Inside the Capitol

Friday, April 14, 2006

4-19 New Mexico's Karl Rove?

WED, 4-19-06

MAUI -- You've probably heard of Karl Rove, President George Bush's senior adviser and strategist both as governor of Texas and in the White House.
Rove also has guided Bush's two presidential campaigns. He's the go-to guy whom the president cannot do without. In fact, he's often called "the real president." The rest of the time that title usually is applied to Vice President Dick Cheney, but we'll get to that later.
Now, we learn that Gov. Bill Richardson has his own Karl Rove, who is equally indispensable. Richardson says he and others often refer to Dave Contarino as "the real governor."
Contarino is Richardson's chief of staff, a title typically given to the top staff person for a governor, president or member of Congress. In corporations, the position usually is called a chief executive officer. The city of Albuquerque calls the position chief administrative officer.
At the White House, President Bush's chief of staff, until recently, was Andy Card, who resigned because the job was too demanding. His job was taken over by Josh Bolten, the former budget director. Evidently Contarino handles the chores of both Card and Rove.
In his book, Between Worlds, Richardson says he realized early in his campaign that Contarino has "terrific strategic instincts." He describes many of his various innovations as being conceptualized and executed by Contarino.
Richardson heaped even more praise on Contarino in a recent news release. In it, he says Contarino understands how to get things done better than anyone. He's the governor's chief policy architect, the strategic mind of the administration and his office is the nerve center.
The governor ended his comments by saying Contarino will remain his most senior trusted aide because he can ill afford to lose his talents.
Where is Contarino going? Not far. He will become Richardson's reelection campaign chairman. Now, unless Richardson is caught in bed with Osama bin Laden, his reelection is as assured as most anything on this planet. But he wants to win big because it gives him a bigger mandate and it helps him, umm, well, you know�He doesn't want to talk about that.
But Richardson doesn't want to lose Contarino's talents in the governor's office either, so he has kept him on part-time as his chief of staff for policy and strategy. That probably means that Contarino can skip the day-to-day administrative activities of a chief of staff but still wield the big stick to assure his policy and strategy directives are carried out.
Over at the campaign, he also can skip the day-to-day drudgery of handling the staff, because Amanda Cooper, from Richardson's perennial political committees, will handle that as campaign manager.
So it all will work nicely, except for a huge strategic policy blunder. Contarino will be drawing a part-time paycheck from the government for his service to the public, while also drawing a political paycheck from Richardson's campaign.
That not only sounds bad, it is bad. The federal government doesn't permit such a thing. It's the Hatch Act, named after Carl Hatch, a New Mexico senator many decades ago. There has to be a way to strategize that one better. With the huge war chest Richardson is raising, why can't he pay Contarino a full salary from campaign funds, as he did four years ago, and let him do some volunteer work for the state on the side?
There has to be a way to get around this. Karl Rove did. Richardson says it is common in other states. But it doesn't sound like common sense for New Mexico.
And there's another problem with this strategy. Does Gov. Richardson's effusive praise of his indispensable adviser make him vulnerable to the kind of jokes usually told about President Bush and his play-callers, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney? Maybe Richardson has such an image of being his own man that he doesn't need fear looking like someone's puppet.
But it certainly invites comparisons.



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