Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

5-25 Political races provide much intrigue

52512 intrigue

SANTA FE – Political intrigue has become a major factor in New Mexico's 2012 primary elections. Normally our state doesn't see many intra-party squabbles during primary elections. Party officials are banned from supporting primary candidates. What does happen usually is deep behind the scenes.
The exception to these rules occurs in New Mexico's northern mountains where Democratic county chairmen publicly endorse entire slates of candidates. Often rivals will endorse competing slates. That's the way it goes in Northern New Mexico.
But now, a Southern New Mexico governor is changing that with an endorsement of Heather Wilson in the U.S. Senate primary and state Senate candidates Angie Spears, of Clovis, and Rob Doughty, of Albuquerque. There also is word that Gov. Martinez's Susana PAC may make some contributions shortly before the June 5 primary election.
In Albuquerque, we also have news that Bernalillo County Republican Vice-Chairman Colin Hunter is running a Super PAC called Friends of Freedom. Hunter has since resigned his GOP position. He is a lawyer with a firm headed by Mickey Barnett, a former state senator and a longtime power in the state and national GOP. Barnett has been involved in his share of intra-party disputes.
Candidates for the constantly embattled Public Regulation Commission are involved in plenty of intrigue. In PRC District 1, blogger Joe Monahan reports receiving information from Democratic candidate Karen Montoya that another candidate, Al Park, has a contract with the state's Risk Management Division that has paid him over $60,000 in the last 10 months for legal services.
The division director is Jay Hone, husband of U.S. Senate candidate Heather Wilson. The division provides self-insured protection for the state against law suits and other losses.
The question is whether Park would be pressured to vote the Martinez line if he becomes a PRC commissioner. Some evidence exists indicating that this might already have happened. Park came to the Legislature 12 years ago as a liberal Democrat but in recent sessions, he has taken some more conservative stances.
Most notable was his effort as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to find a compromise that would pass Gov. Martinez's bill repealing driver's licenses for undocumented workers. When he wasn't able to obtain agreement from committee Democrats, he said he might have to vote for the bill himself, which he did, and the measure passed the House.
The state contract with Rep. Park's law firm is not unusual and it likely didn't start 10 months ago, which would have been the beginning of the present fiscal year. It is common for the Risk Management Division to contract with as many law firms as it can possibly need.
I recently talked with a woman who wanted to file an open public records suit against the state. She said she contacted every lawyer in the state, who handles that type of case, to represent her and they all said they had a conflict of interest because they represented state risk management.
Tying up all the lawyers in who might ever sue the state for any reason is a powerful tool the state has to protect itself. It can also be a powerful tool for a governor and I'll wager that all of them have used it. The Legislature has many lawyers and it isn't likely Rep. Park's firm is the only one with a state contract.
PRC District 3 has its own intrigues. Two of its four candidates have troubled pasts as indicated by newspaper reports and some jail booking photos floating around. The only reason races in the commission's other three districts don't contain intrigue is that they have staggered terms.
New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission has control over more areas than any other similar agency in the nation. Yet potential candidates with expertise know they will be beaten by politicians.
Extra qualifications and fewer duties will be on the ballot in November. Vote for them.


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