Inside the Capitol

Thursday, July 27, 2006

8-2 Manny Needs a job

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- What's next for Manny Aragon, the recently deposed president of New Mexico Highlands University?
No doubt about it. He's sure to land somewhere in the public eye. Will it be as a lawyer, lobbyist, administrator, consultant, professor, legislator or something we'd never guess?
At 59, Aragon still is full of energy, ideas and attitude. Who will want him? Friends say he can take his pick of offers. But along with Manny's many talents comes a sure fire ability to generate controversy.
Aragon could reopen his law practice. But he already had closed that several years before he assumed the Highlands presidency. Apparently there wasn't enough to excite him.
Many former legislators become lobbyists. No one has a better background and persuasive abilities than Aragon. But can he make the switch from a powerful lawmaker to a lobbyist who must be sensitive to the whims of legislative powerhouses such as he was?
Might he be selected to administer a government, non-profit or even private sector program. Many former politicians end up in such jobs but Aragon's difficulty working with bosses in his last job make that option seem less likely. A position with the state seems out of the question because Gov. Bill Richardson knows that would become a campaign issue.
Could he be a consultant? He certainly has the analytical ability to think through problems and communicate his advice. He could combine that with a law practice and lobbying.
Former Gov. Garrey Carruthers says Aragon would make a great teacher. In an Albuquerque Journal story, Carruthers says Manny would be "dynamite in the classroom." Carruthers envisions him at the graduate school level where students could challenge him in what he expects would be fiery debates.
Carruthers knows whereof he speaks. He is a former agricultural economics professor at New Mexico State University and now is dean of business administration and economics at NMSU. Last year, he enticed Gov. Bill Richardson to help him teach a course, which proved to be extremely popular.
Any course Aragon would teach could be expected to be equally well-liked. But Aragon would have to stick to a visiting lecturer type of status. He'd be too controversial to survive university politics.
My guess is Aragon will go back to his first love -- politics. A seat on the Albuquerque City Council or Bernalillo County Commission is a possibility. He'd love the Public Regulation Commission, with its high salary, but the seat that includes the Albuquerque South Valley extends up into northwest New Mexico where people from Indian Country have the best shot. And statewide office would be out of the question.
Aragon's most likely spot is right where he left off. It is very possible that he could win his old Senate seat back again. Some pundits predict he won't do that because he would have to run against a fellow Democrat.
Those are people with short memories. Aragon initially won his president pro tem position by challenging incumbent Democrat pro tem Ike Smalley, of Deming, in 1988.
In 2002, after being beaten by a fellow Democrat for his pro tem post, Aragon took on another Democrat, Senate Floor Leader Tim Jennings, of Roswell, and beat him.
Aragon has not had a problem in the past with challenging Democrats and shouldn't be expected to shy away from taking on incumbent James Taylor, who holds Aragon's former seat. The next opportunity will be in 2008.
Meanwhile, Aragon can investigate other opportunities. With $200,000 in his pocket, he won't be destitute. But he won't be rich either.
Had he been able to last five years at Highlands, he could have retired with close to $30,000 a year, but now all he will have is the minimal retirement lawmakers voted themselves, and the court surprisingly approved, several years ago.
But one thing is sure. Aragon will land on his feet.
WED, 8-02-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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