Showing posts with label roundup. Show all posts
Showing posts with label roundup. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 25, 2008

Here’s a little Christmas gift from a New York City-based organization for the rapidly growing group of voters in New Mexico who declined to affiliate with either the Democratic or Republican Party.

The Committee for a Unified Independent Party has launched a national petition asking President-elect Barack Obama to initiate federal legislation “to create open primaries for election to federal office in all 50 states that guarantees full access for independent voters.”

New Mexico, according to CUIP, is one of only 17 states in which independents — or “declined-to-states” as we’re known here — are barred from voting in state primaries.

Notice, I used the first person in the previous paragraph. As I’ve disclosed before, I’m a proud DTS. I probably ought to make clear also that I’m not affiliated with CUIP or any other political organization.

I’ve beat this drum before. The fact that the state primaries are paid for by all taxpayers, yet only Democrats and Republicans are allowed to participate seems a clear case of taxation without representation.
Not everyone likes independent voters
I’m talking about the primaries that occur in June every even-numbered year and not about the February presidential caucuses that the state Democratic Party has run — and paid for — in the previous two presidential elections. That’s the party’s event, and they’ve got the right to include or exclude anyone they want.

But if they wanted to be really cool ...

The Democrats, thanks mainly to the appeal of Obama to new and infrequent voters, were able to register loads of new voters in New Mexico (and elsewhere) this year.

But independents made some great gains, too. Registered DTS voters in New Mexico rose from 164,986 four years ago to 184,846 by Oct. 31, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

And here in Santa Fe County, DTS overtook the GOP. As of Oct. 31, there are 16,891 declined-to-states, compared with 16,590 Republicans in the county. The Dems still have everyone beat by far, with 61,603 registered voters in Santa Fe County. Other parties such as Greens and Libertarians have a combined total of 2,620 registered voters in the county.

The petition to Obama implies the owes the independents, pointing out that 33 states allowed independents to participate in primaries and caucuses:

“Independent voters were proud to be a vital element of your winning coalition during the presidential campaign of 2008. Your appeal to Americans — that the country must move beyond partisanship and toward a more participatory and open political culture — resonated strongly with independent voters, who have been voicing these concerns for many years. Your invitation to all Americans to reshape our country’s future — without regard to political affiliation — was a refreshing change for independents and Americans of every political persuasion.”

For the record, Obama lost the closed New Mexico Caucus to Hillary Clinton by a tiny margin. Perhaps independent voters could have won the state for him had they been allowed to participate.

But I still like my taxation-without-representation argument better. That’s an argument I believe would hold up in court.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Obama to get behind the legislation CUIP is calling for. And I really wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the New Mexico Legislature, which remains firmly in the hands of the Democrats, to correct this injustice.

But it’s Christmas, so we can wish.

Still no feeding frenzy: In fact there’s been surprisingly little attention paid by the national media to the grand jury investigation of certain political contributions to Gov. Bill Richardson and how that might affect his confirmation as commerce secretary.

A grand jury in Albuquerque, meeting, as all grand juries do, behind closed doors, is hearing testimony about CDR, a Beverly Hills financial firm that won state contracts totaling almost $1.5 million. According to The Associated Press and other media organizations, the grand jury is looking at whether Richardson or his staff pressured the state Finance Authority to award the contracts to CDR.

But there have been a couple of major news organizations to run stories about the grand jury in recent days. The New York Times on Thursday did a story that laid down the basic facts, including the standard comment from the Governor’s Office — the administration is cooperating with the investigation — and denial of wrongdoing from CDR.

On Tuesday, NBC Nightly News ran a two-minute-plus report that also had the basic elements of the story. It included footage of Richardson bolting from last week’s news conference and comments from Melanie Sloan, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“There’s only a few months between the donations and the award of the contract, which is generally what your campaign finance lawyers and ethics lawyers will tell you to avoid,” Sloan said. She was referring to a $75,000 CDR contribution to a Richardson political action committee, which was made only three weeks or so after CDR won the contracts.

Plugs: I’m off next week, so there will be no Roundhouse Roundup next Thursday. But if you need a fix of my political insights, be sure to listen to a 2008 year-in-review panel discussion on KUNM, 89.9 FM. It airs at 11 a.m. Sunday.

On Dec. 31, I’ll be talking about the year in politics with Diane Kinderwater on her show Issues and Answers on Channel 11. The show will air at 4:30 p.m. and will repeat several times during that next week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 18, 2008

You have to give him credit for originality.

Most politicians, when they know they’re going to get peppered with questions about something controversial — say, a grand jury investigation — have a well-rehearsed statement to the tune of, “You guys know I can’t talk about grand jury proceedings, which are secret. I don’t want to say anything that might be seen as impeding an investigation, though I’m confident that no wrongdoing was done by anyone in this administration.” It’s simple, easy, and even though it’s pretty lame, it gets the job done.

But that’s not the route that Gov. Bill Richardson took at a news conference this week. He was able to dodge questions about the grand jury looking into a possible pay-for-play regarding a Beverly Hills, Calif., financial firm that was awarded nearly $1.5 million in work for the state around the same time the firm was making huge contributions to Richardson’s political action committees.

As has been well reported by myself and others, at a news conference about a new solar energy production facility in Belen, Richardson took a few questions about the new project. Then he announced the news conference was over and made a beeline for the door.

I was on the wrong end of the big marble table in the Governor’s Cabinet Room, so I was hoping some of my colleagues would be able to block the governor’s retreat for a few seconds so I could reach him. But Richardson went through them like a knife through hot butter, not acknowledging the questions. He ignored questions about the investigation shouted at him and, according to reporters near him at the time, never made eye contact.

As a former crime reporter, I knew better than to expect any answers about the grand jury proceeding and what he might have said or didn’t say to investigators. The question I had for Richardson — who is President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of commerce — was whether he had discussed the matter with Obama before, during or after the vetting process. I’m especially curious whether Obama has contacted him about the grand jury since the news broke in the national media.

We might have to wait until the Senate confirmation hearings to get those answers.

No, Richardson didn’t actually invoke the Fifth Amendment, but he clearly exercised his right to remain silent.

National reaction: You can’t really call it a media feeding frenzy at this point, but the national political chattering class has begun paying attention to Richardson’s grand jury.
Consider this item in MSNBC’s First Read blog on Tuesday. Under the headline “Did Obama’s vetters know this?” the blog asks, “Is Bill Richardson headed for a tougher-than-expected confirmation hearing?”

After stating the general facts of the case, First Read continues, “Does the (Illinois Gov. Rod) Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal give this news more scrutiny? The it’s-just-politics defense was probably enough to keep Senate vetters from digging too deep on this BB (Before Blagojevich). But what about now? Also, a retired Chinese-American businessman from San Francisco has started a group that resurrects the entire Wen Ho Lee controversy (by alleging Richardson denied Lee his due-process rights after terminating his employment). The group claims more than 9,000 signatures against Richardson’s appointment. Bottom line for those looking for the one Obama cabinet pick who will face confirmation trouble: You may want to move your chips off of Holder and on to Richardson.”

The right-wing National Review was even harsher, asking, “Could President-elect Obama soon have to look for a new commerce secretary?”

Concluded the National Review, “Maybe this FBI investigation will go nowhere. But in a post-Blagojevich environment, the Obama administration is probably going to be extra wary of associating with government officials under criminal investigation.”

Pull up your cyber socks: Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez’s office sent out this news release not once, but twice this week. It’s about a news conference where Chávez was “to Unveil His Public Safety Legislative Package Regarding Identify Theft, Cyber-Stocking, Auto Theft and Sexual Predators.”

I’m not sure what cyber stockings are. Maybe cyber stalkers will have to wear them.

State musicians at inauguration: The best party in the world Jan. 20 will be Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. And some New Mexico musicians have been tapped to play there.

The Española Valley High School Mariachi Sol Del Valle has been invited to march in the inauguration. All participants in the parade are responsible for paying for their own lodging and transportation to and from the nation’s capital, so the mariachi band needs to raise some cash. Anyone interested in helping should contact Alfonso Trujillo, the band and mariachi teacher at Española Valley High School, 505-753-7357.

Playing at the American Indian Inaugural Ball at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 20, will be Gary Farmer — actor, Santa Fe art gallery owner and blues harmonica demon — as well as Levi & The Plateros, a Native American Blues band from Tohajiilee, N.M.

I have a feeling there might be more announcements of New Mexico bands going to the D.C. shindig. Watch this space.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 11, 2008

Four years before Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for alleged corruption, he and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson were partners in a deal involving exports from France.

But it’s not as sinister as it sounds.

Blagojevich, according to a Nov. 5, 2004, report in this newspaper, had arranged to buy 300,000 flu vaccine shots from Aventis Pasteur’s manufacturing plant in France. Richardson arranged to piggyback on that deal and purchase 150,000 doses for New Mexico.

The two governors announced that plan at a teleconference. New Mexico reporters were invited to listen in at the Governor’s Office.

I missed that event. But I was one of only two reporters to attend a news conference about six months later in which Richardson welcomed Eliot Spitzer, then running for governor of New York. Spitzer was in town for a $500-a-ticket fundraiser at the home of his friend, art-gallery owner Gerald Peters. The main thing I remember about that event was Spitzer joking about the large marble table in Richardson’s Cabinet Room.

“Where does King Arthur sit?” quipped the later-to-be-disgraced Spitzer.

Spitzer resigned in March after The New York Times exposed his involvement with a prostitution service.

Blagojevich is still governor — as of Wednesday evening as I write this — despite his arrest on multiple charges of corruption, including a scheme to sell, to the highest bidder, the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Obama on Wednesday called on Blagojevich to resign as governor. Previously he called upon Richardson to resign as governor of New Mexico — to become U.S. Commerce Department secretary.

In fairness to Richardson, who served two terms as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, he’s met with many governors, the overwhelming majority of which have not ended up in crazy scandals.

But we in New Mexico should be grateful to Blagojevich. Not just for the flu shots, but for whipping up an alleged corruption scheme that makes Robert Vigil and Manny Aragon seem like amateurs.

Looking out for No. 2: Most of the media speculation about who Lt. Gov. Diane Denish might choose for her replacement has centered around State Auditor Hector Balderas, state Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, and Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments. That is, assuming Richardson is confirmed as commerce secretary and Denish moves on to the Governor’s Office.

But, according to one Roundhouse rumor, a dark horse might be high on Denish’s list for lieutenant governor: Veterans Affairs Secretary John Garcia.

Garcia, as keen observers might recall, is the one cabinet member who appeared with Denish at that Albuquerque news conference when the talk of Bill Richardson becoming commerce secretary first broke. Those hoping for Garcia’s appointment speculate Republicans in 2010 might nominate Heather Wilson for governor, who is likely to stress veterans’ issues. Garcia on the ticket could help blunt that, his fans say.

Garcia is a Vietnam vet who served from 1969 to 1970. He was deputy chief of staff for Gov. Bruce King and later secretary of the Economic Development Department. Prior to his time in state government, Garcia’s headed the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

Denish, who appointed a transition team Wednesday, consistently has said it’s too early to be talking about her choice for lieutenant governor.

Speaking of the Commerce appointment: A former Richardson press aide this week wrote a column for McClatchy Newspapers about the governor taking on the new position, predicting big things for both Richardson and the Department of Commerce.

The writer is Richard Parker, who worked for Richardson during his congressional years.

Despite his former employment by Richardson, Parker said in his piece that “I am no cheerleader for Richardson.” He says he endured “several years of contentious coverage of him for the Albuquerque Journal.”

But he does sound a little like a cheerleader here.

“Ambitious even for a politician, Richardson will likely seek to transform the job and position himself as the most public Cabinet figure in righting the domestic economic disaster and transforming international trade. In doing so, he will form ties here and abroad that may ultimately write his biography in political history as a senior statesman, if never a president. As a result, more people may be affected by the new secretary than any other Cabinet figure.”

Parker wrote, “Richardson is as much a realist as a careerist. It seems likely that he has arranged with the president-elect to lift the commerce post out of obscurity and into an ‘A’ position, effectively and even formally alongside state, defense, treasury and others. And that means activism. Further, when you consider the other economic appointments, none is as capable, or likely willing, to be a public point man as Richardson.

“As an ambitious politician he may be able to get to the vice presidency, say, but more likely emerge as an elder statesman, probably with a lot of cushy, corporate board seats, too.”

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 4, 2008

It’s more than a month away, but this week, the first shots were fired in what is bound to be an interesting session of the state Legislature.

I’m referring of course to the pending leadership struggle in the state Senate. Democrats decided to dump incumbent Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, in favor of state Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa. Jennings riled many of his fellow Democrats by recording a campaign call for Republican Whip Leonard Lee Rawson of Las Cruces, who lost in the general election despite Jennings’ help.

But Jennings says he’ll press on and try to keep his seat by soliciting help from Republican senators — apparently unconcerned about the irony of giving the dwindling number of Republicans in the Senate such a big say following the big Democratic wins in the state in last month’s election.

Leadership battles are always fun to cover. But wait, there’s more!

In addition to the pro-tem showdown, there’s the coming changes in the executive branch. With Gov. Bill Richardson going off to the Commerce Department, many wonder whether Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who has presided over the Senate for the past six sessions, will have better luck in getting along with the Senate, which often ran afoul of Richardson.

One of my lobbyist friends this week was pondering the physical difficulty of Denish moving into the governor’s office during the middle of the session.

Nobody knows who Denish will appoint to replace her as lieutenant governor. She wouldn’t say Wednesday who that will be. And nobody knows who among Richardson’s staff will stay or go.

Another element of fun will be all the new faces in the Legislature. Democrats knocked off three Republican incumbents in the Senate and three in the House. Four Democratic lawmakers and one Republican were handed their walking papers by feisty challengers in the primary. Plus there were seven — four House members and three senators — who didn’t seek re-election, which resulted in more new faces.

One House member, Santa Fe Democrat Peter Wirth, gave up his seat so he could move over to the Senate (to replace retiring Sen. John Grubesic), newcomer Brian Egolf, also a Democrat, will replace Wirth in the House.

Some predict that a younger, more liberal, more Democratic Legislature will be more open to passing progressive social legislation such as a domestic-partnership law and abolition of the death penalty. I predicted in this column after the primary because of changes in the Senate that the Legislature might finally open conference committee meetings to the public.

Then again, with all the bad press that public campaign financing got with the Jerome Block Jr.’s state Public Regulation Commission campaign, there might be a serious bid to abolish public financing.

But topping off all the fun factors is the fact there’s no money. Because of the budget shortfalls, there’s not a whole lot of pork. In fact, we’ll be lucky to get SizzleLean.

Maybe that doesn’t really sound like fun. But it’ll lead to some interesting fights.

The age of aquarium: If you think there’s something fishy about Richardson’s appointment as secretary of commerce by president-elect Barack Obama, The Chicago Tribune’s political blog, The Swamp, spelled it out Tuesday.

Noting Richardson really wanted to be secretary of state, Frank James wrote: “Commerce doesn’t have the prestige of State. But it has very nice perks. The Commerce Secretary has one of the better physical offices in the Executive Branch, a huge space with a working fireplace and a large fish tank maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a Commerce agency.”

James also says, “Commerce secretaries still travel the world, helping to drum up business for U.S. companies. So Richardson will still get to travel the world on behalf of U.S. taxpayers.”

Close shave: One of the lighter moments of Obama’s announcement of the Richardson nomination Wednesday was when a Fox News reporter asked what had happened to the governor’s beard.

Although the question was asked of Richardson, Obama responded: “I think it was a mistake for him to get rid of it. I thought that whole Western, rugged look was really working for him. For some reason, maybe because it was scratchy when he kissed his wife, he was forced to get rid of it. But we’re deeply disappointed with the loss of the beard.”

Richardson began sporting a beard after he dropped his presidential campaign in January. It was his way of “decompressing,” he said at the time. Journalists around the country had fun with it. Richardson’s appearance was compared to that of Rod Steiger as Dr. Zhivago, Wolfman Jack, a Klingon from Star Trek and Justin Timberlake. (Richardson told me that the latter was his favorite.)

The governor in late March said he’d probably shave it “in the next two months.” But the beard stayed until the day before the election. Interviewed Nov. 4, Richardson insisted the shave had nothing to do with Washington job hunting. “I just got tired of maintaining it,” he said. “I’d decided to do this a long time ago.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 20, 2008

Minnie Gallegos, who has chaired the Santa Fe County Democratic Party for the past seven years, won’t seek re-election next year.
photo by Barbara Wold
“I’m not quite ready to quit yet,” she told me earlier this week, “but I won’t be seeking re-election.”

She’s been county chairwoman since November 2001, after then-chairman Bill Sisneros stepped down to join Bill Richardson’s gubernatorial exploratory committee. In 2003, Gallegos was elected in her own right, becoming the first woman elected to the county party post. She won re-election in 2005 and again in 2007.

Gallegos has held the position longer than anyone else in recent history. In the seven years before Gallegos became chairwoman, the position was held by four men — Sisneros, Art Bonal, Fernando Rivera and Domingo Martinez.

In the last election there had been some grumbling from the rank-and-file about Gallegos. No major controversy. Most of the gripes seemed to be about the way Gallegos runs meetings. After covering the meeting at which she was re-elected last year, I wrote that the proceedings “reminded some attendees of the old Will Rogers quote — ‘I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.’ ” It took more than an hour that night just for all the county central committee members to get through the door, register and get their credentials.

Gallegos did have a challenger last year: party activist Ricardo Campos. But once he realized he didn’t have the votes, Campos withdrew and moved to elect Gallegos by acclamation. Campos then was elected vice chairman by acclamation. If there’s been any dissatisfaction with Gallegos since then, it has not been made public.

Having a unified party obviously didn’t hurt. As expected, Santa Fe Dems, who have a 3-to-1 registration advantage over Republicans in the county, did more than OK in the general election two weeks ago. According to unofficial returns in Santa Fe County, President-elect Barack Obama took 76.9 percent of the vote in the presidential race, and Senator-elect Tom Udall won 79.3 percent. The only countywide race in which a Democrat lost here was the Public Regulation Commission race, in which controversy-prone Jerome Block Jr. came in second to Green Party candidate Rick Lass, who got a 62.5 percent to Block’s 37.5 percent. (Block won the total vote in PRC District 3, however.)

Election trivia: A couple of incumbent Republican legislators actually beat Democratic challengers in this county by 2-to-1 margins.

State Sen. Sue Beffort Wilson beat Democrat Jason Michael Burnett here while Rep. Kathy McCoy defeated Janice Saxton. Both of these legislative districts are mostly in Bernalillo County but each contains a small pocket of precincts in the more conservative southern part of Santa Fe County.

Richardson watch: Most of the recent national chatter about our governor’s chances of being appointed U.S. secretary of state has been in the context of Richardson being a alternate to Hillary Clinton for that job.
The New York Times has been profiling potential Obama appointees in a series called “The New Team.”

Among the governor’s strong points, the profile says, “He earned a reputation as a tough and inventive negotiator, especially when dealing with America’s most entrenched adversaries, among them Iraq, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba. In the 1990s, he negotiated the release of a downed American pilot imprisoned in North Korea, some Red Cross workers held in Sudan and two American contractors detained by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. ... By most accounts, he is the country’s most influential Latino politician. Hispanic groups are pushing hard for him to become secretary of state.”

But, as it does for other Obama administration prospects, the Times notes “baggage” for Richardson. “He has no landmark achievement as a diplomat and has said, in hindsight, that he was wrong on several important issues ... and the North American Free Trade Agreement (which he helped pass). In the late 1990s, he also was secretary of the Department of Energy during the disastrous security breaches at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the widely criticized prosecution of scientist Wen Ho Lee.”

But that’s not nearly as nasty as the comment by former George H.W. Bush Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger who, when asked in an MSNBC interview about the possibility of Richardson as secretary of state, said “I don’t want to beat everybody to death, but I have very little respect for his intelligence and his knowledge of foreign affairs.”

Radio daze: After last week’s column about the elimination of Christmas lights for Human Service Department employees in an effort to save money, one state worker called to say that employees in her office were told they can’t even play radios at their desk.

I didn’t immediately mount an investigation of this. But it is true that a memo from the governor on Oct. 23 about conservation in the state workplace says, “Personal space heaters and individual appliances (refrigerators, microwaves, etc.) are no longer allowed in staff offices or cubicles.” It’s quite possible that some supervisors have interpreted “individual appliances” to include radios.

(By the way, this memo is titled “Good Governance: Tips for Conservation and Efficiency.” But these “tips” aren’t just friendly suggestions. The first paragraph makes clear the “tips” are to be implemented and enforced by all agencies.)

I suppose workers could bring in iPods — as long as they didn’t plug the devices into state computers to recharge them.

Or maybe HSD and other state employees could take a tip from the Cultural Affairs Department’s proposal to have a private foundation augment the pay of state museum curators and directors. Perhaps they could get New Mexico broadcasters to set up a foundation to help pay the state’s electric bill so that workers can play a radio now and then.

The photo of Minnie Gallegos near the top of this post is by Barb Wold, used under Creative Commons license and found on FLICKR.

UPDATE: I just corrected a spelling mistake in the "Richardson Watch" section above. As a reader pointed out, "security breeches" sounds like some sort of new uniform at LANL. That'll teach me to cut-and-paste from a rag like The New York Times.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 13, 2008

If nothing else, you have to admire their fighting spirit.

Every week, the state Republican Party sends out an e-mail newsletter called The Weekly Stampede, which normally consists of party news, announcements from GOP officials, news stories about dumb things Democrats have done or said in the past week. Stuff like that.

Last week, there was a general-election stampede. But it was the Republicans who got trampled — in this state more than many others.

Barack Obama won the state’s five presidential electors by a wide enough margin that we don’t have to hear the political Right moan that ACORN had torn the fabric of democracy (or listen to the Left whine that Haliburton secretly programmed all the ballot scanners.) The GOP also lost the U.S. Senate seat held for 36 years by Pete Domenici, all three Congressional seats (including two that have been held for years by Republicans), and, assuming no last-minute vote-canvass surprises, a net loss of six seats in the state Legislature.

Nobody, not even the most cynical reporter, would have held it against the state Republican Party if they didn’t publish the Weekly Stampede after a week like that.

But they did.

Friday’s Stampede doesn’t mention anything about losing the U.S. Senate seat, U.S. House seats or any of the legislative races. No mention of any fallen GOP candidates like Steve Pearce, Darren White, Ed Tinsley, Leonard Lee Rawson or Justine Fox-Young.

Besides some routine announcements about various upcoming county party meetings, there’s no news about New Mexico Republicans at all — just three national news stories. There’s a CNN article about a study that shows “voter turnout in Tuesday’s election was the same in percentage terms as it was four years ago — or at most has risen by less than 1 percent.” There’s a piece from Politico that basically poo-poos the idea that the youth vote was a major factor in the election, as some had predicted. And there’s a Fox News report about U.S. Senate Republican leaders making overtures to U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee who campaigned hard for Sen. John McCain.

A small ray of light for Republicans: Nobody can deny that Lea County, down in the southeastern New Mexico oil patch, is a Republican stronghold.

Last week, according to unofficial returns, McCain beat Obama by a margin of 71.6 percent to 27.4 percent. McCain’s margin over Obama was more than 2,700 votes larger than George W. Bush’s margin over John Kerry in the county in 2004.

Indeed, in Lea County, McCain last week got more than 5,600 votes above Bush’s total in 2004.

Only trouble is, Obama got well over twice the votes Kerry did in that county four years ago. His loss to McCain there was a landslide by any measure. But it was less of a landslide than in the Bush/Kerry race, in which the Republican got about 77 percent of the vote there while the Democrat received only about 22 percent.

The Obama campaign never claimed it would take Lea or other hard-Republican counties. Their goal was to cut into the Republican advantage. That strategy seemed to pay off. For instance, in conservative Chaves County, Obama got nearly 1,500 more votes than Kerry did there in 2004, while McCain received about 1,100 fewer votes than Bush did four years ago. McCain got nearly 62 percent of the vote in Chaves, compared with Obama’s 37 percent.

Merry Christmas, turn out the lights: We might get a white Christmas, but over at the state Human Services Department, it might not be a bright Christmas.

HSD offices have been instructed by Secretary Pam Hyde to not use any blinking lights, electric candles or other plug-in decorations to bring holiday cheer to the workplace.

It’s part of the state budget squeeze, a spokeswoman for the department confirmed. It goes along with an Oct. 23 memo from Gov. Bill Richardson to state workers calling for the conservation of energy. Richardson’s memo said the energy conservation effort is part of a plan to save $2 million in state operating costs.

As one HSD manager told employees in an e-mail last month, “You will have to stick with mechanial/non-electric (decorations) or paper or other materials that do not use electricity or create a hazard. ... things like this could mean the difference between whether we can prevent additional hiring reductions.”

In other words, red and green lights could result in pink slips.

Maybe some taxpayers will feel so bad about this they’ll donate those $25 and $50 rebate checks that the state sent out a few weeks ago, back when the state budget seemed less critical, so HSD workers can enjoy some Christmas lights.
Hauntingly familiar? The Anchorage Daily News this week published an article about challenges that unsuccessful Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin will face in her state, especially if she’s going to run for president in 2012.

“For the rest of her career in Alaska, every move Palin makes will be second-guessed for ulterior motives,” reporter Tom Kizzia wrote. “Is she taking on this or that priority because it’s good for the state or because it looks good on her résumé?

“If she travels to New Hampshire to meet with Republicans, is the state paying for her long-distance calls home?” Kizzia wrote. “Who decided to put the governor’s photo on that tourism brochure? Imagine the snarkiness that will erupt if she flies off to meet industrialists in China or oil ministers in Geneva ...”

Luckily such a situation never could happen in New Mexico.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


It’s over.

The longest election cycle in the history of the galaxy is over.

Hopefully, the volume of new messages in my e-mail in-boxes, both work and personal, will be reduced to humane levels.
My cell phone won’t be constantly buzzing with new text messages from the Obama campaign. (I just signed up last summer to get the news of his vice-presidential pick and suddenly they wanted me to work for them.)

I won’t feel compelled to start off each day looking at the electoral college map.
Indeed, it’s been a long election. For me it actually started in June 2005, when I followed Gov. Bill Richardson to the great state of New Hampshire. He hadn’t yet declared his candidacy. In fact, it was still more than a year away from his gubernatorial re-election campaign. Though he wouldn’t admit it at the time, Richardson was clearly testing the waters back in 2005 in the first primary state, making speeches, doing interviews and making contacts who could help him in the 2008 primary.

The real campaign, at least for most New Mexico political reporters, didn’t start until January 2007, when Richardson formally declared he was running for president. By the next month I was traveling to Carson City, Nev., for the first Democratic presidential forum. Richardson was there, as was Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, “Mad” Mike Gravel (who brought some much-needed laughter to the rather dull affair) and Tom Vilsack. (Remember him? He dropped out of the race not long after the Carson City forum.)
The only no-show in Carson City that day was Barack Obama. A year later I wondered if that contributed to his defeat in the Nevada caucus.
The presidential race was pretty nonstop after that. There seemed to be a debate every couple of weeks. But things didn’t really get serious in New Mexico until several months later when Pete Domenici announced he wouldn’t seek re-election. Reporters had to scramble to see who was and wasn’t running for Domenici’s seat, then all three of the state’s Congressional seats. Six Democrats and two Republicans ended up on the 3rd Congressional District primary ballot, not to mention two independents early in the race, plus a small army of Democratic politicians who were considering or rumored to be considering the congressional race.
Normally I bellyache every two years about the number of state legislators who get a free ride on election day. But this year I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that there wasn’t any competition in the Roundhouse races in the Santa Fe area.

I’d also be lying if I said it wasn’t fun.
I’ll have lots of fond memories from this election — the freezing cold of New Year’s Day in Iowa, which made January in New Hampshire seem like a tropical paradise; the Democratic cigar party in Denver, plus running in to the likes of Jimmy Carter, Madelyn Albright, The Daily Show fake-news team and Captain Morgan; Obama in Española; John McCain in Albuquerque; Mitt Romney at an Airport Road tire store, just down the street from the restaurant where Caroline Kennedy spoke a few days before; strolling the farmer’s market with Tom Udall; eating tamales with Steve Pearce on a sunny day in Mora County; watching Richardson campaign among New Hampshire Hispanics at a Manchester barbershop; Richardson’s “job interview” ads, Udall’s “parrot” ads, Pearce’s “hippie” ad.
Yes, it was a heck of an election, Brownie. Now I’d better get busy deleting e-mail before my computer goes catatonic.

’60s Flashback: At the risk of mixing my roles as political columnist and music columnist, prompted by the first victory of a black presidential candidate, and the image of tears streaming down the face of the Rev. Jesse Jackson on television after Obama had been declared the winner, I spent a good chunk of Wednesday morning listening to Mavis Staples’ excellent We’ll Never Turn Back. This album, produced by Ry Cooder, consists mainly of civil rights-era songs — spirituals, civil-rights anthems, union songs and even blues, such as J.B. Lenoir’s “Down in Mississippi.” In the middle of the latter tune, Staples does a lengthy spoken part during which she remembers the Mississippi of her youth, when she was forbidden to drink out of certain water fountains.
“My gran’ma said, ‘Young ’un, you can’t drink that water,’ She said, ‘You drink from that fountain over there.’ And that fountain had a sign, said ‘For Colored Only.’ ”

I’m not black, and I didn’t grow up in Mississippi. But I clearly remember back in the mid-’60s, when I was a grade-school kid in Oklahoma. Our class had a field trip in which we rode in an old bus — apparently an old city bus — that had a sign saying: “Back for Colored Only.”

I don’t even remember where our class went that day. All that stands out from that day is that sign. I’m not even sure whether the back-of-the-bus rules still were being enforced in Oklahoma City by that point. But it was still close enough in time that nobody had bothered to remove that weird oppressive message from that bus.

So it’s easy to see why Rev. Jackson shed a tear, and why U.S. Rep. John Lewis, himself a civil rights activist, was speaking so emotionally in television interviews on Tuesday night and why, as blogger Joe Monahan reported, Lenton Malry, the first black state legislator in New Mexico, had tears in his eyes at the KNAW-FM studios when Obama’s victory was announced.

BLOG BONUS: Here's Mavis singing "Eyes on the Prize" from We'll Never Turn Back"

Thursday, October 30, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 1, 2008

San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez made the latest issue of Rolling Stone — and it’s not a review of his band Wyld Country.

And no, it has nothing to do with the controversy surrounding Maez’s association with a certain Public Regulation Commission candidate, although the headline of the article is “Block the Vote.”

The article, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast, is about voter disenfranchisement and it tells about the disaster that was the Democratic Party Caucus in February.

The article starts out with an anecdote involving Maez and providing a description of Las Vegas, N.M., that I don’t believe came from the Chamber of Commerce:

“These days, the old west rail hub of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is little more than a dusty economic dead zone amid a boneyard of bare mesas. In national elections, the town overwhelmingly votes Democratic: More than 80 percent of all residents are Hispanic, and one in four lives below the poverty line. On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas.”

Kennedy and Palast go on to say that in the caucus, “one in nine Democrats who tried to cast ballots in New Mexico found their names missing from the registration lists.”

It’s worth noting that the caucus was not run by the state or the various counties, but by the Democratic Party itself. The party did get its lists from the state, but nobody ever has explained what caused the problems, which led to thousands of provisional ballots being cast, which led to the final results not being known for two weeks. (Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama by just a hair.) The party in April canceled a scheduled summit to discuss the problems.

In the article, Maez blames “faulty list management by a private contractor hired by the state.”

That company is ES&S, which has denied any role in the caucus problems. “ES&S’ role related to the New Mexico voter registration database is limited to providing centralized voter registration software, working with the state to implement the centralized system and providing technical support in using the system,” a company spokeswoman told the Associated Press in February.
Another New Mexican quoted in the Rolling Stone story is state Auditor Hector Balderas, who also found his name missing from the voter list during the February caucus.

Kennedy and Palast wrote, “ ‘As a strategic consideration,’ (Balderas) notes, ‘there are those that benefit from chaos at the ballot box.’ ”

Maez has been at the center of one of the major flaps in Jerome Block Jr.’s PRC campaign.

Block admitted lying about $2,500 in public campaign funds that he reported was paid to Wyld Country. Block had maintained that the band had performed at a May 3 rally. But he later admitted the rally never took place after two band members told newspapers there never was such a performance. The New Mexico secretary of state has recommended fines totaling $11,000 for Block and has said Block should return another $10,000 of the public campaign funds he accepted.

Pied Piping: Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday practiced what he’s been preaching around the country — he voted early.

Perhaps he felt obligated to vote early after a headline in the South Tampa News and Tribune called him the “Pied Piper Of Early Voting.”

Columnist Joe O’Neill said Richardson gave a “boilerplate pep talk” in Tampa (he gave one of those in Santa Fe on Wednesday, too). But O’Neill said the governor was “Looking and sounding more animated and affable than when he was a presidential candidate … .”

Richardson was in Florida last week campaigning for Obama.

So if Richardson is the Pied Piper, I guess that makes me a rat.

Right after his speech, I went back to the County Courthouse and voted.

I have to bust myself for hypocrisy here. A couple of weeks ago, while covering a political event, I was asked by a nice woman to vote early and I told her something to the effect that early voting was for Communists. Election Day is a nice American tradition and I usually enjoy going to the school near my house, seeing my neighbors, etc.

But on Wednesday morning, early voting looked so quick and easy, I couldn’t resist. (That sounds like the rationalization of a smash-and-grab jewelry store window thief, I realize.)

The wait turned out to be only around five minutes. And while I didn’t see any of my neighbors, I did see several friends and acquaintances, including a certain television reporter whose voting experience took much longer than mine. He “spoiled” his first ballot by accidentally voting both ways on a judicial retention question, so he had to wait for a second ballot.

Latest from Rasmussen: Obama is leading Republican John McCain 54 percent to 44 percent in New Mexico, according to the latest Rasmussen poll released Wednesday.

In the Senate race, Democrat Tom Udall leads Republican Steve Pearce “by a wide margin,” according to the Rasmussen Web site, but the actual numbers won’t be released until today.
The telephone survey of 500 likely voters in New Mexico was conducted by Rasmussen Reports on Tuesday. The margin of error is 4.5 percent.

Got Clout? Richard Greene, host of Air America’s radio show Clout tonight will broadcast his show live from The Santa Fe Film Center, 1616 St. Michael’s Drive. The two-hour show starts at 7 p.m. and admission is free to the first 100. Air America, a liberal talk-show network, broadcasts in Santa Fe on KTRC-1260 AM.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Octobber 23, 2008

Is anyone out there not sick of candidate debates yet?

In recent weeks, we’ve seen three presidential, one vice presidential, two U.S. Senate, and I’m not sure how many Congressional debates.

Last week, we even had a double-header — the last Barack Obama/John McCain debate followed minutes later by the first Tom Udall/Steve Pearce debate.

As always, there have been a variety of formats and a plethora of rules. Frequently you see the candidates questioned by a panel of journalists, sometimes just a lone moderator.

Often there are questions from audience members (or e-mailed questions from television viewers). Sometimes the candidates have their own podiums or stools or they have to sit together at the same table.

Some formats discourage interaction between candidates. I remember a 2006 state land commissioner debate between Pat Lyons and Jim Baca in which both seemed eager to challenge each other. It could have been an interesting night, but the candidates kept getting interrupted by a moderator who insisted on sticking with the boring rules and kept going on to the next question instead of allowing Lyons and Baca to go at it.

Then there was the state Public Regulation Commission forum sponsored by business organizations this week in which the candidates got the questions in advance and read from scripts. Nobody better complain about “gotcha” questions there.

Here’s a few things I’d do if I ran the debates:

* First, I’d have a single moderator. It would have to be someone knowledgeable on the issues. And most important, it would have to be someone with enough guts to interrupt and say, “Please answer the question,” to any candidate who started giving a stump speech instead of sticking to the topic at hand.

* The first part of the debate would be a town-hall format with questions from unaffiliated voters. But, unlike the recent presidential town-hall forum in Nashville, Tenn., the questions would not be pre-screened and pre-approved by anyone. Trust the people! Sure, you’ll get some pointed questions, maybe even a few rude ones. You might even get a stray nut ball now and then. But seeing how the candidates handle those unpredictable questions would tell us far more than their canned answers to canned questions.

* The second part would be the candidates questioning one another. These segments hands down have been the most interesting part of the debates between Udall and Pearce. Udall made Pearce praise George Bush, while Pearce socked Udall with an unexpected question about some child-porn bill. Back in 2006, it was a question from Heather Wilson about raising taxes that stumped her Congressional opponent Patricia Madrid — and may have helped cost Madrid the election.

* The final third would be a feature I’ve never seen on any debate, though it’s almost always done these days during post-debate coverage by television networks: fact-checking. You’d have to have a team of journalists frantically Googling during the early parts of the debate to see who got what wrong. The moderator would then confront the erring candidate. If there weren’t enough provable errors, then the rest of the time could be filled by more questions from the audience — or by the candidates.

Of course, if one candidate got his facts wrong significantly more than the other, his supporters would complain that “the media” was biased against him. But chances are, they’re going to make that claim anyway so let ‘em squawk.
Debbie's dad
Mr. White Bucks doesn’t buck White: Here’s one of the stranger celebrity endorsements I’ve seen lately.

Actually, it’s not technically an endorsement, but the 1st District Congressional campaign of Republican Darren White on Wednesday released a statement announcing that singer Pat Boone had presented White with an Honorary Guardian of Seniors’ Rights award.

Boone is national spokesman for a group called the 60 Plus Association — “a non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors issues,” according to the group’s Web site.

“I am pleased to present this award to Darren White,” Boone said in a statement. “He is a tax cutter, protecting the pocket books of senior citizens. 60 Plus calls on nearly 5 million seniors for support so I believe I can speak on behalf of seniors when I say that they can count on Darren White. Clearly, seniors will have no finer friend in Congress than Darren White.”

Boone praised White for opposing “the death tax,” which actually is called the estate tax.

But the most interesting claim on the news release was the description of Boone — “a recording artist, movie and TV star second to none in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.”

Second to none? Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and a few dozen others might take issue with that — and that’s just dealing with the ’50s.

Blog Bonus: I wonder if Pat Boone would groove on the cop-rock band that was second to none in the early 90s, Darren White & The Force.

Where the heck is Bill Richardson? The traveling governor was on the campaign trail again this week, this time in Florida.
He was there Tuesday and Wednesday, attending Obama campaign events in Palm Beach, Immokalee, Port Charlotte, Tampa and Kissimmee. This is according to various online newspaper reports. The governor’s office doesn’t make public announcements of when the governor leaves the state.

Next week, according to The Sandusky Register, Richardson will be in Erie County, Ohio.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Octobber 16, 2008

I don’t usually write about conspiracy theories. My masters at the Trilateral Commission discourage such discussion.

But lately I, as well as other reporters, have been hearing a political scenario that doesn’t seem all that implausible.
They know you're reading this blog
As is the case with about 97 percent of all political discussion in Santa Fe in recent weeks, it has to do with the Public Regulation Commission race between Democrat Jerome Block Jr. and Green Party candidate Rick Lass.

First, some background for those who haven’t been keeping up. Block has admitted he wasn’t telling the truth about a $2,500 campaign expense paid to his friend San Miguel County Clerk Paul Maez. Block claimed on the document, and to reporters, the money was for Maez’s country band to play at a rally — an event that later turned out never to have occurred. After this news hit the papers last month, Block returned the money — which came from public election funds — to the state. The secretary of state and attorney general are looking into the matter as a possible fourth-degree felony.
Jerome the Younger
The gist of the scenario is as follows. (Remember, all this is speculation.)

The Attorney General’s Office files criminal charges against Block for filing false campaign finance reports — but not before the Nov. 4 election.

Block, despite a steady stream of bad publicity for months, wins the election.

Sometime after the charges are filed, Block is heavily pressured to step down.

At this point, Gov. Bill Richardson steps in and appoints his own choice, a less-objectionable Democrat, to the 3rd District PRC seat.

You don’t have to believe in chemtrails to wonder if something like this might be in store.

There’s at least a couple of versions of this going around. One friend of mine theorized that Attorney General Gary King is in on the deal, and he would purposely “drag his feet” on filing charges against Block to make the rest of the story all come true.

Another friend of mine — a Democrat who isn’t fond of either Block or Lass — presented this scenario to me not as a conspiracy theory but as his personal fantasy of what he hopes will happen. In this person’s version, “Richardson appoints someone decent” to the PRC.

Of course, Richardson might not be around to appoint anybody. There’s widespread speculation that if Barack Obama is elected president next month, he’ll tap the governor for some post in the new administration.

More Richardson travels: The governor remains active in his out-of-state campaigning for Obama.

On Oct. 3, he traveled to Wisconsin, where he attended events for Obama in Milwaukee and Menomonee Falls. “I am here because Wisconsin will elect the next president of the United States,” he told a crowd of about 100 at a Mexican restaurant in Milwaukee, according to a report on by reporter Russell Korinek.

Six days later, he flew to Washington state, where one blogger wrote, “Richardson was a big hit in Spokane Thursday, making a speech to the annual luncheon sponsored by the Gallatin Group and Avista at the Davenport Hotel, and revving up the Democratic troops for Obama and (Washington Gov.) Chris Gregoire later in the afternoon at the Carpenters’ Union Hall in the Logan Neighborhood.”

The next day, Richardson was in Nevada, where he spoke to a Students of Color Leadership Symposium and other events in Las Vegas, then up to Reno, where he predicted “that his state, Colorado and Nevada will prove pivotal in the presidential election,” according to one Reno television Web site.

This week’s New Yorker: I don’t know whether Richardson will be on hand in Las Cruces on Friday to greet Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is scheduled to appear at an Obama rally there.
But if he is, I bet he might want to discuss an item from a profile on Biden in this week’s New Yorker.

In the piece on the Delaware senator — who like Richardson ran for the 2008 presidential nomination — reporter Ryan Lizza writes about a conversation between the two.

“According to a senior Biden aide, after a debate in which Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, argued that he could have all hundred and sixty thousand American troops out of Iraq in a matter of months — something that is logistically beyond reach, according to most observers — Biden approached Richardson backstage and told him that the plan was impossible.

Richardson didn’t seem concerned. ‘I know it is,’ he said. (A spokesman for the Governor said that Richardson does not recall the exchange.)”

Thursday, October 09, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Octobber 1, 2008

Does it still mean a thing if New Mexico loses its swing?

In recent years, political activists, political reporters and political junkies in this enchanted land have shared a certain pride that New Mexico in recent presidential elections, despite our modest stake of five electoral votes, has been a major swing state.

Could this be changing?

It’s true, we’ve seen candidate visits: John McCain in Albuquerque on Monday, Barack Obama in Española a few weeks ago.

But according to statistics from The Wisconsin Advertising Project, a creature of the University of Wisconsin Political Science Department, neither campaign seems to be spending that much money in the battle for New Mexico airwaves, at least compared with other battleground states.

According to a WAP news release Wednesday, Obama spent $185,000 on television advertising directed at New Mexico between Sept. 28 and Saturday, while, during the same period, McCain spent $144,000. In the 15 states in which both candidates are advertising, Obama spent more in 13 states than he did in New Mexico. McCain spent more in 14 states during this period.
"My Friends ..."
Granted, you’re going to pay more for television ads in bigger states with larger populations and more TV markets than New Mexico. But states similar in size to New Mexico, such as Nevada and New Hampshire, are seeing more political ads than our state.

In 2004, WAP showed Albuquerque stations in late September and early October sold more political ad time to presidential candidates than any other market except Miami.

But this year, the Albuquerque television market, according to WAP, isn’t in the top 10 markets for either McCain or Obama. McCain’s top 10 list does include El Paso, whose television stations are watched by Southern New Mexico households. There, the Republican aired ads 474 times last week, making El Paso No. 8 in McCain’s top 10.
According to the study, Albuquerque ranked 20th for total political ads last week. The campaigns, the two political parties and outside groups attacking one candidate or the other bought a total of 960 airings on Albuquerque stations.

It’s not as if they’re not paying attention to the West. The top market for political ads was Las Vegas, Nev., (a total of 2,020 spots) while No. 2 was Denver (with 2,007 spots.)

Why aren’t the campaigns spending that much for New Mexico television ads?

When asked that question in a telephone interview Wednesday, Sarah Niebler, deputy director of The Wisconsin Advertising Project, said, “I can’t speak to the strategies of the campaigns.”

But she pointed to polling figures compiled by Obama is leading McCain by 6 percentage points in New Mexico, according to Pollster, which averages several polls. In Nevada, Pollster shows Obama leading by less than 2 percentage points. In both Pollster and, another site that averages poll numbers, New Mexico for a few weeks has been listed as “leaning Obama” while Nevada continues to be a “tossup.”

So if McCain’s numbers start improving in New Mexico, expect to see more ads from both camps.

Beware of Tony: Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza told me this week that somebody out there is calling voters, falsely claiming to be from her office and trying to get Social Security numbers.

According to Espinoza, the calls are being made by a man who identifies himself as “Tony,” telling voters their voter registrations have been denied and asking them to dial a certain telephone number to clear it up. Those who call are asked for personal information such as Social Security numbers.

First of all, Espinoza says, that number is not associated with her office. She also said her office wouldn’t ask for such information over the phone.

Finally, she said, there’s nobody named Tony who works for her. “I even checked the temporary workers we hired, and there’s no Tony, she said.

Espinoza had some good advice that law enforcement officials frequently give: Don’t give strangers personal information over the phone. That’s a good way to get your identity stolen.

E-mailing the debate: I watched Tuesday’s presidential debate at a Santa Fe Community College watch party. Luckily, I wasn’t trying to keep up with my work e-mail. During the debate, and for a few minutes after it ended, I received 38 e-mails from the Obama campaign, most of them with the subject line “Debate Reality Check.”

Before the night was done, both sides sent out e-mail news releases declaring their candidate the winner.

For some reason, the McCain camp didn’t e-mail me its version of reality checks. I suspect I’m just not on that list.

But don’t worry, guys. I think my delete finger needs medical attention.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 2, 2008

A recent article in The New York Times alluded to a little-known John McCain tie to New Mexico. His father-in-law, Jim Hensley, whose Arizona beer distributorship helped bankroll the Republican presidential candidate’s first congressional race, once owned Ruidoso Downs with his brother Gene Hensley.

A quick trip to the microfilm room of the state library reveals the racetrack under the Hensleys more than 50 years ago was the source of scandal involving allegations of arson, death threats, political corruption and organized crime. Not the type of family history you find in campaign literature.

Jim Hensley Jim and Gene Hensley purchased the track in Ruidoso in late 1952. This followed some trouble in Arizona. There, in March 1948, a federal court jury convicted the brothers of “making false entries to the government on distilled liquor sales,” according to an Associated Press account. Jim Hensley got a six-month suspended sentence. But his older brother Gene was sentenced to a year and served nine months in a federal prison camp.

But the convictions didn’t stop the New Mexico Racing Commission from granting the Hensleys a license to run the track. No state law at the time barred convicted felons from operating racetracks.

Jim Hensley, Cindy McCain’s father, sold his share of Ruidoso Downs in 1955 and returned to Phoenix, where he started working for a beer wholesaler. Later, he bought the company.

He left New Mexico just before things got interesting in Ruidoso.

The summer of ’55: The state had ordered an audit of the track in June 1955. During that time, a lawsuit was filed by a Phoenix man named Clarence “Teak” Baldwin, described as a “nightclub owner and gambler,” who claimed he owned a third interest in the racetrack. Baldwin, who ran a food concession at the track, had a police record in Arizona. According to a 1977 story in the Albuquerque Journal, Baldwin was accused by some of his customers of “doctoring the drinks and then fleecing (the customers) in gambling games.”

The Hensley brothers had denied Baldwin’s involvement in Ruidoso Downs at a Racing Commission hearing in 1953.

By the end of July, things started getting ugly in Ruidoso. In a period of just a few days, according to stories in The New Mexican by reporters Bill Bailey and Neil Addington, a state police officer was assigned to protect a Racing Commission secretary performing the audit after threats to the secretary’s life; a stables fire, suspected as arson, killed 22 horses; and two days after the fire, someone poisoned two race horses.

In August 1955, Racing Commissioner Oliver “Hop” Lee resigned after The New Mexican revealed his financial entanglements with Ruidoso Downs. He owned stock in the company and had loaned it $60,000. Lee had received at least two checks from the company — $4,000 for interest on the loan and $8,000 for “personal services.” Lee was part of a partnership that had sold the track to the Hensleys.

The paper also showed that the mother-in-law of Racing Commission Chairman B.M. “Red” Keohane owned stock in Ruidoso Downs. Both Lee and Keohane had accepted gifts from the company, including hats valued at more than $100 (and that’s in 1955 money). Keohane told The New Mexican he saw nothing wrong with accepting gifts from organizations he’s supposed to regulate.

His spirit still lives in the Roundhouse every time the Legislature defeats ethics bills.

The Hensley situation sparked a political hissing match between then-Gov. John Simms, a Democrat, and his predecessor, Republican Gov. Ed Mechem.

Simms blasted Mechem for allowing the Hensleys to get the license in the first place. However, someone identified only as “an authentic and unimpeachable source” told Albuquerque Journal columnist Ed Minterm in 1955 that Mechem had warned Simms about Ruidoso.

“The current operators, the Hensleys, now under fire, were under constant surveillance” during Mechem’s watch. “No action was taken against the Hensleys because the investigation showed that as tracks go, all the laws were being observed. But Mechem prodded the Racing Commission to be alert because he was worried about it.”

A Phoenix businessman: According to the Aug. 4, 1955, New Mexican, Keohane, asked why he approved the Ruidoso racing license in the first place, said “he considered the Hensleys a good risk because of their association with a Phoenix businessman.”
Kemper Marley, businessman
However, the paper pointed out that a state police report given to the commission in 1953 “shows this ‘businessman’ has a long police record in falsification of records with the (Hensley) brothers.” He also owned a racetrack wire service in Phoenix that was connected to the bookie operation of famed Chicago gangster Al Capone.

The businessman in question was Kemper Marley, a millionaire rancher and liquor distributor who had employed Jim and Gene Hensley in the 1940s when they were convicted in federal court. His racing wire service at one point was managed by Baldwin.

Marley, who died in 1990, was a suspect in the 1976 car bombing death of Arizona Republican investigative reporter Don Bolles. John Harvey Adamson, the only person convicted in the killing, said in court documents that he’d been hired by an Arizona contractor to kill Bolles for writing articles damaging to Marley.

Marley was never charged in the case. He sued Investigate Reporters and Editors Inc. and won $15,000 in damages for emotional stress over an article the group published about the Bolles case. But that jury, according to Marley’s obituary in The New York Times, found IRE did not libel Marley or invade his privacy.

The state took over Ruidoso Downs in August 1955, but that didn’t last long. Gene Hensley hung on to the track until 1969. Three years earlier, he was convicted of tax evasion and was imprisoned in La Tuna, Texas.

According to The New York Times, Gene Hensley and his former wife sold their shares in Ruidoso Downs to a company connected with Marley. The track currently is owned by R.D. Hubbard, who bought it in 1988.

The Phoenix New Times in 2000 published a lengthy article about McCain and James Hensley. (CLICK HERE.) The Hensley era at Ruidoso Downs is discussed on pages 3 and 4.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 1, 2008

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce on Wednesday became the latest major Republican in New Mexico to call for the resignation of Bernalillo County GOP chairman Fernando C de Baca over remarks concerning Hispanic attitudes toward black people.

“Fernando is a friend and a good friend,” Pearce told me in a telephone interview. “He’s done a lot of good for the Republican Party in Bernalillo County. But the comments were very unfortunate. I feel like it’s affecting the party. I called him and told him there’s no way he should continue as county chairman.”

Pearce joins U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, state GOP chairman Allen Weh and others who have called for C de Baca to step down.

The controversy started when C de Baca told a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter in an interview last week that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won’t attract Hispanic support. “The truth is that Hispanics came here as conquerors. African Americans came here as slaves. Hispanics consider themselves above blacks. They won’t vote for a black president.”
In a taped interview with the BBC (courtesy KSFR) , C de Baca said older Hispanics won’t support Obama “primarily because there is a strong feeling that African Americans during the civil-rights movement took advantage, full advantage, of all the benefits and programs that the government offered, that were supposed to be offered to all minorities. But we were left behind. We were left sucking air. And we resented that ever since the ’60s, and I don’t see how a black president is going to change that.”

C de Baca has since claimed his comments were taken out of context. He said he was referring to views held by older Hispanics.

Pearce said Wednesday that he met Saturday morning with C de Baca about the controversy. “My understanding then is that he would be stepping down.” Since then, however, the Bernalillo County Republican Party executive board gave C de Baca a vote of confidence.

Republicans aren’t the only ones to offer opinions on C de Baca’s interview. Pearce’s Democratic Senate opponent, Rep. Tom Udall, released a statement Wednesday calling the chairman’s statements “insulting and disgraceful.”

“We boast New Mexico’s long-standing minority-majority status because of our immense pride in our vibrant diversity. Chairman C de Baca’s comments are not only demeaning to the people and pride of New Mexico, they perpetuate and validate racism. These words are unacceptable for any official who represents our great state.”

Although C de Baca probably is the first to bring up the conquistador/slave argument, others have talked about the reluctance of some Hispanics, especially older people, to support Obama. In an interview at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last month, state labor leader Christine Trujillo — an Obama supporter — told me the candidate needs to do more to reach out to Hispanics. She said while younger members of her family enthusiastically favor Obama, older family members are having a difficult time accepting him.

However, recent polls show Obama doing better with Hispanics in New Mexico than John Kerry did in 2004. The North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling did a poll of 1,037 likely voters in New Mexico late last week that showed Obama winning 59 percent of the Hispanic vote compared with John McCain’s 35 percent (margin of error 3 percent). A SurveyUSA poll taken a couple of days before shows Obama winning the Hispanic vote by a margin of 69 percent to 28 percent (671 adults interviewed, margin of error 3.9 percent).

Where the heck is the guv? Gov. Bill Richardson might have the “best job in the world” as governor of New Mexico, but he sure hasn’t been here very much during the political season.
What’s frustrating for reporters is that often we don’t find out about Richardson’s out-of-state trips until we see items in Google News alerts. The governor’s press office has basically stopped releasing weekly public schedules for Richardson. Generally, there is no advance warning of political trips, despite our requests.

The attitude of the office seems to be that it’s nobody’s business when the governor is in the state or not.

Anyway, here’s the latest of Richardson’s treks:

After campaigning for Obama in Colorado this weekend, he appeared Monday in Reading and Bethlehem, Pa. In Bethlehem, he spoke to the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations.

And, speaking of Fernando C de Baca, one Obama volunteer there told Richardson that some Democrats are reluctant to vote for Obama because of his race, according to an article in The Morning Call, an Allentown, Pa., paper. “In conversations with some of these people, it seems undecided is just an excuse for what their real hesitation is for voting for Sen. Obama,” Melba Tolliver told Richardson.

Richardson, according to The Morning Call, said, “Is there going to be a certain percent who is not going to support Obama because of his race? Yes, probably. But you know I think this has become a very tolerant nation.”

The next day, Richardson was in New Hampshire, where in January he saw his own presidential candidacy die when he finished a distant fourth in the Democratic primary. He had speaking engagements in Manchester, Nashua and Laconia, according to news accounts.

At least we know, from an account in, that Richardson is scheduled to be in Mississippi on Friday for the presidential debate.

“My role is going to be what’s called a spinner. I will declare, don’t write this down, John, Obama the victor before the debate starts,” Richardson said. “John” is political reporter John DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester, who was covering the speech.

Richardson was in New Mexico on Wednesday. He had a news conference at Isleta Pueblo to announce the recipients of $2.8 million in capital outlay funding to help restore and improve the health of rivers in the state.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


During his New Mexico visit today, Barack Obama plans to do more than charge up a few thousand folks at a rally in Española. He also will make time to raise a little cash.
A few hours after his speech on Española’s plaza, Obama is scheduled to appear at an Albuquerque fundraiser at the home of Kandace and Paul Blanchard. Paul Blanchard is a racetrack and casino owner and major contributor to Gov. Bill Richardson.

The cost to get into the “general reception” at the Blanchards’ is a mere $2,500 a person. Once they clear out those low-rent folks, the real fun begins with a “host reception,” for which the price tag is $28,500 a person. This event includes a party favor — a photo with the candidate.

I’m not sure why the invitations include the contribution price. I thought the rule was “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Under federal campaign finance laws, individuals can give a maximum of $2,300 to a candidate per election. But the limit is $28,500 for contributions to national party committees.

Republicans have tried to score populism points by drawing attention to Obama’s high-dollar fundraisers. On Tuesday — in response to an expensive Hollywood fundraiser that night headlined by Barbra Streisand — state Republicans invited volunteers to a phone bank party in Albuquerque with entertainment by celebrity impersonators, including a local version of Marilyn Monroe.

Of course, GOP candidate John McCain on Monday attended a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Miami. I don’t know whether anyone sang.

New Mexico gives: Speaking of campaign contributions, New Mexicans have dropped millions on this presidential race.

According to the latest figures available on, the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama has collected $1,408,314 from New Mexicans while McCain has received $593,324. As far as New Mexico bucks go, the Republican also trails Democratic runner-up Hillary Clinton, who raised $599,876.

But all of them trail another Democratic candidate — Gov. Bill Richardson, who ended his candidacy in January. New Mexicans gave the Richardson campaign $6,282,503.

As far as Santa Fe residents go, people in this city have given Richardson $1,624,504; Obama $792,173; Clinton $202,844; and McCain $118,787. All these numbers, according to, are based on Federal Election Commission data released electronically Sept. 2.

Poll-a-rama: Two new polls of New Mexico voters show Obama taking the lead in this battleground state. The results in the new polls were nearly identical.

According to a SurveyUSA/KOB-TV poll released Wednesday evening, Obama leads McCain by 8 percentage points, 52 percent to 44 percent.

That poll, based on automated calls to 671 likely voters from Sunday through Tuesday, showed Obama leading among Hispanic voters 69 percent to 70 percent. Earlier this week, Richardson told Santa Fe Democrats that Obama needs to get 65-70 percent of the Hispanic vote here to win the state’s five electoral votes. The margin of error is 3.9 percent.

Also on Wednesday, the New Hampshire-based American Research Group reported Obama ahead in New Mexico 51 percent to 44 percent. That poll of 600 likely voters was taken during the same period earlier this week. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

Both polls show a gender gap, with men preferring McCain and women preferring Obama.
New Mexico poll numbers have been shifting. Recent polls by Mason-Dixon and Rasmussen showed McCain with a thin lead, though a CNN/Time poll in late August showed Obama up by 13 percentage points here.

Blog Bonus: After I filed this column for the print edition, a new SurveyUSA poll on the New Mexico Senate race came in. It shows Democrat Tom Udall ahead of Republican Steve Pearce 56 percent to 41 percent. That's 15 points, more than twice the spread of the recent Rasmussen poll that showed Pearce trailing by just seven points. And it's pretty close to a poll commissioned by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee , which I was going to ignore because I try to ignore campaign-commissioned polls on both sides,

How did you vote, Tom? As a longtime political junkie with a love-hate attitude toward campaign commercials, I have to say I kind of like Senate candidate Pearce’s recent series of 15-second spots.

First of all, they’re only 15 seconds.

And while they’re definitely attack ads, they’re definitely issue-oriented and not personal. In the ads, Pearce never comes out and says his Democratic opponent Tom Udall is a bad guy and a threat to our way of life. Pearce just says how he voted for or against something, then asks “How did you vote, Tom?” — implying, of course that Udall voted the “wrong” way on whatever the issue is — energy, taxes, “partial-birth” abortion or whatever.

Most of the ads are fairly straightforward — although there are complexities and nuances in most legislation that can’t be fully explained in 15 seconds. But one of the spots truly needs more explanation.

“I’m Steve Pearce and I approve this message to let you know where I stand,” it begins. “Raising taxes on middle-class families to pay for benefits for undocumented workers is just plain wrong. How did you vote Tom?”

Could Udall really have voted in favor of the Raise Taxes on Middle Class Families to Pay for Benefits for Undocumented Workers Act?

Actually, I didn’t remember this piece of legislation, so I consulted the fact sheet on Pearce’s Web site.
The bill, HR 3963, is better known as the State Child Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP.

Not only did Udall vote for it in the House last year, so did 43 House Republicans, including New Mexico’s Rep. Heather Wilson. In the Senate, it was supported by Republican Pete Domenici.

The bill passed Congress but was vetoed by President Bush. Both Udall and Wilson voted to override the veto (Pearce was opposed to the override), but the bill failed.

Colorado bound: Richardson continues his role as an Obama surrogate this weekend. He said during a Wednesday news conference he will campaign in the Colorado towns of Greeley, Alamosa and Pueblo.

WACKY WEDNESDAY: AI Songs to Destroy Art & Civilization

Don't press the arrow on this image. Wait until the "videos...