Thursday, April 26, 2007


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 26, 2007

When New Mexico Democratic Party leaders choose a new state chairman in Las Cruces on Saturday, many will have the “L” word on their mind.

That word is lobbyist.

There’s been a lot of talk among state Dems about the fact that one of the three contenders, Michael Olguin, a former state House majority leader from Socorro, is a registered lobbyist. And Olguin claims another contender, Brian Colon, might also be a lobbyist — which Colon denies.

One of Olguin’s clients, Cottonwood Financial Ltd., is a payday-loan company doing business in New Mexico as The Cash Store.

Olguin also used to represent Wackenhut, now known as GEO, the private prison corporation. But that fact shouldn’t offend Democrats. According to The Institute of Money in State Politics, Gov. Bill Richardson received from GEO more than $42,000, more than the corporation gave to any other politician nationwide running for state office in 2006. The company gave New Mexico Democrats more than $77,000 for the last election, compared with only $2,000 for Republicans in the state, according to the institute’s latest available figures.

Colon, an Albuquerque lawyer, said of Olguin in the Santa Fe Reporter a couple weeks ago: “His clients are fundamentally in opposition to the tenets of the Democratic Party of New Mexico and its platform.”

Interviewed Wednesday, Colon said he didn’t want to discuss his opponent. He didn’t dispute what he said to the other newspaper but said he’s trying to stress his own qualifications.

But Olguin has already fired back. In a letter sent to state convention delegates, Olguin wrote, “It was recently brought to my attention that Mr. Colon has been actively involved in lobbying activities. The law firm that he works for was hired by Pete Domenici Jr. to represent Silver City, New Mexico on water issues during this current legislative session. Mayor James Marshall has confirmed that Mr. Colon’s law firm had been hired to lobby for the city. The mayor indicated that he had met more than once with Mr. Colon regarding issues before the Legislature.”

Colon, he noted, isn’t registered as a lobbyist.

“I bring this to your attention not because I object to Mr. Colon pursuing a career as a lobbyist but he has raised the issue of my lobbying activities, which I have fully disclosed. … This raises a serious ethical question and if indeed his law firm represented Silver City before the Legislature and did not file with the Secretary of State then there has been a violation of the (lobbyist) act.”

Colon said Wednesday that his firm, Robles, Rael & Anaya, was hired by Silver City to assist with a federal settlement. But he said he didn’t lobby the Legislature for the town. “I have gone up to the Legislature to help Popejoy Hall and the Boys and Girls Club, but I don’t get paid for that,” he said.

Mayor Marshall couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Olguin, in his letter, wrote, “I make no apologies for being a lobbyist. It is an honorable profession and is very much part of the legislative process. In many respects the state chairman conducts his or her business much like a lobbyist, i.e. lobbying on issues that are important to the party and working with individuals and businesses to secure funds to carry out the functions of the party.”

The third candidate in the chairman contest, Gideon Elliott of Santa Fe, said Wednesday, “I think it’s a sad day in New Mexico when we have candidates bickering over who has the most conflict of interest.”

Bill and Baker: Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday that if he’s elected president, he’d consider bringing back James Baker — former secretary of state under the first President Bush — as a special envoy for the Mideast peace process.

Richardson said this after addressing the National Jewish Democratic Council in Washington, according to the American edition of Haaretz, an Israeli paper.

This didn’t make Shmuel Rosner, the paper’s chief U.S. correspondent, very happy.

“Baker, as I mentioned in the article published in Haaretz today, was a member of an administration ‘widely viewed as the most hostile ever to Israel,’ Rosner wrote in his blog.

“Saying you might appoint him as your envoy (John McCain also did it in the past) is like telling people a ‘more balanced policy’ is needed. It seems just fine to the untrained eye, but is actually a code word which has only one meaning: I’m prepared to pressure Israel.”

I haven’t seen any reaction yet from Democrats who remember Baker chiefly for his role in representing the current President Bush in the 2000 Florida recount.

Baker recently co-chaired the Iraq Study Group, which recommended pulling back American combat troops.

Richardson seems to get along well with former Republican secretaries of state. Before running for governor, he worked for the international consulting firm Kissinger McLarty Associates — headed by Henry Kissinger and Mack McLarty, who was White House chief of staff under President Clinton. McLarty is senior adviser of The Carlyle Group, a global private equity investment firm. Baker was senior counselor at Carlyle between 1993 and 2005.

UPDATE: I added a link to the Santa Fe Reporter story printed above just so Julia doesn't think I'm part of the evil mainstream media plot to rob the Reporter of all its glory.

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