Thursday, June 08, 2006

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: STARTLING E-MAIL

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 8, 2006


During a primary campaign, a reporter receives tons of e-mails and news releases — most of them predictable self-serving drivel.

But a campaign e-mail I got late last Friday afternoon was downright startling.
The subject line read as follows:

“Press Release — J.R. Damron Quits”

Lots of thoughts raced through my head as I clicked to open the e-mail. Was something wrong with the Republican gubernatorial candidate? (I’d just seen Damron a few days before at a Michael Martin Murphey concert, and he seemed to be in good health and spirits. I even snapped his picture backstage with a celebrity, as shown at the right.)


Had GOP kingmakers, perhaps frustrated by Gov. Bill Richardson’s ridiculously huge campaign-fund advantage, forced him out of the race to replace him with some better-known candidate (whoever that might be)?

Had Richardson’s opposition-research operatives unearthed something shocking and nasty?

Had George Bailey’s quixotic write-in campaign suddenly picked up steam?

But when I read the actual message, it was nothing of the kind. Damron had quit his medical practice. He saw his last patient Friday. At first, it seemed like a pretty misleading subject line. But it sure got my attention fast.

(For the record, Damron beat Bailey in the primary by a margin of 99.3 to .7 percent.)

Inside the e-mail: Damron said he was quitting his practice to devote full time to his campaign. He said he’d also be a full-time governor, calling the frequently traveling Richardson an “absentee governor.”

“Richardson planned to be an absentee governor from the start,” the statement said.

Then came something I’d never heard before.

“Almost as soon as Richardson was inaugurated as governor, he had the state Legislature change the number of days allotted for the governor to be out of state from 30 to 180,” the statement said. “Richardson knew from the start he planned to be out of state half a year.”

Something bothered me about that. If that had happened and somehow everyone in the press missed it, I can think of at least six Republicans who would have been calling the next day to make sure someone noticed.

Raul Burciaga of the Legislative Council Service said Wednesday that he could find no such legislation.

“In 1999, the Legislature changed the compensation of the lieutenant governor (for days served as acting governor),” Burciaga said. The lieutentant guv gets an extra $250 a day every time the governor leaves the state.

Richardson became governor in 2003.

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Wednesday that Richardson never asked for — and never received — any such legislation.

In 2002 — the last year of Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration — the Department of Finance and Administration created a “dedicated source” (that’s DFA-speak for a reserve fund) to pay the lieutenant governor for those days, Gallegos said. This took effect in fiscal year 2003.

The fund was originally $26,700, allowing for 106.8 days. “It was based on past history,” Gallegos said. Subsequently, the fund was cut to $20,000, allowing for 80 days, he said. He said Richardson hadn’t exceeded that amount.

Even if this shot was a misfire, Richardson’s travel is bound to be an issue in the upcoming campaign.

Wen Ho who? Speaking of potential campaign bombshells, chances of the Wen Ho Lee case blowing up on Richardson during the campaign were lessened greatly last week when the former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist settled his privacy lawsuit with the government and five news organizations.

The case had turned into a battle over reporters’ confidential sources. Lee accused the Energy and Justice departments of violating his privacy by leaking the fact he was under investigation as a spy for China. Five reporters were held in contempt of court for refusing to disclose their sources.

Last year, federal Appeals Judge David Sentelle singled out the names of Richardson — who was secretary of Energy — and two other Department of Energy officials as being the probable sources of the leaks.

In a sworn deposition for Lee’s lawsuit, Richardson testified he didn’t remember making some statements about the Lee firing attributed to him in various newspapers.

So it looks like Lee got $1.6 million. And maybe the governor got off the hook.

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