Thursday, May 17, 2007


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 17, 2007

Last week, I named the Richardson cabinet officials who have contributed to his presidential campaign and the four who did not.

To refresh your memory, those not on Richardson’s first-quarter campaign finance report were Higher Education Secretary Beverlee McClure, Health Secretary Michelle Lujan-Grisham, Tax and Revenue Secretary Jan Goodwin and National Guard Adjutant Gen. Kenny Montoya.

One week later, Richardson’s office has announced two of those four will be leaving the administration.

Coincidence? Probably.

But as Jimmy Olsen used to say, “Jeepers, Mr. Kent!”

McClure was the first to go. The governor’s office announced her departure Friday. She’ll be leaving in June to become president and chief executive officer of the state Association of Commerce and Industry.

Then on Monday, the governor’s office announced the health secretary is out.

Unlike McClure, Richardson isn’t going to appoint a search committee to find Lujan-Grisham’s replacement. She’s being replaced by Dr. Alfredo Vigil, chief executive officer of El Centro Family Health in Española.

The fact that the new health secretary was already chosen would seem to indicate that Lujan-Grisham’s departure has been in the works for some time.

She told reporters she’s planning to run for a political office, as yet to be named. Maybe that’s why she didn’t contribute to Richardson’s White House fund. She’s saving up for her own race.

The governor’s people of course deny there’s any requirement to donate to Richardson’s campaign. “They can contribute to whoever they want,” spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said last week. “We don’t know who’s contributed to the campaign.”

One possibility, at least in the cases of the two outgoing secretaries, is they might have known their time in the administration wasn’t long, so they didn’t bother donating to the presidential run.

So what about the two who haven’t contributed who remain? Last week Goodwin told me nobody had pressured her for a contribution.

On Wednesday, Montoya said the same. “Since I’ve worked for the governor, he’s never even asked me what political party I belong to,” the general said. “He’s done a good job of keeping the National Guard out of politics. We’re the guys who represent everybody.”

Close but no cigar: A potential Republican presidential candidate might have picked up on our governor’s funny campaign ads, which have received loads of national attention.

In case you’ve been living in a political fallout shelter for the past week or so, Richardson unleashed a couple of spots in which he’s a nervous job applicant sitting across a desk from a potential employer obviously unimpressed by Richardson’s résumé.

Fred Thompson who plays a down-home district attorney on Law and Order, made a funny — but pointed — video as a response to left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore.

In challenging the ex-senator from Tennessee to a debate over national health care policy, Moore brought up Thompson’s love of Cuban cigars. He refers to a description of Thompson’s office in a recent article in The Weekly Standard — “box upon box of cigars — Montecristos from Havana.”

“While I will leave it up to the conservatives to debate your hypocrisy and the Treasury Department to determine whether the ‘box upon box of cigars’ violates the trade embargo, I hereby challenge you to a health care debate,” Moore wrote on his Web site.

Thompson’s video reply has been on cable news shows as well as the Internet.

“You know, the next time you’re down in Cuba visiting your buddy Castro, you might ask him about another documentary filmmaker,” Thompson said, big cigar in mouth. “His name is Nicolás Guillén (Landrián). He did something Castro didn’t like, and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electroshock treatments. Mental institution, Michael. Might be something you ought to think about.”

Thompson makes a good point about freedom of expression under Castro. But he sidesteps the issue of breaking the embargo, not to mention that Cuba’s cigar revenues indirectly help fund those mental institutions and jails.

Could Cuban cigars replace John Edwards’ haircuts as the next weird little issue to pop up in the presidential race?

If so, our cigar-loving governor might already have his answer prepared. In 2004, he was smoking a Havana during an interview with a Salt Lake City Tribune reporter. “Since you’re smoking a Cohiba, what would you do with Cuba?” reporter Brent Israelsen asked.

“I would continue pressing Castro on human rights,” Richardson said. “I think his record is abominable. But I believe the best way to change Cuba is to consider some openings, perhaps some economic openings, rather than isolating it.” Richardson also said he’d lift the travel ban for people wanting to visit Cuba.

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