Inside the Capitol

Saturday, March 18, 2006

3-27 Postal Woes

MON, 3-27-06

SANTA FE -- Maybe the appointment of Albuquerque lawyer Mickey Barnett as a governor of the U.S. Postal Service will help ease the postal disservice New Mexicans have been receiving the past many months.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate Barnett will be one of 11 governors of the USPS. The board generally meets once a month. The positions are comparable to a director of a private corporation and pay $30,000 a year plus $300 for each meeting. Terms are for nine years.
New Mexicans have had their share of postal woes recently. Beginning several weeks before Christmas, mail slowed to a trickle, with bills, checks and other important items arriving a month late or not at all.
It is understandable that the holiday rush can slow down mail, but this went much farther. Postal officials denied problems and said they were hearing no complaints. That was caused mainly by the fact the officials weren�t answering their phones and weren't returning calls.
Lower level postal employees have been quite willing to reveal that the problem is that 80,000 positions have been cut nationally and those left just can't keep up. The head of the New Mexico operation has responded by saying he will fire any employee who talks to the press.
So our congressional delegation has been doing the talking. Sens. Pete Domenici, and Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall have been conducting many meetings with officials both in New Mexico and Washington. Little has come of those meetings other that promises to look into complaints and study the situation.
At one point our representatives were told that more employees would be hired, but at last report that hadn't happened. The offices in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces installed hotlines to field complaints, but those were automated systems, allowing people with problems to talk only with a machine, requests have not been answered, and postal officials still are saying there have been few complaints.
To top off New Mexicans' frustration, the Postal Service reported that the two top state postal officials have received promotions to other states. Various other reports have said the promotions actually were just transfers, requested for personal reasons. The true nature of the departures still hasn't been clarified.
Service has improved somewhat but not much. A large backlog of Santa Fe mail was eliminated one three-day weekend, when deliveries came at odd hours throughout Sunday and a holiday, ostensibly because an inspection was scheduled the following day. But later that was denied by postal officials.
Barnett may be our biggest hope for statewide improvement if he is confirmed. Usually there isn't much of a problem with confirmations at such a low level, but Barnett's case could be an exception.
The former GOP national committeemen created some bitter enemies within his own party when he recruited candidates to run against incumbent Republican lawmakers who didn't always toe the straight GOP line. According to blogger Joe Monahan, some of those disenchanted former legislators have requested to appear before the Senate committee considering Barnett's nomination.
Barnett's biggest coup came when he and former state GOP Chairman John Dendahl ousted state party chairman Ramsay Gorham, who had defeated Dendahl a year earlier. State GOP central committee members then returned the favor by ousting Barnett from his national committeeman post.
Barnett has also found other ways to irritate his fellow Republicans. During former Gov. Gary Johnson's administration, Barnett supported Johnson's efforts to legalize drugs. More recently, he has represented payday loan companies in their effort to successfully oppose legislation to prevent triple-digit interest rates.
And now, Barnett has become the personal lawyer for Butch Maki, a powerful, behind-the-scenes Democrat and longtime close friend of Gov. Bill Richardson.
But even if Barnett is controversial, he's also effective. And he knows New Mexico well, having served at one time as a state senator from Portales.



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