Thursday, May 03, 2007


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 3, 2007

The Roundhouse received a pair of rare celebrity appearances Wednesday.

One was Gov. Bill Richardson, who was in Santa Fe between campaign appearances in Nevada and Louisiana.

The other was controversial actor/director/DWI offender Mel Gibson.

Gibson, according to several Capitol employees, autographed photos of himself for several fourth-floor staffers after his visit with the governor.

Everyone at the Capitol was abuzz.

Well, almost everyone.

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, contacted some time after Mel had left the building, initially said he didn’t know anything about it but would check on it.

In the meantime, I checked myself, finding a freshly autographed Gibson photo belonging to a Capitol worker.

Gallegos called back later to officially confirm the meeting. He said Gibson was in town on personal business and decided to come by and meet with the governor. They discussed the state film industry Gallegos said, though no new movie is in the works.

Apparently Gibson is not in line for the job of director of the state Film Museum.

Some jaded reporters in the Capitol news rooms joked about Gibson being here to make a “You drink, you drive, you lose” public-service announcements. In fact, when Gibson pleaded no contest to DWI last year, he volunteered to do PSAs on the hazards of drinking and driving.

Gallegos said no Gibson PSAs are in the works here, at least none involving the governor’s office.
Gibson possibly is the most polarizing Hollywood figures alive to day. Many moviegoers thought Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ was anti-Semitic. “I felt brutalized when I saw that movie,” said Rabbi Marvin Schwab of Santa Fe’s Temple Beth Shalom on Wednesday.

Then there was the infamous July drunken-driving arrest in Los Angeles, in which Gibson cursed the arresting officer, who happened to be Jewish, saying, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Gibson has since apologized for the outburst.

Asked about how he felt about Gibson meeting with the governor, Schwab said, “Not knowing the purpose of his visit, my only hope is that he’s here to make a movie that will elevate the human spirit instead of denigrating it and maybe help the economy of New Mexico in doing so.

“I can only hope that his apology for his drunken rant has become heartfelt, and I hope he comes to conquer the demons that made him drink. My ultimate hope is that we as a race can come to together and see the divine spark in which we’re all made.”

Other states being audited: Earlier this week, former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron said New Mexico isn’t the only state to get audited by the federal government for its spending of Help American Vote Act funds.

She’s right that other states are being audited, 15 in all, including New Mexico, according to a spokesman for the federal Election Assistance Commission.

California, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. South Carolina and Texas already have been audited, said spokesman Bryan Whitener said. Audits are still in the works for Indiana, Maryland, Wyoming, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky and New Mexico.

Completed reports are posted on the EAC’s Web site.

Among the concerns about possible misuse of federal funds listed in those reports include:

* $3,889 for “activities booklets” for high school students in Illinois. According to the report, these “appeared to be targeted to children, not voters.”

* $131,924 for a pair of “hip hop summits” in New Jersey, that included panel discussions that involved old-school rappers including Rev. Run (formerly of Run/DMC) and Doug E. Fresh. The EAC determined the state will have to pay back more than $64,000 used to pay for food and transportation to the events.

* $92,506 used by the state of South Carolina to purchase a vehicle.

* Nearly $4 million in questioned costs in California, nearly $2 million of which went to contracts that “didn’t meet the state’s competitive bidding requirements.”

In New Mexico some — mainly Republicans — have complained Vigil-Giron used some federal money to buy television ads featuring herself, telling viewers about voting. The Federal Election Commission looked into similar complaints in 2004 and eventually cleared Vigil-Giron.

However, now there are questions about a budget shortfall of up to $3 million in the Secretary of State’s Office.

It’s not clear when New Mexico’s audit will be done.

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