Monday, August 31, 2009

Group interested in being lieutenant governor 'to the point of a football squad'

I'm not too big on sports analogies in politics, but one candidate for lieutenant governor described the pack of Democrats running as a football squad.

Whatever it is, It is crowded, that's for sure. Nine people have expressed interest so far in the state's number two job. Check out my story from Sunday's paper here. (And I didn't even get into the Republicans running, although it looks like there are a few.)

Meanwhile, Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones added her name to the list of Republicans running for governor this weekend.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Contarino: we acted appropriately and ethically at all times

In the wake of the news on the end of the federal probe involving Gov. Bill Richardson, former Richardson chief of staff Dave Contarino just sent this statement.

"As the Governor and I have said from the beginning, we acted appropriately and ethically at all times and a fair and impartial investigation would bear out those facts," Contarino wrote.

This investigation has gone on for over a year. I want to acknowledge and thank the literally hundreds of friends in NM and across the country who have supported me through this ordeal. Their faith and belief in me-and in Governor Richardson-were a source of great strength through the long months of headlines, rumors, baseless accusations and efforts by some to exploit this investigation for personal and political gain.

I worked tirelessly as a public servant and have given my time and energy to help improve the lives of New Mexicans. I hope that my year-long ordeal does not deter others from dedicating themselves to public service.

I am happiest for Governor Richardson who, in the face of all this, continued to make a positive difference-every day-in the lives of New Mexican citizens," Contarino said.

While the probe may be over in one sense, it's not over in a political one. Republicans today continued to keep the pressure on Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

"While it is disappointing that Bill Richardson escaped indictment for actions which have been confirmed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, it is more disappointing that some are attempting to spin this news as an absolution of wrongdoing,” state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates Jr said in a statement. “Statements by the U.S. Attorney indicate quite the opposite, so will Diane Denish stand by her claim that this is ‘good news’ for New Mexicans?”

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt told the Associated Press that the decision not to bring charges "is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party's conduct."

Read Barry Massey's story on that news here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

AP: Richardson said to be clear in fed investigation

(Updated below with Richardson statement.)

The Associated Press' Barry Massey reports that Gov. Bill Richardson won't be charged in the yearlong probe into pay-to-play allegations that forced Richardson to give up his commerce secretary nomination.

"New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former high-ranking members of his administration won’t be criminally charged in a yearlong federal investigation into pay-to-play allegations involving one of the Democratic governor’s large political donors, someone familiar with the case said," according to the story.

Read all of it here.

No word yet from the Governor's Office on the report.

UPDATE, 8:04 a.m.

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos just emailed me a "no comment" on the report.

UPDATE, 4:11 p.m.

Just got this statement from Richardson's office:

“While the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not notified Governor Richardson about the completion of its investigation, it appears that no action will be taken as a result of the year-long inquiry,” Deputy Chief of Staff Gilbert Gallegos said.

“Governor Richardson has known all along that neither he nor any staff members committed any transgressions during their successful fundraising back in 2004. The U.S. Attorney’s thorough and lengthy investigation has apparently determined the same thing – that no indiscretions occurred.

Although patience was difficult while Governor Richardson and his administration were being falsely accused and were the subject of rumors and speculation through the news media, Governor Richardson chose to remain silent and let the justice system run its course. Governor Richardson is gratified that this year-long investigation has ended with the vindication of his administration.”

So is this the end of the story with CDR? Read tomorrow's New Mexican for analysis.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Union tries to force state to pay up

Members of a state government workers' union haved filed a motion to force the state to pay about 10,000 members the raises they say were part of a written contract they had with the state.

The motion comes after an arbitrator said in June that the state should calculate what is owed and pay it.

Read more in my story here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bingaman would support a health care reform bill without a public option

Sen. Jeff Bingaman has said all along during the health care reform debate that he supports a public option. But when it comes down to it, he'd also vote for a bill without it, if it was between that and no reform.

"I support a public option, but I'm not one who, like some members of Congress, have said they would not support a bill that did not include a public option," Bingaman said during an interview at a town hall in Albuquerque Monday.

"I think that would not make good sense, assuming a bill includes the other things we are talking about — insurance market reforms, expansion of coverage, establishment of state exchanges, larger pooling for purposes of setting insurance rates, Medicare payment reforms."

Read more about what Bingaman said at the town hall here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Richardson off to Cuba

The island, not that small town out there off of U.S. 550.

His office this morning announced a trade mission on which Richardson left this morning and will be gone until Friday. Also on the trip are Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Katherine Miller, Cultural Affairs Department Secretary Stuart Ashman, state Agriculture Department Secretary Miley Gonzalez and Gilbert Gallegos, Richardson's deputy chief of staff.

The release says Richardson is paying all his own expenses and that the mission will promote agricultural as well as cultural exchanges.

The trip is the state's third mission to promote New Mexico's agriculture goods in Cuba, and comes as travel restrictions to the island nation recently have been eased.

Does this mean the Cubans might soon be sampling spicy El Pinto salsa to go with their cool mojitos?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bingaman health care town hall Monday sold out

Mirroring other town halls across the nation this summer, the New Mexico First town hall meeting on health care scheduled for Monday at the Albuquerque Convention Center is sold out.

The meeting is expected to feature Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who doesn't do a lot of town halls. You can still watch the Q and A with Bingaman, though, courtesy of KNME-TV, Channel 5. Check this link for info Monday.

The meeting is from 1-5 p.m.

Read more about the forum and Bingaman's role in the health care debate here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Department of Workforce Solutions secretary resigns...and department issues statement on Vigil-Giron

Betty Sparrow-Doris has resigned from her post at the DWFS, Gov. Bill Richardson's office announced. Ken Ortiz, who had been the deputy secretary since May, will take over Aug. 31.

Doris said she is looking forward to spending more time with her family when she leaves the job.

This isn't scientific or anything, but two recently unemployed people I know have had nothing but problems getting certified to receive benefits from the state. I could go on here, but suffice to say they endured incredibly long waits on the phone and in person, for starters. Then, add to that the two late payments to recipients in recent weeks and you start to get the picture of how difficult it can be to get into the system.

With so many recent problems at the department (read here and here for highlights) the question is out there about why Sparrow-Doris is leaving. I've asked both the Governor's Office and the Workforce Solutions Department for a little more information on Sparrow-Doris' resignation and will update you when I get it.

In other news at the same department, officials said in statement they were "troubled to learn about the recent criminal indictment filed against one of our employees, Rebecca Vigil-Giron."

"The allegations contained in the indictments are serious, they concern actions that are unrelated to her work with the Department," Ortiz said.

Vigil-Giron works at the department as a constituent liaison for the Labor and Industrial Division, where she earns more than $60,000 a year.

"As with other internal personnel matters, the Department will make no additional statements until it has had an opportunity to review the matter. Until that time, Ms. Vigil-Giron is expected to continue to fulfill her work duties," the statement says.

No decision yet for state gov supercomplex site

I didn't expect the meeting Wednesday of the Capitol Buildings Planning Commission to take almost all afternoon. But it did. Long story short: the panel hasn't made a decision yet on where to locate the new state government supercomplex.

A new idea for a site popped up when Sonny Otero offered to donate 25 acres for the project, and lawmakers continued to express concerns about the price the state would pay at the Las Soleras site, which General Services Secretary Art Jaramillo says he favors after the Architectural Research Consultants in 2007 recommended the site.

While the developers of Las Soleras and others were hoping the commission would make a decision this week on the site, I got the impression it could be a while still before the state decides on a site, as both Democrats and Republicans on the panel said they wanted to take a closer look at the project. The land that would be involved in a swap if the Las Soleras site is chosen, for example, still has to be appraised.

Details in my story here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rebecca Vigil-Giron indicted

That's the latest from the Associated Press.

Vigil-Giron, who didn't comment on the indictments, has said she can account for "every last nickel" of spending while she was secretary of state.

"Today's indictments are the result of more than two years of investigation by my Government Accountability Division," Attorney General Gary King said in a statement. "We will now concentrate on proving these allegations in a court of law."

Update, 9:06 a.m.
Read the indictments here.

More details here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Unemployment insurance benefits delayed again, to be fixed by 1:00

The state's Department of Workforce Solutions says it will make payments by 1:00 today to unemployed New Mexicans who didn't get paid after a "batch payment failure" was discovered Sunday night.

A two-paragraph news release from the Department doesn't shed light on what the problem was or how many people were affected. This is the second time in recent days the department has made late payments.

"We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused,” Deputy Secretary Ken Ortiz said in a statement. "We realize our customers rely on receiving their payments in a timely manner."

And, it's not the first time the system recently has faced other problems.

Friday, August 14, 2009

LFC: state faces $400 million shortfall

That's the gist of the latest revenue projections released today by the Legislative Finance Committee.

Here's the latest from AP's Barry Massey, who is covering the LFC meeting in Angel Fire.

"According to the latest financial forecast, revenues will drop to about $5 billion in the current budget year, which started in July. That’s $433 million less than what had been anticipated when lawmakers enacted the budget," he wrote.

The news isn't totally unexpected, but of course isn't good. Lawmakers are set to convene in October at some point for a one day special session to now figure out how to whack that much from state spending.

Already, there are a few ideas out there. . . .

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Richardson, legislative leaders agree to one day special session

Gov. Bill Richardson and legislative leaders have agreed to a one-day special session on the budget in October.
Before then, a legislative-executive group will "negotiate a bipartisan agreement on the budget before a special session is convened."

"We are fortunate that New Mexico – with healthy cash reserves – is in much better shape than most states, which have resorted to laying off state employees and drastically cutting services," Richardson said in a statement. "But we are definitely facing tough challenges, and we must continue to make sacrifices to balance the budget."

Some lawmakers have predicted the state this year is facing a shortfall of between $300 and $400 million. They already cut $500 million earlier this year. Others are fretting about the state of New Mexico's reserves.

Given how tricky it is to cut anything substantial from the budget, anyone taking bets on how long the one-day session will really last?

Monday, August 10, 2009

2010 candidates should look again at guide to the election

If you are running for something next year and you've already looked at, downloaded or printed out the 2010 election guide on the Secretary of State's web site, you might want to look again.

The office made a few changes to the guide after some confusing information was pointed out by the New Mexico County Clerk Affiliate president.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bill gets American journalists pardoned

Bill, as in Clinton, was able to get two female journalists sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in North Korea pardoned today. That's a job our Bill, as in Richardson, probably wanted to do.

Still, Richardson was on CNN just now, calling the trip "huge" and saying it improves relations between the two countries.

“Since the relationship has been frozen and hostlie, any kind of future movement Bill Clinton can bring back and say ‘We’re ready to talk’ is a big step.” the governor said.

The governor said he had been in touch with the families of the women, who he described as "well fed." No word on when they will be actually returned to the United States.

Richardson, one of the few Western diplomats who has been to North Korea, has been instrumental in rescuing hostages from other countries in the past. It wasn't clear how directly he had been working with the White House on the journalists' situation, but he has said in the past he was monitoring it.

Once a global traveller and always curious about other countries, Richardson hasn't been on networks like CNN much in recent months for his work on international relations. Could this be the beginning of a comeback or just luck that he had expertise in the area?