Inside the Capitol

Saturday, August 20, 2011

8-24 Is Media Piling on PRC?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Is the media piling on Jerome Block, Jr. and the Public Regulation Commission? That's what PRC commissioner Ben Hall says. He notes that in America people are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Granted, a day seldom goes by without a new charge against Block making headlines. First I will note that all media are very careful to use words like alleged, charged and faces when talking about accused lawbreakers. It allows company lawyers to sleep better at night.
There has been one recent exception. For a brief period between jobs, former state public safety chief Darren White was the crime reporter for an Albuquerque television channel.
Station management reportedly joked that during his brief stint, White convicted more people than the district attorney by not being careful to use language presuming innocence.
But care in use of language aside, the media have found a fertile source of news in headline stories about daily revelations of Block's missteps.
Hall suggests that we report on good actions the PRC takes. The question is whether you would read it. Local newspapers go in and out of business based on the belief that people want to hear good news. That is what they say. But do they mean it?
Those "good news" papers usually don't stay in business long. It's like negative campaigning. No one likes it but it works. Political consultants wouldn't use it if it didn't work.
Political campaigns and the media both rely on frequent public opinion polls to determine their most effective message. They are not going to run something the majority does not like. Negative news is here to stay.
It should also be noted that the other four PRC members asked Block to resign and then stripped him of his vice chairmanship. So much for presuming innocence.
One group of public officials who likely don't begrudge the attention given to the PRC are state court judges who were taking it on the nose until the PRC redirected that attention.
In a previous column, I cautioned readers not to count Block out. No matter how many charges pile up against him. He is not going to resign that $90,000 a year job until forced to. No one is going to talk him into resigning.
The impeachment route is a possibility but it isn't practical. The process takes a very long time. If New Mexico had a full time legislature, the situation would be easier.
But as it is, lawmakers would have to tack the proceedings onto the end of the upcoming special session if the process could be readied in time. Otherwise it would take another special session or cramming it into the short 30-day session next January.
Gov. Susana Martinez likely would be willing to call a special session or add it to her call for next January's session. She already has called for Block's resignation and she could appoint a Republican to the seat if Block were to be impeached.
But there also are cost concerns. Everyone would have to lawyer up. The House committee that meets to decide whether to recommend an impeachment trial will need much legal advice. Say $100,000 worth.
The House will need its own legal advice for the actual impeachment proceedings. If impeached, Block then would go to trial by the Senate, which would need its legal advice.
Expert witnesses and extra staff would be needed. And unless these proceedings can be sandwiched into the Legislature's other business, which is unlikely, figure on another $50,000 a day. Some warn it may take 20 days.
Block could give up because of lack of funds to pay for his defense. That's not likely but many of Block's woes over the past two-and-a-half years have been financial.
Criminal charges could bring him down as they did with former commissioner Carol Sloan. But he may still be around for the 2012 elections. And remember, Block survived a primary and general election in 2008 despite much bad publicity.
WED, 8-24-11

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



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