Thursday, August 02, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: RETURNING A FAVOR FOR INDIE VOTERS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 2, 2007


I’ve read so many presidential preference polls lately, trying to track Gov. Bill Richardson’s progress in various states, that my eyes get bleary just thinking about polls.

Quick synopsis: According to the Real Clear Politics Web site Wednesday afternoon, the governor was averaging about 10 percent in Iowa, 8 percent in New Hampshire and 2.5 percent in South Carolina. The site didn’t have any recent polls from Nevada, but in June, he was pulling 6 to 7 percent there.
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But one polling figure that grabbed my attention was this week’s American Research Group’s Iowa poll that showed Richardson leading among independents who plan to vote in that state’s primary.

Richardson scored an impressive 25 percent of that vote. Barack Obama runs second in this category with 21 percent of the “no-party” vote in the poll. Richardson’s number among the registered Democrats in the poll is only 10 percent. So it’s obvious the independent vote is helping his poll numbers. This week’s ARG poll showed Richardson with 13 percent overall.

Though not as dramatic as in Iowa, Richardson is doing better with independents than with Democrats in New Hampshire as well. Richardson is tied with John Edwards for third place among the “undeclareds” (as they’re known in the Granite State) who intend to vote in the Democratic primary. Only 6 percent of registered New Hampshire Democrats are supporting Richardson, according to the poll.

Fueling my fantasy: My hope is Richardson will be inspired by his good showing with independents in these other states to work for a change here in New Mexico.

Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire and other enlightened states that allow independents to participate in party caucuses or primaries, New Mexico permits only registered party members to vote in primaries.

I’ve beat this drum before, but, to steal a phrase from the Weekly World NewsEd Anger, it still makes me pig-biting mad.

As taxpayers, I and my fellow declined-to-states (as independents are called here) help pay for the primary, which a secretary of state spokesman last year said costs $400,000 to $500,000. But we’re not allowed to participate. Last year, about 20 percent of Santa Fe County residents were independents or members of minor parties.

Taxation without representation? Maybe we should dump tea in the Santa Fe River.

To be clear, New Mexico’s Feb. 5 Democratic presidential caucus is not funded by taxpayers. (The state Republicans could have a presidential caucus if they wanted but apparently they’ve decided against it.) The party pays for and operates the caucus in this state, so I suppose they have the right to exclude anyone they want.

But wouldn’t it be nice if those poll numbers I mentioned convinced Richardson of the value of allowing independents to vote in our own caucuses and primaries? I’ve heard he has a little bit of influence in the state Democratic Party. If the independents help give Richardson a strong showing in the early primaries, wouldn’t he owe independents a favor?

Auditor as enforcer: Last year, when Hector Balderas jumped into the state auditor’s race, many pointed out he’s a lawyer, not an accountant. But, Balderas said this wouldn’t be a handicap, noting “part of the duties of the auditor is enforcement.” He said having experience as a prosecutor would benefit the auditor’s office.

Apparently he was serious.

Balderas, spotted at the Capitol on Wednesday, told me he recently exercised a little-known auditor power he says no auditor has done before — issuing subpoenas.

This was done in May as part of an ongoing investigation of a company hired for an ambitious project meant to bring wireless Internet to all Sandoval County. The county and the state have spent about $3 million on the project, which has seen little progress over the past two years.

The two men subpoenaed — Jonathan Mann and Dewayne Hendricks— “fled the state” after the investigation began, Balderas said. Hendricks was chief operating officer of Sandoval Broadband Inc., and he resigned after Balderas began his investigation. Mann was chief executive officer of Olla Grande Inc., which also was working on the Sandoval County wireless project.

The Caledonian Record in Vermont reported last month that Hendricks is involved in a $12 million public-private wireless Internet project in Vermont and New Hampshire.

In 2005, Mann told The New Mexican that the project was expected to take five years and cost roughly $9 million. He said officials weren’t trying to get the project done sooner because much of the technology is still developing and prices were expected to drop significantly in the next two to three years.

The Sandoval County Commission voted last month to pursue a lawsuit to recover money spent on the project.

Balderas said the believes this is the first time a state auditor has used the subpoena power. The Santa Fe judge who signed the subpoenas, state District Judge Daniel Sanchez, seemed surprised at the request, Balderas said.

The auditor hinted this won’t be the last time he uses his subpoena power.

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