Inside the Capitol

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Eddie Lopez Bust

      SANTA FE – An impressive bust of former Sen. Eddie Lopez was dedicated recently at the State Land Office Building.

    The building was named after Sen. Lopez, a former land office employee, several years ago following the senator’s death in 1996. The artist was famed sculptor Sonny Rivera of Albuquerque, who has created several noted public statues in the state.

    Lopez was one of the quietest lawmakers around but he had a great influence on the legislative process. Admittedly, his good friend Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon received much more publicity for the actions of our state Senate. But it was the calm Sen. Lopez, as majority floor leader, who handled the strategy and maneuvering that made the Senate work even when Aragon’s emotionalism threatened to bring it to a halt.

    As majority floor leader of the Senate, Lopez controlled the flow of business. He decided the committees to which bills would be referred and managed the order of debate. And he did it all without ever raising his voice or uttering a self-serving phrase.

    Ever since the beginning of his second term in the House, in 1971, when the liberal-Democrat Mama Lucy Gang gained control, Lopez was known as a master strategist. He was exceeded in tactical skills only by Albuquerque’s Gene Cinelli, who died of a heart attack in the mid-1970s.

    Another member of the Mama Lucy Gang was young Raymond Sanchez who was first elected in 1970. Sanchez and Lopez remained close even after Lopez moved over to the Senate following the death of Santa Fe Sen. Alex Martinez.

    Lopez also was the legislature’s foremost expert on revenue and budgeting. He had a head for numbers and was willing to do his homework. His quiet competence inspired confidence even from opponents of an issue. He was a straight shooter, who wasted no words. He was able to cut through complex issues and find mutually agreeable solutions even when dealing with former Gov. Gary Johnson, with whom even Republican leaders had trouble communicating.

    The majority floor leader post was the only leadership position Lopez ever held. He never sought visibility. He was content to maneuver behind the scenes to make things work for his side. Once people sought his counsel, they left feeling Lopez had the situation firmly in hand.

    What Lopez didn’t have in hand was his personal life. After three drunken driving arrests in the late 1970s, Lopez was defeated in his bid for a sixth House term. The following year, he was out of a job with a uranium firm – the best job he ever had. A couple of years later, he lost his home.

    Following that, Lopez consulted for a number of firms, using his considerable skills to work them through problems. But he never prospered and he never owned a home again.

    Not owning a home was ironic, considering his proudest legislative achievement was the 1975 legislation that created the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, which has provided home financing for more than 40,000 low- and middle-income families over the years.

    Lopez wouldn’t have appreciated this column. He had trouble with compliments and was bothered by media attention to his personal life. He preferred straight reporting of his accomplishments – no more, no less.

    One measure of Lopez’s effectiveness was that despite his personal problems and despite never promoting himself, when he ran for office scores of friends turned out to work for him.

    Lopez died of an apparent heart attack. During the year preceding his death, four other lawmakers suffered heart attacks or strokes. It likely had nothing to do with that being the first year of Gov. Gary Johnson’s administration, although Johnson was known to cause heartburn for a number of lawmakers.

    Lopez would be proud of his son, Ed Lopez, Jr., who after a successful

Friday, June 04, 2004

D-Day at 60

SANTA FE - June 6 marks the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. This observance is special for at least two reasons. It is the last decennial commemoration at which significant numbers of veterans of that invasion will be present.
And it is special because it is the first time a German chancellor will join the leaders of the wartime Allies for D-Day commemorations in France. President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair of England, President Jacques Chirac of France and leaders of other Allied nations will be joined this year by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany in a ceremony that will lean heavily toward reconciliation.
It is a sign that Europe is moving on and that Germany is being treated as a normal nation again. For 60 years, bad feelings have flared often. It has been hard for many to put aside the atrocities of Hitler's war machine. Ten years ago, Chancellor Helmut Kohl took offense at the Allied power's refusal to invite him to the 50th anniversary of D-Day even though he had strongly promoted French-German reconciliation.
For all these years, the fact that Germany started the war made it difficult to mourn German war dead or seek justice for ethnic Germans kicked out of eastern Europe at the end of the war. And of course, Germans could hardly decry the destruction of their cities by Allied bombing without being reminded that the bombing of cities was begun by Hitler.
While traveling through Germany last November, I was struck by how sensitive Germans felt about any display of patriotism for fear they would appear to their neighbors and to Americans as militaristic. They also wanted to explain that although the rest of the world still can't understand how a civilized people could let their leaders do the things they did, it seemed a logical progression of events at the time.
First Germans were led to fear the communists, then the Jews, gypsies and gays. When these people were rounded up and sent to Nazi prison camps, Germans were told it was because they were criminals and security risks. It was something the United States did during the war when we sent residents of German, Japanese and Italian descent to camps for the duration of the war.
Of course, we didn't kill six million of them. The Germans I spoke with said they didn't ask what was going on in the camps because the country was at war and it was a matter of national security.
By the time Armistice Day arrived on Nov. 11, we were in Belgium and enjoying the parades, speeches and decorations. American flags were everywhere and the famous Mannekin Pis statue in Brussels was outfitted in an American Legion uniform. I asked our German guide what was going on in Germany that day and was told it was just another day.
The lessons of the World Wars have created a deep streak of pacifism among most Germans, just as it has among the Japanese. It has made Germany one of the most outspoken opponents of the war in Iraq. Schroeder says Germans understand that dictators need to be dealt with, but they also know what bombing, destruction and the loss of one's home mean for people. He says Germany owes it to history to stress the alternatives to war.
With Memorial Day, Flag Day and the 4th of July occurring within a five week period, D-Day doesn't get much of an observance, except on TV specials. But it is an important day, marking the beginning of the end of World War II. It doesn't get much recognition in England either.
Two years ago, we returned from a cruise to Dover on June 6. The bus driver told us that on a clear day we might be able to see Normandy, but I had to remind him what was going on that day 58 years earlier.
Gen. Eisenhower knew what a huge gamble the invasion was. The tides had to be just right and the weather wasn't cooperating. The night before the invasion he wrote a press release announcing the calamity and taking full responsibility for the disaster. Fortunately he didn't have to issue that grim apology. But it was nice to know we had a leader with the strength of character to shoulder responsibility rather than explain that mistakes were made.

Dancing the Samba with e-Gov

SANTA FE- recent column sought answers to why the e-government bill died in the recent Legislature. It was a promising piece of legislation that appeared to be good for the state and good for those of us who use its services.
The bill would have tied all state computerization together on one Web site, allowing those of us who use government services to one-stop shop. Many other states are doing this, but New Mexico is struggling with each state agency handling its own information and making its own interpretations of laws for providing that information to the public.
During the 2004 Legislature, a measure to provide the governing framework for this portal to state information was defeated by an unusual coalition of interests that employed an amazing variety of tactics to accomplish its goal.
Why were these interests fighting with such determination to stop the establishment of an e-government structure? Let's look at the players.
Samba Holdings of Albuquerque was represented by lobbyist John Chavez who is director of government services for the company. Chavez is a former secretary of the state Taxation and Revenue Department and also lobbies for the New Mexico Press Association. Chavez headed the effort because Samba had the most to use.
On September 8, 1998, less than two months before the election in which Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez challenged Gov. Gary Johnson's bid for a second term, John Chavez's department signed an agreement with Samba to provide the Motor Vehicle Division's database to the firm for $36,000 a year. That sweet deal evidently continues to this day, although it may be about to end.
Previously, the state had been selling the information for upwards of $700,000 a year. The state now proposes to sell that information for the current market price of several million dollars a year. In December, 2000, Chavez resigned from Gov. Johnson's cabinet and went to work for Samba the following month.
During the 2004 Legislature, ChoicePoint, one of the large, out-of-state companies that buys New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division records from Samba, was represented by lobbyist Mickey Barnett, who also is New Mexico's Republican national committeeman. Although it is unlikely, under the state's e-government plan, that ChoicePoint would have to pay more to the state than it already is paying Samba, Barnett is reported by some Republican House members to have threatened them with primary election opposition this year if they supported the e-government bill. .
Part of Samba's agreement with the state calls for it to implement and maintain an automatic audit trail identifying who got what information and to deliver a copy of the audits on a quarterly basis to the Motor Vehicle Division. Reportedly, Samba has not provided this information.
The data Samba receives on motor vehicle owners is highly sensitive. Information containing an individual's name and birth date can be used by unscrupulous companies to obtain any additional data they desire. For that reason, the state has to be very careful about who receives its data. Federal law imposes large penalties on states that are not watchful guardians of this kind of data. Without an audit trail, the state has little control over Samba or the MVD records Samba sells at whatever price it can demand.
Other opponents of the e-government bill included the New Mexico Press Association and the Foundation for Open Government. Their interest was in freedom of information. That is completely understandable and bill sponsors amended the e-government bill to meet those organizations' concerns. State information was made free to individuals and organizations, except when an entire database was requested.
But the NMPA and FOG continued to oppose the bill on the basis that no one should have to state a reason for requesting information. Normally, it would have been expected that the press, throughout New Mexico, would have been up in arms about Chavez's sweetheart deal with Samba, which later became his employer.
What's up?

How to Make the Best of Billy

SANTA FE - Here's my contribution to a positive resolution of current Billy the Kid controversy.
This column has said there are better ways that digging up bodies to prove whether Pat Garrett shot Billy or let him get away. There also are better ways to prove whether any of Billy's pretenders were the real thing. And there are better ways to improve sagging tourism in Billy the Kid Country.
The three sheriffs now are saying what they really want is to determine what happened in the Lincoln County Courthouse the day Billy escaped and left two deputies dead. Did he have an accomplice who left him a gun in the outhouse, with which to shoot the first deputy?
I'll admit to not having a ready answer for that. Billy already had been sentenced to death for killing Sheriff Brady so there wasn't much investigation done at the time. If the sheriffs would confine their investigation to that matter, and forget about digging up graves, everyone might be happy and the sheriffs might contribute something to the Billy legend.
Here's my proposal for other activities.
1. Compare Billy's handwriting and photograph with those of his pretenders. Tim Evans, who produced "Billy the Kid Unmasked" for the Discovery Channel recently, has had a photographic analysis done already. It is possible he would get a handwriting analysis done too, since he has told me he would like to do a second program.
2. Hold the four hearings around Billy the Kid Country that Gov. Richardson enthused about when he announced his support for the sheriff's project. Several Billy the Kid scholars have told me they are willing to help.
The scholars, the sheriffs and others, as appropriate, could serve as expert witnesses. In order to make the hearings interesting to a public conditioned to fast-moving TV specials, maybe the scripts could be written using Gov. Richardson's contacts in the film industry, assisted by students in the screen writing classes that will be funded by the $10 million appropriation requested by the governor and approved by the 2004 Legislature for beefing up the New Mexico film industry's infrastructure.
The governor also could use his contacts to promote the hearings as media events. Billy the Kid is better known around the world than O.J. Simpson was before his trial. Such extravaganzas aren't unknown to New Mexico. The trial of the accused killers of Albert Jennings Fountain, who defended Billy at his murder trial, drew hordes of reporters from all over the planet – and that was over a century ago, in Hillsboro, NM.
3. Some of that $10 million the Legislature appropriated for New Mexico's film effort could be used as a prize for the best film script on the life and death of Billy. And the state's kitty for producing movies in and about New Mexico would be quite an enticement for getting the movie shot here in the actual locations.
4. The History Channel and the Discovery Channel already have featured Billy's legend this year. With increasing interest in the current Billy controversy, network television may be ready for it.
5. Ask Gov. Richardson to find money for a major writing competition with prizes for the best new fiction and non-fiction books on Billy. The non-fiction category would be especially good for encouraging new research into the legend.
6. The state Tourism Department could develop a Billy the Kid Circle Tour of the state, featuring not only the communities that already promote their relation to Billy, but some like Silver City, Roswell, Las Vegas and Santa Fe that haven't featured him in the past.
7. And the capstone of it all would be a grand 125th Anniversary Commemoration of Billy's final months of life, featuring those communities in which the action was taking place at the time. July 2006 is the anniversary of Billy's death. Events could start many months earlier. And the grand finale would include awarding of the prizes for best research, best novel and best movie.
There's my ideas. I'd love to hear yours.

He May Be Dead But....

The three sheriffs are still intent on digging up Billy the Kid and his mother despite the fact that it makes no sense. They continue their criminal investigation to determine whether then-sheriff Pat Garrett shot Billy or someone else.
More than ample historical evidence exists, including the report of a coroner's jury, to prove that Garrett shot the Kid. Photographic evidence has determined that Billy's two main pretenders didn't look anything like him. Handwriting analysis very likely would demonstrate the same.
But the sheriffs want to use the magic of DNA to prove their case despite the fact that DNA testing loses its magic after 120 years, according to the state Office of the Medical Investigator. Further complicating the matter is the lack of certainty about exactly where the bodies are buried and the fact that local authorities do not want them disturbed.
The sheriffs also indicated that they felt their investigation would promote tourism in their counties. There was talk of hearings to be conducted throughout Billy the Kid country that would cast further light on the legend and attract national and international attention.
This column supported that notion for several months until it became evident that digging up bodies was the all-consuming intent of the venture. Instead of informal hearings to offer historical evidence, the sheriffs went to court in Silver City and Fort Sumner to force unwilling communities to let them dig.
Considering the overwhelming evidence against a DNA match, the possibility of solving a crime is very low and the likelihood that it will destroy a legend for the communities is high. State Tourism Department statistics show that although tourism in Southern New Mexico was up last year, tourism in Billy the Kid country was down.
In a column last month, we promised to look into why the sheriffs are so intent on digging and to check out their assurances that no taxpayer money is being spent on this adventure. Here's what we've found so far.
On May 13, I filed requests for financial and other information concerning the official activities of Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan; Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall, who represents himself as a deputy sheriff of Lincoln County; and DeBaca County Sheriff Gary Graves in relation to the Billy the Kid case.
As of May 24, I have received no response from Mr. Sederwall, who is also running for county commissioner on June 1. And the responses I received with regard to Sullivan and Graves were inadequate and disturbing.
Attorney General Patricia Madrid states that "the public's access to government actions is a crucial aspect of a functioning democracy." The law requires public access to virtually all public records. Anytime any public entity enters into any formal or informal agreement, it takes on a responsibility to the public for a financial accounting of its acts and financial accounts.
These records must stand the light of day. This includes the responsibility to inform the public of any funding, public or private, in order to protect each taxpayer's right to judge potential conflicts of interest or other areas of concern.
New Mexico law imposes a record keeping responsibility for any public entity with regard to payroll, vouchers, expenditures, use of vehicles or services, and income so that undue influence or misuse of public or private funds in public endeavors can be judged. Obtaining any of these records for review and audit is the right of any citizen.
A major concern with this case is that it has been made a law enforcement matter in both Lincoln and DeBaca counties, since Sullivan, Sederwall and Graves are conducting it as a criminal investigation of a 122-year-old murder. According to Lincoln County Commissioner Leo Martinez, families of much more recent murder victims feel strongly that the sheriffs should be spending their time on those cases.
I want to be fair, but I'm concerned about the lack of response by Sederwall and the nature of the responses from Sullivan and Graves. I will give them another opportunity to make their records available to the public and hope they will do a better job of clarifying their involvement in this case.