Thursday, June 26, 2008

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: OF MOUNTAIN SPIRITS, CZARS & THE 2014 RACE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 26, 2008


The story about two Muslim women who weren’t allowed to sit behind Barack Obama at a Detroit rally last week reminded me of an incident in Santa Fe during the 2004 presidential campaign.

The Detroit incident involved some overzealous Obama handlers who didn’t want the world to see television footage of the women, who were wearing the Islamic head scarf known as a hijab.

The campaign aides apparently were concerned about those stupid Internet rumors that Obama is a secret Muslim. The removal of the women caused outrage in the U.S. Muslim community, including a rebuke from U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress. Obama called both women last week to apologize.
Hide this from the voters!
Back in September 2004, John Edwards, who was Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s running mate, came to Santa Fe for a speech at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. He spoke near an 18-foot bronze statue of an Apache mountain spirit dancer that had been sculpted by San Carlos Apache Craig Dan Goseyun.

But the impressive statue wasn’t visible in any television footage of the event. Rally organizers were careful to obscure it with huge, oblong “Kerry-Edwards” signs.

A local volunteer I know who helped set up the area for the Edwards stop told me some campaign honcho had ordered the statue be hidden behind the signs. People from other parts of the country, the campaign guy told my friend, might think the hulking bronze figure was a “war dancer,” and the tablita and bullroarer the dancer holds in his hands could be interpreted as weapons — which they aren’t, according to museum officials.

The state spokesman for the Kerry campaign denied this, claiming the signs were placed in front of the statue because “it’s just good sign placement.”

Right.

I’m betting they were afraid of rumors Edwards is a secret Apache.

The rise of the czars: New Mexico already is full of Russian olive trees; now we’re starting to accumulate czars.

A spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson said this week that the guv might soon be appointing a “corrections-reform czar” to oversee recommended changes in the state prison system.
Richardson has had success with his czars
Gilbert Gallegos says the administration has had success with its other czars.

“The czars coordinate the many varied, and sometimes redundant, services, programs and funding sources that deal with these important issues,” according to a page on the governor’s Web site. “One person in each area manages, coordinates and, most importantly, is accountable for making these efforts effective.”

For the record, there’s Behavioral Health Czar Linda Roebuck, Domestic Violence Czar Sharon Pino and the state’s longest-serving czar, DWI Czar Rachel O’Connor.

And this doesn’t even count Jay Czar, executive director of the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority.

Previously, New Mexico had a drug czar, Herman Silva. But he was transferred a couple of years ago to head the Department of Public Safety’s Special Investigations Division. The drug czar’s position has been vacant since.

So why name these program coordinators after Russian royalty? Why not “domestic-violence mandarin” or “behavioral-health sultan” or “drug duke” or “DWI kaiser”? Heck, this is New Mexico. Why not “corrections-reform jefe”?

It probably started back in the Nixon administration when William Simon was appointed “energy czar” during the 1973 Arab oil embargo. His actual title was director of the Federal Energy Administration (a precursor of the U.S. Department of Energy).

In most places, the word czar is an unofficial or informal term. For instance, John P. Walters is commonly called the national “drug czar” although his real title is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

But here in New Mexico, under Richardson, czar is the official title. It’s even on the czars’ business cards.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Why bother with some fancy $50 title when you can use a simple one-syllable word? It saves precious ink.

Anyway, Richardson apparently is fond of the title. Back in 1999 when he was secretary of energy, he appointed a security czar (though the official title was director of the Office of Security and Emergency Operations).

And last year when he was running for president, Richardson said if elected, he’d appoint a national cancer czar.

Gearing up for ’14: You’ve got to hand it to Richardson. While most local political junkies assume the big fish wants to get out of this small pond as fast as humanly possible, he made eyeballs pop this week when he suggested in a fund-raising letter he might be interested in a third term as governor.

“I still have a lot of work to do here in New Mexico before I leave office in 2010 due to term limits, including fighting to extend health care to every New Mexican,” Richardson wrote. “And I remain actively involved with national politics because we need to change America, and every one of us has to contribute something. But who knows? Maybe I’ll even decide to run for governor again in 2014 — if something else doesn’t pop up in the meantime!”

I can’t help but wonder what Lt. Gov. Diane Denish thinks about this. If Denish has her way, she’ll be running for re-election as governor in 2014.

Richardson hinted at a long New Mexico residency at the Democratic Unity dinner this week. My Capitol bureau partner, Kate Nash, recorded his speech in which he needled state Democratic chairman Brian Colón.

“By the way, thanks Brian for trying to get rid of me. All of you ... you tell me, ‘Geez, you’d be a great so and so,’ ” Richardson said. “Well listen, I am here and I am here to continue our agenda in New Mexico to make us strong, proud, vibrant, no matter how long it takes.”

Could it be Richardson really does think governor of New Mexico is the best job in the world?

Coincidence? Just a week after the unexpected death of Meet the Press host Tim Russert, KOAT-TV, Channel 7, announced it’s moving This Week With George Stephanopoulos from its current late afternoon Sunday slot to 9 a.m. Sunday — the same time as Meet the Press.

The station’s press release doesn’t explain why This Week has been airing at 4 p.m. in the first place. Might Russert have had something to do with it?

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