Thursday, July 31, 2008

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: THE PRC FIGHT GOES ON

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 31, 2008


Although state Public Regulation Commission candidates Jerome Block Jr. and Rick Lass apparently won’t have a face-to-face debate, Block, the Democratic nominee, and Lass, the Green Party contender, sure aren’t hesitant to go after each other via e-mail.

Responding to Block’s public refusal to debate — in which Block belittled Lass’ past jobs as a “pizza delivery person” and grocery clerk — Lass on Wednesday released an open letter in which he raises questions about Block’s education and his job in the title-insurance business.

Lass’ “Open Letter to Jerome Block, Jr.” says voters deserve debates between the candidates so “they can better decide which candidate is more likely to protect them from rising utility and insurance costs.”

The two are running for the $90,000-a-year job representing PRC District 3, which includes Santa Fe and much of northeastern New Mexico.

“For more than a decade,” Lass wrote, “I have been working without pay on not just election and democracy issues, but on kitchen table issues like the living wage and repeal of the food tax. What is your record of public service?

“I earned a bachelor of arts degree from St. John’s College here in Santa Fe, and am well prepared to tackle the complexity of the issues before the PRC. What is your educational background?”

Block told The New Mexican earlier this year that he attended New Mexico State University but didn’t graduate. Block said he received “the equivalent of an associate degree” from the Anderson School of Management at The University of New Mexico.

“Your only qualification seems to be your employment by the title insurance industry, which represents an enormous conflict of interest given the PRC sets the price of title insurance in New Mexico,” Lass wrote. “How can the voters trust you to represent them on rate hearings involving an industry for which you were on the payroll and may still be?” (Before the primary Block took a leave of absence from his job as sales manager for the Land America title insurance company.)

Lass then refers to brushes with the law on the part of himself and Block. (Lass was arrested on a simple battery charge in 1999 after a fight with his then-girlfriend. Block was arrested for drunken driving in 1998 and had a later arrest and conviction for riding with a drunken driver.)

“We’ve both made mistakes — that is human. I took responsibility for mine, got help, and have been open about it in communicating with the media. You handled (and continue to handle) your situation much differently. Can voters be assured you have the maturity to hold such an important public office?”

Lass concludes by accusing Block of “ducking the debates because you think your chances for election are better if you keep voters in the dark about your lack of qualifications and record of public service and instead rely on the name of your father and the coattails of others. I guess that worked for you in the Democratic Party primary.”

Block couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Speaking of debates: Republican Dan East, who is running for Northern New Mexico’s open 3rd District Congressional seat, took a jab at his Democratic opponent for missing a recent candidate forum.
Dan East, Rep
In an e-mail, East said, “The New Mexico Farm Bureau Association met for their annual State Convention at the Inn of the Mountain Gods today. Included on the schedule, was a candidate forum for New Mexico’s federal candidates. Notably missing from the forum was Ben Ray Luján, son of State House speaker Ben Luján. …

“I want to know why his handlers are not allowing him to meet me face to face. What are they hiding him from? The people of this district deserve better, and I challenge the Speaker to allow his son to debate me.”
Ben Ray Lujan, Dem
Luján skipped the Farm Bureau forum because he was campaigning in Mora County, a spokesman said, noting the resort near Ruidoso isn’t in the 3rd Congressional District. Luján will debate East — and presumably independent candidates Carol Miller and Ron Simmons — the spokesman said.

The next scheduled candidate forum is set for Monday at the College of Santa Fe, an event sponsored by The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Association of Commerce & Industry of New Mexico.

Getting prepared: Asked this week about his thoughts on the upcoming special session of the state Legislature, outgoing Sen. John Grubesic, D-Santa Fe, said he’s ready. Grubesic, who isn’t seeking re-election, joked that he learned just about everything he needs to know about the special session at a recent meeting of the Legislative Council: “I learned the correct pronunciation of sine die.”

For those not well-versed in Latin or legislative jargon, that’s the term used when they end a legislative session.

In recent years in New Mexico, it’s come to mean adjourning before Gov. Bill Richardson is ready for the legislators to adjourn. The Senate did that several times last year when Richardson attempted to call a special session right after the regular session. Rumblings in the Senate indicate it could happen again when the new special session convenes Aug. 15.

So what’s the correct pronunciation? Grubesic said there are several. Indeed, Googling a few online dictionaries you’ll find, SEE-nae DEE-ae, SI-na Die-ee and other variations.

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