Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

9-4 Non-Indictment Yields New Questions

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The news that no charges will be filed against Gov. Bill Richardson answers a big question and creates many more in its place.
It appears Richardson now can pursue a job with the Obama administration. That answers the big question, although a small cloud is still on the horizon.
A pay-to-play whistleblower lawsuit is still pending in state court. But if the FBI and two grand juries couldn't nail the governor after a year of trying, what are the chances of this suit succeeding?
The decision not to indict Richardson has produced a lively debate between New Mexico's two major political parties. Republicans contend it was a political decision by Democratic Attorney General Eric Holder.
Democrats counter that the decision was made by experienced, nonpolitical career prosecutors based on evidence the New Mexico U.S. attorney's office submitted without recommendation.
And there is always the possibility that the year-long investigation was part of the overzealous prosecution that top Republicans had demanded but not received from former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias.
Whatever the situation might have been, it deprived Gov. Richardson of becoming U.S. Commerce Secretary. The question now is whether President Barack Obama will find another spot for Richardson in his administration.
There aren't any cabinet positions open but then Richardson already has been a cabinet member. A year ago, he was hoping for something bigger, like vice president or secretary of state. He'd already lost out on those when the news of a federal grand jury investigation surfaced.
From the beginning, this column contended that a diplomatic position directly under the president was the job for which Richardson is best suited.
President Obama may already have been thinking about that when he approved Richardson meetings with North Korean representatives and a trade mission to Cuba.
Actually a position dealing with rogue governments may be Richardson's best bet anyway. He has been successful in the field. It is exciting. And it will put him on the national and international stage much more than Commerce secretary. How often do you see the name of Carlos Gutierrez in the news?
The non-indictment of Gov. Richardson will be good for the state's image, especially when it comes to economic development. Companies tend not to consider locating in a state with an unstable political climate.
Most observers agree that Richardson will leave the state as soon as he can do so comfortably. A prestigious federal appointment would accomplish the purpose. A top job in private industry probably wouldn't.
Regardless of where Richardson goes, he won't be identified with New Mexico for long after his departure. Few expect to see him back in the state except for brief visits. His home address almost certainly will never be in New Mexico again.
The decision not to indict will be a blow to Republicans. They were gearing up for a campaign against corruption and this would have been their centerpiece. But even without it, Democrats have given them plenty of material.
If Richardson leaves before the end of the year, it will be a big help to Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. She has been untainted by the pay-to-play investigations. The 2010 Legislature will be an opportunity for her to demonstrate what she can do. Expect to see her hammer a major ethics package through the Legislature.
But don't expect ethics to be the major issue in 2010. It will be the economy and the state budget. And that priority will carry into the November elections.
If Denish takes over as governor anytime soon, she will get to name her lieutenant governor. That person will have a big leg up on the competition in next June's Democratic primary.
Don't be surprised if that person is Lawrence Rael, head of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, who competently led the Rail Runner project and who has been aggressively raising campaign funds.
FRI, 9-04-07

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



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