tenure as chairman by racetrack owner Stanley Fulton, the GEO Corp. private prison company and U.S. Tobacco, which was pushing a controversial tax bill in the state.

* “To suggest or imply a connection between any travel of the Democratic Governors Association and the governor’s efforts to protect consumers is insulting and flat wrong.”
— Spokesman Gilbert Gallegos in April 2006, regarding a corporate jet belonging to a payday loan company used by the Democratic Governors Association during Richardson’s tenure as chairman.

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