Thursday, September 14, 2006

Armijo's Out! (J-school Piece revised)

Arriving for the press conference is Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives Ben Lujan with wife, Carmen, followed by Jeff Armijo and his father Art. Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim is at the back of the elevator.

In the on again-off again campaign of Democratic state auditor candidate Jeff Armijo, under a cloud of suspicion, raised by two sexual misconduct allegations, his candidacy is finally and officially, over and he is out of the race.

“I have concluded that in the interest of many wonderful New Mexicans, that I not seek the office of state auditor,” Armijo, flanked by Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives Ben Lujan and State Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim, announced Wednesday.

“I was elected fair and square by 62 percent of the Democratic voters, and I still feel I am the candidate for state auditor. But my meager resources cannot match the mighty powers and resources of big government and powerful politicians,” Armijo said with a tinge of resentment and dejection.

The hastily called press conference occurred after a flurry of legal maneuvers on two opposing court challenges to clarify what constitutes a candidate's official notice of withdrawal.

Armijo previously announced publicly his withdrawal after a short meeting Aug. 29 with Gov. Bill Richardson, who is acting as the leader of the state’s Democratic Party’s campaign list. Richardson is seeking re-election.

Many saw Armijo's legal problems as an additional burden on the Democratic Party as their two most recently elected state's treasurers were charged in a corruption scandal.

Former Treasurer Robert Vigil is facing a retrial in federal district court after a hung jury failed to reach a verdict as one juror held out for acquittal.

Vigil’s predecessor, Michael Montoya has pleaded guilty to a single count of extortion in a federal indictment and agreed to testify against Vigil.

On Sept. 5 the last day for Armijo to officially withdraw his candidacy and allow his party to replace his name on the Nov. 7 ballot, he announced that he had reconsidered and was still an active candidate.

Democratic New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron initially announced that her office had not received a formal written notice before the deadline and would not remove Armijo’s name from the ballot. She then reversed her position when she accepted a press release sent via fax from the governor’s office as sufficient evidence of Armijo’s withdrawal.

Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional District, rendered a legal opinion concurring with Vigil-Giron’s second opinion.

The two sexual misconduct allegations, on, from a couple of years ago and another made this year, both by volunteer campaign workers, were forwarded by Albuquerque police to the Democratic Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenberg’s office. No action has been taken by the district attorney’s office, as the cases are under review.

“Jeff put the people of New Mexico close to his heart with his decision to officially withdraw from the state auditor’s race and that all the litigation is dropped,” said Lujan, who brokered the concession of Armijo.

Two competing lawsuits were pending until Armijo’s press conference.

On Friday, Armijo filed a lawsuit in Bernalillo County District Court to prevent Vigil-Giron from removing his name from the ballot and to prevent the State’s Democratic Party’s Central Committee from naming a replacement.

State District Court Judge Geraldine E. Rivera, a Republican, scheduled a hearing for 4 p.m. Tuesday. On Monday, Rivera was replaced by State District Court Judge Ted Baca, who rescheduled the hearing for Thursday at 9 a.m.

The Democratic Party and Chairman Wertheim filed a lawsuit in Santa Fe County District Court naming both Armijo and Vigil-Giron as defendants. The party sought to declare Vigil-Giron’s removal of Armijo’s name from the ballot lawful.

State District Court Judge James A. Hall, a Democrat, was assigned the case and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Armijo’s attorney made two peremptory challenges in the Santa Fe case. Hall was replaced by Judge Daniel Sanchez and then he was replaced by Judge Timothy L. Garcia, according to the New Mexico Justice Network case lookup website.

Armijo’s announcement, minutes before that scheduled 9 a.m. hearing, rendered both suits moot.

On Saturday, the State’s Democratic Party’s Central Committee met in Albuquerque and replaced Armijo with State Representative Hector Balderas of Wagon Mound.

“I think that clearly this was a dispute in the Democratic family,” said, Wertheim. “It’s a lot like the disputes people have in their own families. Sometime they can be difficult to resolve, but ultimately, in this Democratic family, I think Jeff, I really want to commend him for being a stand up guy.”

Balderas now faces Republican candidate Lorenzo Garcia for the office of State Auditor.

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