Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

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.


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