Inside the Capitol

Friday, December 29, 2006

1-03 Goodbyes to Dee Johnson and Gerald Ford

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The holiday season often is a bad time for deaths. This year, a past president, a former first lady and the godfather of soul all left us within a few days.
I'll leave it to those in the music business to memorialize James Brown but I do have comments about the deaths in the world of politics.
Former First Lady Dee Johnson's death hit me like a ton of bricks. We weren't close. I seldom am with first ladies because of things I say about their husbands.
But Dee Johnson was one of the last people I would expect to die of unknown natural causes at age 54. She was such a vibrant, robust person, who could wield a hammer or welding tools with the best of them.
I don't know if it is true or not, but a favorite story around the capitol was that she knew the construction business better than her then-husband, Gov. Gary Johnson, and was the main reason they became millionaires.
I'm not a skier, but I'm told that she was as much a daredevil on the slopes as he is. She took up metal sculpting as first lady and produced some classy pieces that graced the mansion grounds until their departure.
Dee also saved the state some money. She supervised the remodeling projects that went on during her eight years in the governor's residence. They were done her way and she knew how to get good quality at cut rates. She also put those skills to work at Habitat for Humanity.
That was only one of Mrs. Johnson's many charitable activities. She cared especially deeply about children's and women's issues. Her most public effort came when she decided to ban smoking from the Capitol Building.
It was a tall order because an inordinate number of lawmakers seemed to smoke. The stress of the legislative process may have been part of the reason.
On her first try, she got only the public banned from smoking. Legislators exempted themselves in their offices and in the House and Senate chambers. Dee didn't give up. On the second try, she got smoking in the Capitol Building banned completely.
An autopsy revealed nothing unusual. A toxicology screening will take four months. Maybe one last service Dee Johnson can perform for the state is to bring an awareness of the underfunding of the state crime lab that causes such an unreasonable delay.
Former President Gerald Ford had connections to New Mexico. He was responsible for breaking our 64-year record of having voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since statehood.
In 1976 he beat Jimmy Carter by a quarter of one percent among New Mexicans. Carter won the election nationally by about the same margin. The 2000 results between George Bush and Al Gore were similar but even closer.
That means New Mexico can boast that even when it misses picking the presidential winner, we come within a half a percent of the national result. It still makes us the best bellwether state in the nation.
The Fords have an even closer tie to New Mexico than election results. Their daughter Susan Bales has lived in Corrales since 1997. She is a photojournalist, author and public speaker.
Bales has been on the board of trustees of the Bosque School in Albuquerque's North Valley since 1998 and has secured a significant amount of family money to support the private preparatory school, including a $1.25 million grant to complete the Gerald and Betty Ford Library. Ford spoke at the library dedication in 2001.
Susan Ford Bales also is chairman of the Betty Ford Center, a member of the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library Foundation and is active in the National Breast Cancer Awareness program.
She married attorney Vaden Bales in 1989. They have five children from previous marriages.
WED, 1-03-07

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


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

1-1 New Year's Predictions

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Happy 2007. Many signs point toward it being a good year. Herewith are some of those signs.
There will be no congressional elections this year and no campaign ads to offend your ears and your sensibilities.
El Nino will bring us plenty of snow, filling our lakes and reservoirs. Most communities will ration water anyway.
Our biggest snow will be on January 16, opening day of the Legislature. Gov. Bill Richardson will be confined to New Mexico all day.
Gasoline prices in Santa Fe will drop on opening day of the session, preventing lawmakers from asking why prices are so much higher than back home.
Significant ethics reform legislation will be introduced amid much fanfare -- and forgotten during the next 59 days.
Despite predictions to the contrary, a comet will not devastate the Earth in February -- or March.
Santa Fe gasoline prices will return to normal on March 17 -- not because it is St. Patrick's Day.
The Legislature will spend close to a billion dollars on pork projects.
Due to prior commitments, Gov. Richardson will not call a special session of the Legislature.
A state government scandal involving top Democrats will be exposed by a Republican U.S. attorney.
In a broadly contested race, Dr. J.R. Damron will be elected chairman of the state Republican Party.
Someone will discover a Nostradamus prophesy that World War III will begin in 2007.
Bill Richardson will embark on a worldwide tour to bring Peace on Earth.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will begin to fade in popularity among Democrats before the end of the year.
A slimmed-down New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will return from his world tour and emerge as the Democrats' presidential frontrunner.
It will become evident that Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani will not be able to win the Republican presidential nomination.
John Dendahl will suddenly appear from nowhere to become the GOP presidential favorite.
Democrats will declare that New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici was secretly behind the Dendahl conspiracy.
Bill Richardson will predict that he will carry every state but Rhode Island in 2008.
Former 1st Congressional District candidate Patricia Madrid will not have another Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away" moment.
Manny Aragon will turn up in the news somewhere.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico will change its name to Virgin Galactica, New Mexico. Sir Richard Branson will attend the town's annual fiestas.
New Mexico's $420,000 world-class Peace Conference will not be entirely peaceful.
Billy the Kid's grave will not be located in Texas -- or Arizona.
New Mexico will not be awarded a National Football League franchise.
U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson will not enroll in charm school.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will return to retirement in New Mexico.
The state of New Mexico will begin preparation of its entry in the 2008 Rose Parade with a float depicting President Bill Richardson sitting in the Oval Office.
MON, 1-01-07

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


12-29 2006 Review

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico's 2006 started with a bang. Unfortunately the bang was thunderstorms over Pasadena, CA, where Gov. Bill Richardson and 50-some New Mexicans gathered on Jan. 1 to enter the state's first-ever float in the Rose Parade.
It was a soggy experience, but the guv deemed it good for New Mexico and said we'd return, not in 2007, because he had an inaugural ball to plan for that night. But in 2008, he'll still be running for something.
Back home, the state GOP could find only one, untested candidate to take on Gov. Richardson, who convened the Legislature, oozing charm and diplomacy. But all eyes were on the stars Virgin Galactic brought in to convince lawmakers New Mexico needs a spaceport.
By February, matters became worse for the state GOP. No one could be found to run for lieutenant governor. With only days before the deadline, Sen. Pete Domenici found a mid-term state senator with nothing to lose. And thus the dream team of Dr. Who? and Sen. What? was born.
The Legislature didn't give Gov. Richardson as much as he wanted this year, but he was nicer about it than usual. Governors who want to be president can't be seen fighting at home.
By March, Republicans had a full slate of statewide candidates. One race even had competition. And for good measure, Sen. Domenici announced his candidacy -- for 2008.
In April, Democrats were becoming very embarrassed by the trial of state Treasurer Robert Vigil. They had planned to run against the GOP's culture of corruption, which was working well nationally, but things were coming apart in New Mexico.
Not only did Democrats have to worry about Vigil, but former Treasurer Michael Montoya confessed and an ugly scenario involving construction of two Albuquerque courthouses was beginning to unfold.
In May, the first Vigil trial opened, amid charges the governor and Attorney General Patricia Madrid hadn't done enough to nab the treasurer earlier. But Republicans were having their own problems with Dr. Who? lost somewhere in a cloud of dust from Richardson's first $10 million of fundraising. A few wags began suggesting mercy killings for the two physicians Republicans put up for governor and U.S. senator.
In June, it happened. Reportedly at the hand of Sen. Pete Domenici. Dr. J.R. Damron quietly disappeared from the scene, replaced by known rabble-rouser John Dendahl as the GOP gubernatorial standard bearer.
Dendahl's campaign also disappeared into the summer doldrums. But Rep. Heather Wilson, who sensed her first real challenge from Democrat Patricia Madrid, cranked up her TV ads a full two months early. Wilson charged ahead. Her only competition in the news came from New Mexico Highlands President Manny Aragon, who was in trouble again.
August was full of political celebrities descending on the swing state of New Mexico, their light dimmed only by the demotion of our favorite planet Pluto to the minor leagues.
September saw our governor strengthen his international credentials with a mission to Sudan to rescue hostages, one of them from Columbus, NM.
By October, Gov. Richardson, at $14 million and counting, was so confident of reelection, he predicted he would win every county but Catron. Other pollsters were showing Patricia Madrid pulling ahead of Rep. Heather Wilson. Some were busily writing Wilson's political obituary.
November brought the nation's big Democratic landslide, along with huge victories for Gov. Richardson and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman. Rep. Wilson kept her seat by an eyelash, but had to settle for becoming a member of the minority party in Congress, along with her two other New Mexico Republican colleagues.
To end the year, southern New Mexicans learned they will have to become accustomed to a new area code. And we wonder whether Donald Rumsfeld will again become our northern New Mexico neighbor.
A happy new year to everyone
FRI, 12-29-06

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


12-27 Will GOP Still Go To Iglesias?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Has the state GOP lost one of its rising stars? That could be part of the fallout from the announcement that U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has been asked by the federal Department of Justice to resign his post.
Such an action by the Justice Department is somewhat unusual, but New Mexico's U.S. attorney has had to wrestle with some unusual situations.
Early in his tenure, which began soon after the election of President George W. Bush in 2000, Iglesias had to prosecute a case involving David Hudak, who was accused of weapons and explosives violations at his counterterrorism training center near Roswell.
Hudak subsequently was acquitted of all charges. During the prosecution, it became increasingly evident that the FBI had significantly overreached in its effort to get tough on terrorism and that Iglesias had been given a nearly impossible case to bring.
In 2004, Iglesias formed a task force to investigate voter fraud, which the state GOP had been insisting is rampant in New Mexico. Iglesias got no indictments out of that. Either Iglesias botched the investigation or Republicans were wrong about the "open-and-shut" case.
Then came the corruption trial of former state Treasurer Robert Vigil. The first trial ended in a hung jury. The second trial resulted in conviction on only one of 24 counts.
Then the FBI took Iglesias a case involving corruption by high-ranking state officials in the construction of state and federal courthouses in Albuquerque. Indictments have been expected for some time in that case, but there still are none in sight.
Iglesias says his office has been overwhelmed with immigration and narcotics cases because of the state's southern border with Mexico. It's a matter of priorities and immigration has gotten tied in with terrorism, which now is the government's top priority.
The Justice Department isn't commenting on why it is ousting Iglesias. It may be any or all of the above. But who decided those reasons reached the level of unsatisfactory work performance? Was it the FBI, which is the chief investigative arm of the Justice Department?
Or were the dissatisfactions more political in nature? Had Iglesias been able to nail the state treasurer to the wall and had he secured indictments against state officials in the courthouse scandal, Rep. Heather Wilson might not received the scare of her life in holding on to her congressional seat.
That near miss for Wilson may have hurt her political future. Wilson has long been thought to be Sen. Pete Domenici's handpicked successor. Is Pete disappointed in Iglesias too?
Might this have changed his plans about whether he will run for another six-year term in 2008? Domenici has said he plans to run again, but might he have been considering stepping aside at the last minute if Wilson looked well positioned to succeed him?
And what about the future of Iglesias? He ran an excellent race against Patricia Madrid for attorney general in 1998. Following his narrow loss, Republican leaders knew they had a hot commodity on their hands.
The son of a preacher and a missionary, Iglesias had a spotless resume. He had been a judge advocate general in the Navy, who had handled cases sufficiently high-profile that his character appeared in the movie "A Few Good Men."
But what will this setback do to his political health? Can his reputation be rehabilitated? New Mexicans don't have long memories. And we're a forgiving bunch.
But Jim Baca was asked to leave his post as head of the federal Bureau of Land Management during the Clinton administration and has lost two statewide elections since. Prior to that dismissal, Baca had twice won election as state land commissioner.
Since the GOP seldom wins the minor statewide offices, it doesn't have many candidates waiting in the wings to run for higher office. GOP leaders likely will want to help salvage Iglesias' political career any way they can.
WED, 12-27-06

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

I beg your forgiveness. I wrote this before Christmas and neglected to send it. More on the way today.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

12-25 resend

Syndicated Columnist

Twas the night before Christmas at the governor's mansion
When Bill began fretting about losing traction.

"I'm stuck at just two percent in the polls.
That's not going to get me on many talk shows.

"I've traveled to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada
But couldn't win any of those states if I hadda.

"I've rescued hostages and negotiated for peace
And I've given New Mexicans a nice tax decrease.

"I've met with North Koreans about junking their nukes,
When no one else could talk with those kooks.

"I'll go to Sudan to bring peace in Darfur,
But what good that'll do me, I'm really not sure.

"Americans don't notice when I do such good deeds.
They seem unaware that I also have needs.

"What more can I do to attract their attention?
I keep trying so hard but scarcely get mentioned."

Bill finally lay down to sleep in his bed,
As visions of a White House danced in his head.

Then out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
He sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.

And there on the crest of the new fallen snow
Was Santa's big sleigh, all ready to go.

"I heard you fretting," said Santa. "Don't be so glum.
You can borrow my sleigh. I've made my last run.

"You know how it travels. Much faster than your jet.
You can fly o'er the country, to everywhere you haven't been, yet.

"You can talk to everyone, all over the nation
And won't have to ask loan sharks to make a donation.

"It's not all that bad, said the jolly old man.
My sleigh will take you wherever it can.

"I hear you hold records for the most handshaking.
Now you can set new ones. They're yours for the taking.

"You'll be the first president to go door to door.
You won't have to do chimneys, which I know are a chore.

"For a man of your size, who's as big as me.
You can fit in my sleigh, as you easily can see.

"Just drop me off as you pass the North Pole.
You'll know where that is by the ozone hole."

So Bill took the reins, to his team gave a whistle
And away they both flew like a Virgin Galactic missile.

But we heard Bill exclaim as they flew out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all. Now I'm doing all right."
MON, 12-25-06

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

Tauna Gallagher suggests it might be a good idea for me to use quotes when people are speaking. What a novel idea. Since I'm not a fiction writer, despite what some politicos might say, it hadn't occurred to me to put quotes around conversation I make up.
Anyway, here is the 12-25 column with quotes in case you prefer it.
Merry Christmas,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

12-25 Bill's Gift From Santa

Syndicated Columnist

Twas the night before Christmas at the governor's mansion
When Bill began fretting about losing traction.

I'm stuck at just two percent in the polls.
That's not going to get me on many talk shows.

I've traveled to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada
But couldn't win any of those states if I hadda.

I've rescued hostages and negotiated for peace
And I've given New Mexicans a nice tax decrease.

I've met with North Koreans about junking their nukes,
When no one else could talk with those kooks.

I'll go to Sudan to bring peace in Darfur,
But what good that'll do me, I'm really not sure.

Americans don't notice when I do such good deeds.
They seem unaware that I also have needs.

What more can I do to attract their attention?
I keep trying so hard but scarcely get mentioned.

Bill finally lay down to sleep in his bed,
As visions of a White House danced in his head.

Then out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
He sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.

And there on the crest of the new fallen snow
Was Santa's big sleigh, all ready to go.

I heard you fretting, said Santa. Don't be so glum.
You can borrow my sleigh. I've made my last run.

You know how it travels. Much faster than your jet.
You can fly o'er the country, to everywhere you haven't been, yet.

You can talk to everyone, all over the nation
And won't have to ask loan sharks to make a donation.

It's not all that bad, said the jolly old man.
My sleigh will take you wherever it can.

I hear you hold records for the most handshaking.
Now you can set new ones. They're yours for the taking.

You'll be the first president to go door to door.
You won't have to do chimneys, which I know are a chore.

For a man of your size, who's as big as me.
You can fit in my sleigh, as you can easily see.

Just drop me off as you pass the North Pole.
You'll know where that is by the ozone hole.

So Bill took the reins, to his team gave a whistle
And away they both flew like a Virgin Galactic missile.

But we heard Bill exclaim as they flew out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all. Now I'm doing all right.
MON, 12-25-06

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


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

12-22 House Dems A Happy Family

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- We Are Fam-i-ly. That was the message of House Democrats as they emerged from the caucus that shut down Rep. Kenny Martinez's bid to unseat House Speaker Ben Lujan.
There were no reports that any of the Democrats actually were singing the Sister Sledge tune, which various groups have used over the years to demonstrate their unity, but that was the message.
Many Democrats were hoping the showdown never would happen. If only both sides could get an accurate vote count and either Martinez or Lujan would back down in the name of party unity, everything would be OK.
But it didn't happen. Some House Democrats were as slippery as their national counterparts were a few weeks ago when pledging their commitment to a candidate.
And it was Lujan, who began his career in legislative leadership by serving 10 years as Democrat whip, who was the better vote counter. Both men thought they had enough votes to win, but Lujan was more experienced at sensing when his colleagues weren't giving him the unvarnished truth.
Lest anyone fear retaliation for backing the loser, it was a secret ballot, with the names already written in so handwriting wouldn't give anyone away. Lawmakers get pretty good at recognizing handwriting because they sign each others bills.
Lujan promised no retaliation but he may have had to make some commitments that will mean replacing some committee chairmen who openly supported Martinez.
Vote totals were not released, but it must have been fairly close. Two hours before the vote, Gov. Bill Richardson named a replacement for Rep. Hector Balderas, who was elected state auditor. That replacement is thought to be a Lujan supporter.
Richardson claimed neutrality in the race, but the biggest knock on Lujan was his loyalty to the governor the past four years. Even some of Lujan's supporters warned him publicly that they want the House of Representatives to be independent of the governor's office.
That should send a clear message to the governor that the House will not be as likely to march in step with him on as many occasions as they have in the past. But with Lujan still in power, Richardson can at least breathe a little easier that he won't be embarrassed during a possible presidential run.
There is good reason for Lujan not to be retaliatory. The full House votes for its speaker on opening day. The minority party usually nominates its floor leader for speaker. But if enough disgruntled Democrats want to cut a deal with Republicans, they can elect a coalition speaker. Sen. Richard Romero did that to Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon a few years ago.
That's why House Democrats emerged from their caucus insisting that they are one big happy family.
Essentially, this was a battle of the new guys against the old guard. But the new-guys category didn't include the House members just elected last month. Insiders figure nearly all of them supported Lujan because of the help they received from him during their recent campaigns.
Except for some donations, Martinez didn't put in much effort toward getting them elected. And when it comes to money, Gov. Richardson probably contributed significantly more.
In this case, the new guys were those who have been around for a few, two-year terms. Some of them are now rising to committee chairmanships and anxious to continue their political climb. Martinez is only in his fourth term, while Lujan has been around 16 terms, with no end in sight.
Lujan is 70, but still going strong. When asked when he'll quit, he likes to say he'll consider it as soon as Sen. Pete Domenici does. Domenici is 74 and already has announced for reelection in 2008. At the end of that six-year term, he'll be 82.
So Lujan may have a long time to go -- unless Pete decides not to run next year.
FRI, 12-22-06

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


Sunday, December 17, 2006

12-20 Can Bill Gain Traction?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What does Gov. Bill Richardson have to do to gain traction in the 2008 presidential race?
Despite doing more things right than any other presidential candidate, he still lags far behind in the presidential pack. In some polls, he has been in the mid-range but in the latest reported poll, he's at the bottom.
Here's what seems right about Richardson's candidacy.
He's a governor. Americans like moving governors up to president because they have experience in managing a bureaucracy. He has some successes he can boast and he managed the U.S. Energy Department for two years.
He has foreign relations experience. That's something governors almost never have, yet Richardson has more successes in that area than any candidate.
He's from the Southwest. Voters continually reject northerners. The last seven presidents come from the south or the west.
He's a centrist. That's a word of recent coinage by Democrats. Republicans still use moderate. Bill Clinton popularized the word. George W. Bush called himself a compassionate conservative to mean about the same thing and attract crossover votes.
He has a compelling story. Richardson's book "Between Worlds" tells the story of a boy with an American father and a Mexican mother, growing up in Mexico and coming to the United States for high school, college and a career in diplomacy. What better preparation for dealing with major issues like terrorism and immigration?
He has been on the national stage. With two presidential cabinet positions, chairmanship of the 2004 Democratic National Convention and president of the National Democratic Governor's Association, Richardson has done about as much as a small state governor can.
So what's wrong?
Well, that small-state thing really hurts. Richardson makes the front page of New Mexico newspapers with great frequency. But that's not the same as frequently making the front page of the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune, as do the top candidates in the field. If the North Koreans come to see Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama twice in four years, it would have made much bigger news. Same for going to Sudan to rescue hostages.
Let's face it, Richardson doesn't have the star power of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who also was the nation's first lady for eight years and in the news constantly.
And he doesn't have whatever it is that Barack Obama has. If someone can put that in words, please let me know. I don't understand it, but it's making him a rock-star success.
Obama's message of hope and optimism seems similar to Bill Clinton's "The Boy From Hope" mantra. Obama's new book is called "The Audacity of Hope" and he seems to be connecting with Democrats the same way Bill Clinton did.
Richardson has charisma but Obama seems to have an extra dose. He is delivering a message, somewhat to the left of Richardson, that Democrats like to hear, with a passion that inspires them to follow even though there is so little to be known about him.
The Hillary and Obama steamrollers already have mowed down two other Democratic candidates with qualifications similar to Richardson's. Virginia's former Gov. Mark Warner and Indiana Senator and former Governor Evan Bayh became discouraged by the long odds of overtaking the celebrity candidates.
In the 13 months before the primaries begin, many things can happen. Howard Dean rose to the top, then sunk to the bottom during that period four years ago. John Kerry emerged out of nowhere.
Most Democrats realize they know too much about Hillary Clinton and too little about Barack Obama to be very comfortable with either. Maybe that leaves some room for a candidate with Richardson's qualifications.
Govs. George Bush and Ronald Reagan were both from big states and well-known before their presidential runs, but Govs. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton weren't. So there remains hope, however faint.
WED, 12-20-06

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


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

12-18 State Government Has Become a Deadbeat

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- If you do any kind of business with the state, you've probably heard of SHARE by now. That's the expensive, new accounting and personnel system the state began using on July 1.
As always, with new computer systems, it was supposed to make everyone's work simpler, easier, faster and more efficient. And as always, it has done just the opposite for almost six months now.
Businesses that supply goods and services to the state have begun cutting the state off until it pays its bills since last July. It is reported that payment to some 11,000 jurors has been delayed. Jurors get paid a pittance and are in trouble if they don't show up. Now, they're not even getting paid.
And for those employed by the state, matters are even worse. Many state employees are having to defend SHARE to an angry public every day, while curtailing their own anger about not getting paid or being paid the wrong amount.
The idea of SHARE is a good one. The state's many agencies were using some 70 different accounting and human resources processes. SHARE streamlined them into one system, called the Statewide Human Resource, Accounting and Management REporting System. Yes, the acronym is all messed up. Maybe that should have been their first clue.
The system was installed in record time, resulting in enormous cost savings. But it also produced some mighty big problems. State employees tell me that in the rush not all necessary procedures were programmed into the system, so SHARE isn't able to perform some of the operations it needs to be doing.
The state also saved money by buying the system off the shelf and then hiring a different company to help make it work. So they didn't have to pay for a warranty or an extended warranty.
More money was saved by agreeing to use a smaller number of technical experts than turned out to be necessary to get the system up and running in every agency. That problem was to be solved by training trainers in every agency.
But training trainers didn't work. The SHARE system is very unforgiving. If procedures aren't followed exactly, the system won't work. That means the technical experts must be intimately familiar with the system in order to help troubleshoot.
On Dec. 11, the Legislative Finance Committee called the project managers to testify. It was evident from their remarks that trouble shooting the many problems had finally shifted into high gear, with meetings throughout the previous week and weekend.
But the overall message was that everything is fine. Any problems have been solved. "The system is working. It is doing what we want it to do," said the state Chief Information Officer Roy Soto.
And then came the questions from committee members. They weren't as hard hitting as I had expected, likely because the questions had been asked many times before. The answers indicated that the project managers were keenly aware of problems they hadn't acknowledged in their presentation.
The toughest questions came from Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell. He noted that the state is very unforgiving when a citizen makes an error, but seems to expect citizens to be patient while the state gets its act together.
Jennings also asked what is being done to hold harmless state employees who are financially impacted by SHARE mistakes. What happens Jennings asked, when an employee makes bill payments the day his check is supposed to be direct deposited, but the deposit doesn't happen and the businesses tack on an extra charge to the employee for a bounced check?
Soto said the state has set up a Web site for employees to notify it about paycheck problems, but he twice avoided answering whether the state would do anything to compensate employees for their losses.
Jennings indicated that most private employers would feel some responsibility toward their employees. He also noted that private employers would get sued for some of SHARE's mistakes that the state is just shrugging off.
MON, 12-18-06

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


12-15 Will Gov. Make Changes in 2nd Term?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson has signaled that there will be some changes at the top of state government to kick off his second term.
He may wait until closer to his Jan. 1 inauguration to make any of his moves public, but the announcement that Labor Secretary Conroy Chino is departing for a better-paying job with an unnamed company in private industry may be a harbinger of things to come.
Gov. Richardson had nothing but good to say about Chino following the announcement, but the labor secretary has experienced a number of problems during his stormy tenure.
Richardson's normal style has been to shuffle or jettison cabinet members as soon as they get in trouble but Chino got to stay until the end of Richardson's first term. And maybe he could have stayed through a second term, had he desired.
Chino is from Acoma Pueblo, one of two American Indians on the governor's 21-member cabinet. That comes to just under 10 percent of the cabinet. You can't get any closer than that to the proportion of Indians in our population.
Other proportions on Richardson's cabinet also work well. He has just under 40 percent Hispanics and just under 50 percent women on the cabinet. It might not be far off to expect those proportions to remain about the same in the governor's second term.
Richardson says he plans to ask most of his cabinet secretaries to stay in their current position. That may mean some more job shuffling and a nudge or two out the door. Blogger Joe Monahan reports one female cabinet secretary telling people that she is "gone."
Early in Richardson's first term, Tourism Secretary Fred Peralta and Expo New Mexico Director Michael Cerletti switched spots. Peralta had been having problems. Cerletti had been Tourism secretary under former Gov. Bruce King and wanted the job again.
A bit later Regulation and Licensing Department Secretary Art Jaramillo and General Services Department Secretary Edward Lopez were swapped. Lopez had been getting a great deal of grief about some controversial moves by the governor, such as a new jet plane and a consolidation of state purchasing.
Nothing bad ever was said about any of the four cabinet members involved, so the capitol wall leaners, as radio personality Ernie Mills called them, were left to surmise why the moves were made.
Also during Richardson's first term, Health Department Secretary Patricia Montoya and Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Mary Dale Bolson both stepped down from their jobs and were not heard from again.
That is quite a few mid-term changes, which may mean there aren't many more to make. Or it could signal there will be several changes.
We can expect that there will be changes coming from the recommendations by a 50-member Transition Committee appointed by the governor, which will evaluate his first term and suggest changes he might want to make during his second term.
Most of those recommendations are expected to be program changes but Richardson could decide he wants someone new to head a department in a new direction. Those recommendations were due to Richardson by Dec. 1.
The governor said he wanted the committee to focus on five key areas: health, education, public safety, economic development and the environment. Those key areas correspond to five of the 21 cabinet departments. That has people asking whether those five department secretaries are being targeted.
The general consensus of those I talk with is that these five cabinet secretaries are some of the most secure in state government. The governor, evidently, just wants to emphasize those areas during his second term.
Richardson recently has received some good news about the new money he will have available to spend on program changes. According to figures released last week, the state will have $720 more to spend on recurring expenses and over $1 billion to spend on one-time expenditures.
FRI, 12-15-06

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


Friday, December 08, 2006

12-13 I Am Running...

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Let's get this straight. When Gov. Bill Richardson decides whether to run for president, we'll know.
His press aides will bug us for days about the "major announcement" he will be making and they will refuse to confirm what that announcement will be.
The announcement will not be made on Fox News immediately following a speech in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Gov. Richardson is doing all those things a presidential candidate should do. That's because he deeply wants to run for president. But the decision, either way, is not a slam dunk.
Oh, he has a timetable set for announcing the formation of an exploratory committee and for announcing the results of that exploration. And he knows what he wants that exploratory committee to discover.
But events along the way can change his plan, right up to the final minute. One of those events took place on Dec. 7, 2006 -- a surprise attack by a Fox News reporter.
In answer to a hypothetical question about his strengths should he decide to run for president, Richardson slipped into the present tense and uttered the words "I am running."
It was obvious Richardson was dealing with the hypothetical, but the words slipped out and onto the airwaves. It was Richardson's "Kerry moment." Anything else he said didn't matter. The major speech on immigration he had just made was reported the following day but quickly faded into obscurity.
Richardson is playing in the big leagues now. Out here in the sticks, we tend to be more reasonable. But the national press looks for the slightest misstep, hoping the candidate will reveal what really is in his heart, hoping to provoke a Mel Gibson-Michael Richards sort of slip.
And Richardson obliged. His later explanation was played along with his comment. The context in which he made the comment was obvious, and some would even realize that it was not an interview for which he prepared. It followed a major speech which had consumed his attention.
But the message it delivered was not good. Is this a guy who might blink in the harsh glare of intense negotiation? His performance in hostage situations certainly argues otherwise, but no one got to see those on the 6 o'clock news. They'll remember this shaky start.
Ironically, the botched interview is getting a great deal more coverage than will Richardson's formal announcement. Will that help more than hurt in the final analysis?
Certainly, it will help get his name in front of the average American voter who still is unaware of Richardson's existence. And it won't hurt that his name is connected with running for president. And since Richardson was upset, that makes even bigger news.
We might have expected Richardson to laugh it off with his typical self-deprecating humor. That would have gotten rid of the story quickly. So maybe this works out better.
Richardson got much more coverage by having his staff call media all over the place and plead with them not to run the story. We'd get suspicious if they called and begged us not to cover his formal announcement.
National polls have had Richardson ranked everywhere from the middle of the pack to the bottom, recently. He needs all the exposure he can get. He also needs to get his campaign started as soon as possible.
He can't afford to play coy as he did five years ago when he was the 800-pound gorilla running for governor. In this race, he currently is a 98-pound gorilla running for president.
So maybe the idea should be to spin this as positively as possible and get all the free media out of it that he can.
But that spin needs to be a covert as possible because as soon as the story appears to be good news, the media will be off it and digging for 20-year-old Richardson comments with which to play gotcha.
WED, 12-13-06

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


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Out of office

Will return Thurs evening, Dec. 7. Won't have laptop. Cell: 505-699-9982

Saturday, December 02, 2006

12-11 Top State Officials Mull Future

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- After some landslides and a cliffhanger in the 2006 elections, New Mexico's top politicos already are considering their political futures.
The major reason for these early assessments doesn't relate to anyone who ran this year. It has to do with the usual political chatter about whether Sen. Pete Domenici will seek reelection in 2008.
NBC's Chris Matthews expects Domenici not to run because he won't be content with being a backbencher. Others note that the money Pete raised last year mostly was donated to other candidates in 2006 and that he has a very slim bank balance.
Pete already has said he's going to run but that's not good enough for those who entertain dreams of succeeding him. There's nothing wrong with that. Career politicians always have to be looking for their next opportunity, lest it slip away from them.
At 74, Domenici could experience a health issue or he could decide he doesn't like life as a minority party member. A big shift in political climate would be necessary for Republicans to take back the Senate in 2008. They have 20 seats to defend, while Democrats have only 12.
But we've been hearing stories of Domenici's failing health for 20 years and nothing turned out to be major. And he's been through enough switches in political control of the Senate that he can deal with being a ranking minority member.
Some note that Pete's not out there right now raising money and it's getting late. But they always say that about Sen. Jeff Bingaman too. Both have such well-greased machines that can be cranked up easily.
So, although the bet should be on Pete to stay, not leave, New Mexico's top officeholders all are positioning themselves, just in case. The only one who doesn't covet Pete's job is Sen. Jeff Bingaman because he's already in The Club.
If Gov. Bill Richardson's presidential chances don't pan out, the Senate would look very good. He started his governmental career working for the Senate and always has aspired to end up there. He wouldn't have to risk his seat to run and he'd likely scare other hopefuls out of the race.
Rep. Heather Wilson likely was injured by her squeaker race, but she'll bounce back. And she's the one Sen. Domenici is likely to want to succeed him.
Rep. Steve Pearce also is sure to want the post. He declared his political ambitions last month when he ran for vice chairman of the House Republican caucus. He lost, but he attracted attention. A primary race against Rep. Wilson would be a doozy. Pearce also has his eye on the governor's race in 2010.
Rep. Tom Udall, a Democrat, would like to be in the Senate. He has a well-known name and many people grateful to him for sharing his war chest with them when he didn't need it for his 2006 campaign.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would take a look at the race, but her eye has been on succeeding Gov. Richardson. Her choice will have to wait on Richardson's decision.
Attorney General Patricia Madrid was badly roughed up in her 2006 congressional race, but she's not the type to give up. She's looking at both U.S. Senate and governor.
Land Commissioner Patrick Lyon, a Republican, would have to seriously consider a Senate run if Domenici leaves. He'll have a free shot since he will be in the middle of a four-year term. And he won't have to deal with the static Gov. Richardson would get for taking a shot in the middle of his term.
Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez, a Democrat, would be interested. He'll have some time left on his term. He says a run for the House, which requires campaigning every two years and constant fundraising, doesn't appeal to him.
Interestingly, he already has endorsed Republican Domenici for reelection. He's also interested in a 2010 gubernatorial run.

MON, 12-11-06

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


12-8 Richardson Appoints Another Transition Team

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- No sooner had Gov. Bill Richardson won reelection than he set up a transition team for his next term.
I don't remember transition teams being especially common among second-term governors or presidents but then this is an uncommon governor.
It seems fair to say that all of Richardson's actions can be analyzed in terms of his intense desire to climb the political ladder. That's not necessarily bad, however. He is speaking the truth when he says he wants to be the best governor he can be. That's a good way to get voters to elect you to higher office.
Gov. Richardson wants the 50-member transition team he appointed to look at the past four years and tell him what we can do better. Unfortunately, as with our current president, success usually involves spending a great amount of money.
So, will there be a lot of changes in Richardson's next term? That's what everyone wants to know. A number of top personal changes are not uncommon at the beginning of a second term. But that's not something Richardson has waited to do. If a top employee gets in trouble, he pulls the plug quickly.
Richardson is doing about as well as can be expected for a small state governor at this point in a presidential race. Most polls and pundit rankings have him firmly in the second tier of candidates.
Everyone's first tier of Democratic presidential hopefuls always includes Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama. John Kerry has fallen out of that category, at least for awhile. Al Gore still is there, along with John Edwards.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gore's vice-presidential running mate in 2000, is getting some mention these days. He probably falls into the same category as Republicans John McCain, Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney -- capable of winning but not likely to get their party's nomination.
After watching Lieberman's performance in the Connecticut senatorial race, Democrat leaders might be having second thoughts, however. After Connecticut Democrats rejected him in the primary and Washington Democrats shunned him in the general, Lieberman nevertheless ended up winning by a very large margin.
But Lieberman is taking a wait-and-see attitude while employing one of Harry Truman's favorite adages "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."
With all that is going on in foreign affairs, Richardson still gets interviewed often and those interviewers usually toss in a question about his presidential intent.
As we've said before, Richardson is likely the best prepared of the candidates, with experience both in management and foreign affairs.
A presidential historian recently tossed cold water on that theory, however, contending that the best-prepared president in our history probably was James Buchanan, who did nothing to keep our nation out of civil war. He was followed by perhaps the least-prepared president, Abraham Lincoln.
With New York Sen. Hillary Clinton currently leading Democrat polls and former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani leading the Republicans, political watchers are chuckling about it being an all-New York race.
Guiliani is seen as having great difficulty getting the religious right vote that usually is needed to win GOP primaries, but that group has lost some of its favorite candidates. First Virginia Sen. George Allen didn't win reelection and then Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist announced he wouldn't run for president.
Gov. Mitt Romney, of Massachusetts, fits in the religious right category, but he is Mormon, a denomination not well-accepted by the rest of the religious right.
Romney heads the Republican Governors Association, which produced a $115,000 ad criticizing Richardson for being out of state too often, running for president. Republican challengers in states with more competitive races wonder what Romney's motivation for the anti-Richardson might have been.

FRI, 12-08-06

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


12-6 How did NM GOP Do?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- How did New Mexico Republicans do in this year's elections?
The state GOP central committee is scheduled to meet this weekend in Albuquerque to consider the subject and there is sure to be some disagreement.
Following the election, the GOP staff issued a news release announcing that the state party had held its own in the face of big national losses and big Democratic money. But not all Republicans agreed.
Sen. Joe Carraro, of Albuquerque, said he thought it was a joke email. Carraro's contempt comes, at least in part, from an unsuccessful primary election run for the U.S. Senate in which he felt the state GOP was supporting Allen McCulloch, who won the nomination.
But there are others who think the state GOP needs new direction. A major battle for the state party chairmanship is expected next spring. In fact, some predict the battle will take place this weekend, but it is not on the agenda.
The current party leadership does have a point. Republicans nationwide had to play defense this year and New Mexico Republicans didn't allow any Democratic gains.
While Republicans were losing 30 seats in the U.S. House, New Mexico Republicans held onto their targeted seat, albeit by the skin of their teeth. Reportedly, Republicans lost 300 state legislative seats around the nation. The New Mexico GOP held onto its 28 seats in the New Mexico House.
New Mexico Republicans also held onto their one statewide office, with Patrick Lyon's victory in the Land Commission race, while fielding a full slate of statewide candidates for the first time in 20 years. And most of those candidates ran competitive races.
So why shouldn't New Mexico Republicans be proud of a record like that? Most of the internal dissatisfaction seems to be centered on the top two races -- for U.S. senator and governor.
We've mentioned Sen. Carraro's beef. But had he won the GOP nomination, he'd have faced the same frustration as Allen McCulloch did, with no support from the state or national Republican parties. They wrote it off, just as they did the governor's race.
After holding the governor's office for 12 of the last 20 years, the GOP almost didn't find a gubernatorial candidate this year and then didn't find J.R. Damron a lieutenant governor running mate until three days before the filing date.
And then there was the unprecedented dumping of Damron in favor of John Dendahl only a month after the primary election. The switching of horses made little difference because Dendahl received little party support, either.
The GOP strategy likely was to save its money and effort by not bothering to go after juggernauts like Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Gov. Bill Richardson. But Dendahl contributed to the problem.
His strategy was to outdebate Richardson. Debates are free to the candidates, and when televised, reach many voters. But Richardson didn't take the bait. There were no debates.
Dendahl's other alternative was to run a campaign like fellow Republican David Cargo's two successful gubernatorial efforts back in the '60s. Cargo was a maverick, with little support from his party and few big contributors. His secret was to get free, front-page publicity by making quotable statements almost daily.
Like Dendahl, Cargo is intelligent and articulate, but his humor is a lot lighter than Dendahl's caustic manner. Cargo used it to win two races he wasn't supposed to win. But Dendahl's quips only got him in trouble. Newspapers stood ready to print his words, but they seldom came.
The race may have been hard on Dendahl. He aged two years during those five months, according to newspaper reports. In July of this year, he was listed as 67 years old. In September, he turned 68 and by October, several reports listed him as 69.
Since we were born the same year, it's been easy to keep track of John's age, but now he's suddenly passed me by.
WED, 12-06-06

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