Thursday, September 07, 2006


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 1, 2006

New Mexico politics is usually a little crazy, but this week, one state race turned downright surreal.

I’m talking, of course, about the state auditor’s race, which suddenly has turned into Tales of the Bizarro World.

Last week, the harsh spotlight of media attention was on Democratic auditor candidate Jeff Armijo after the news broke that two women — one in 2003, one in August — had reported to police that he had made unwanted sexual advances. In the most recent case, the complaint says he pinned the woman on the floor and took off some of her clothing.

One day after insisting he would not drop out of the race, he met with Gov. Bill Richardson, who persuaded him otherwise.

But on Tuesday, the deadline for withdrawing from the race, Armijo held a news conference in Albuquerque announcing he’d been “a victim of a horrible political scheme” (I’m often heard muttering similar things during the last week of a legislative session), and he wouldn’t be withdrawing after all.

“I have faith in our political and legal systems that will expose the individuals in this scheme,” Armijo said Tuesday. Who are the evil schemers? Richardson? Republican auditor candidate Lorenzo Garcia? Professor Plum? Miss Scarlet?

To add to the dreamlike quality of all this, the news conference apparently was held just a few minutes after the state Democratic Party e-mailed a “statement in reaction to Jeff Armijo’s press conference,” which lambasted the decision.

About this time, I called the Secretary of State’s Office to see whether Armijo had withdrawn. Hoyt Clifton, a consultant for the office and a 26-year director of the state Election Bureau said, “I think I’m being faxed his withdrawal statement in a few minutes.”

I rushed over to the office only to find what had been faxed was not from Armijo, but from the governor’s office. And it wasn’t anything official. Just the news release Armijo had issued last week when he was withdrawing.

And soon, the governor, the secretary of state and the attorney general were saying this news release was good enough.

Take note campaign flacks: Your news releases apparently have more legal power than you ever imagined.

In fairness, state election law is rather vague when it comes to candidates withdrawing from the general election. “No candidate shall withdraw from a general election unless he withdraws at least 63 days prior to that election,” is about all the law says on the matter. Nothing on procedures on how to withdraw. Nothing about news releases.

J.R. Damron, who in June withdrew as the Republican gubernatorial candidate, said Wednesday that when he dropped out, he sent the secretary of state a notarized, certified letter. He said he couldn’t remember whether the Secretary of State’s Office advised him to do it that way or party officials.

The state Democratic Central Committee is meeting Saturday to try to sort this out. But everyone’s saying the whole mess is bound to end up in court.

And if Armijo comes out on top in this skirmish, perhaps we can attribute to psychic powers the statement state Dem Chairman John Wertheim made a couple of weeks ago when rumors of Armijo’s troubles were starting to swirl:

“We affirm what we know to be true: That Jeff Armijo will be the next auditor of the state of New Mexico.”

What happened to all the ‘Ethical Politicians’?: A couple of weeks ago, this column featured a new Web site by conservative Republican blogger Mario Burgos on which candidates of any party could post — voluntarily — their campaign contributions and expenditures.

Burgos set up partly because under current law there are no campaign finance reports due between July and October.

The good news: The number of participating candidates grew 100 percent since I wrote about the site.

The bad news: The number grew from one to two.

State Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, joined Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-Cedar Crest, on the site.

There was a nibble from a Democrat. Land Commission candidate Jim Baca said he’d post his reports on Burgos’ site if his opponent incumbent Pat Lyons posted his. Lyons didn’t respond and Baca never posted, prompting a blog chide from Burgos, who noted that McCoy posted her information despite the fact her opponent hasn’t participated.

“There is some concern in many of the tight races that leading by example could be used against them,” Burgos told me last week. “I believe in some of the statewide campaigns, they’re running as fast as they can, and taking on another task, albeit simple, is just more than they can contemplate.”

Burgos also said he’d heard from some Democrats that there’s concern that “a site run by a Republican couldn’t possible be nonpartisan.” He said he’s offered to “partner” with a Democrat, giving his counterpart full administrative rights to the site.

But so far, no takers.

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