Monday, October 29, 2007

Law of Unintended Consequences

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Graduation from high school is a rite of passage. Teenagers become young adults. New paths are started. Parents have great expectations. Futures are open….

Then there is what has become known as “Grade-gate” in the Albuquerque Public Schools.

A Rio Grande High School senior’s failing English grade was changed to passing, ostensibly to allow him the social experience of graduating with his peers.

Teacher Anita Forte had sent five notices home and met with the parents attempting to work with the family to get his deficient schoolwork made up, but the student did not act within the time limits he had agreed.

Instead of requiring the student to go to summer school to pick up the missing credits, APS’ Rio Grande Cluster Leader/Director Dr. Elsy Fierro, in consultation with former APS Associate Superintendents Nelinda Venegas, left, and Susie Peck, right, overruled Forte and Rio Grande Principal Al Sanchez. They changed the student’s grade from an F to a D.

There was a public furor and the New Mexico Department of Public Education conducted an investigation. It was determined that the teacher and principal were right. Contrary to what the parents and APS Superintendent Elizabeth Everitt, above, and her subordinates, Venegas and Peck, said, the District violated its own policies.

The investigation, conducted by Dr. Mary Rose Cde Baca, concluded, “These actions appear to constitute a violation of Section, Standard II: Duty to the profession, of the New Mexico Public School Code of Ethics.” The report was published in the Tribune.

Everitt said in a press briefing, that the diploma would not be taken back.

Fierro, who changed the grade, is facing an ethics complaint from the PED in a hearing set before G.T.S. Khalsa.

The state wants to close the hearing. DPE’s lawyer, Bruce Berlin, is arguing that a federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, prohibits schools from identifying students.

Fierro’s attorney, Gail Stewart, and the Albuquerque Journal’s attorney, Matthew R. Hoyt have petitioned District Court Judge Nan Nash to keep the hearing open. Nash has stayed the DPE hearing until after Nov. 8 when she will hold a hearing on whether to keep the administrative process open to the public.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

In the real world this is unlikely to happen, but this was an unworldly event; or maybe more precisely, just the world of local politics. The young man’s parents are County Commissioner Teresa Cordova and former APS School Board Member Miguel Acosta, left.

Cordova is a Ph.D. Associate Professor of Community and Regional Planning at the University of New Mexico’s Southwest Hispanic Research Institute. She is seen here, below center with her, then husband Acosta, far right, at the March 15, 1999 City Council meeting where she made a rousing speech, taking a neutral position, during the otherwise contentious debate over the placement of a monument to Don Juan de Oñate in Old Town’s Tiquex Park. She was the driving force in getting her son’s grade changed.

In this case, Cordova took her son and went on a mini-media tour, which included appearing on a local talk radio show trying to defend their position. She claimed she was doing what any mother would do for her child.

A pattern of aggressive “defense” of her son emerged when evidence of her having complained to the Rio Grande Basketball coach about what she thought was a lack of playing time was made public.

Apparently, no one tried to negotiate a “win-win” situation. Maybe registering the student for summer school while asking the Rio Grande principal to allow the son to walk across the stage and receive the diploma folder might have sufficed. Diplomas are not mailed until a later date anyway. I know of just such a real life case happening in my family at the college level. Who knows, the answer might have been yes. It sure would have been easier than dealing with the mess it caused by changing the grade.

A quick Google check found the Bernalillo County Neighborhood News 2006 winter edition, profiling Cordova as a commissioner and identified her then 16-year old son as Jose Miguel Acosta.

The young man is currently listed on the UNM website, registered as a freshman in the University College on the main campus.

The FERPA only applies to schools and in this case, talking about a person who is as well- known in the public, as much by his own doing as any one else’s, invalidates the purpose of the law. FERPA is now being used as an excuse to provide a shield against justice being done as it was intended. The Law of Unintended Consequences is now in effect and it is doing no good.

So there are some questions:

If the State DPE determined that the policies were violated, isn’t the diploma void?

If the student did not make up the work of a mandatory required course, needed for graduation, in summer school, what does it do to his application to UNM, if he claimed to have graduated?

Was there fraud committed in his entering school at the university?

If so, how can his name be used as the excuse to not proceed openly on what is widely seen as a public corruption scandal? DPE wants to hold the ethics charge hearing, but in closed session.

I’ll tell you how; it’s called reverse scapegoating. It is an administrative ploy that I have observed over the years that allows for the exploitation of a flaw in the process or a failure in the presentation of a fact upon which an accused employee can “hang their hat.”

Administrators will never admit that it is occurring, but they actually admire the person who is able to “find the pea in the holiday pastry”, so the case fails and there is not an airing of all the dirty–laundry.

This is a case that calls for all the dirty laundry to be aired. The public needs to hold the leadership accountable. The top two paid administrators: APS Associate Superintendents Venegas and Peck, have retired. Everrett has announced that she is leaving later this year, at the end of her contract.

My take

Even if there were no explicit request for a favor, as a political office holder, the specter of an elected position and even a recently vacated position preceded the parents.

No one with the responsibility and power to look into this and act will do anything. The District Attorney will not take on a fellow elected officer. University officials are not going to look deeper into the application and admission of the child of one of their fellow faculty members.

The public now gets to grade the ethical performance of this group. I give them an F. Fortunately, there is no opportunity for them to turn in any make up work, because they have now dropped out.

The Board of Education, which stood steadfastly by these leaders during this mess while they did wrong, is now able to hire a truly competent and honest person to lead this school system. With all its other failures, from low-test scores to high drop out rates, this community needs the best for its aspiring students.

We must change that “F’ to a “D” to a “C” to a “B” and finally get it to an “A” level of work. It won’t happen by simply trying to make this case go away or sweeping it under the rug, but by doing the necessary work, on time and at a high level!

It is a challenge and hard work; just like graduating from high school….

Note: In the original posting I misidentified attorney Bruce Berlin as David Berlin. Apologies to both men and thanks to David Duhigg for catching the error.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Some Things Just Are Black and White

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Mei Sheng, a resident of the San Diego Zoo. He is the Giant Panda that Mayor Martin Chávez has always had his eye on to bring to Albuquerque. Chávez promised in his 2006 state of the city address, that the Rio Grande Zoo would be home to Pandas, plural, by the end of the year.

Chávez announced his candidacy for the Democrat Party’s primary nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pete Domenici, Oct. 9.

His run raises its own questions. A couple of city attorneys, both of whom serve at the pleasure of the mayor, have waded in, attempting to answer some of those questions.

While Chávez runs for senate, the business of the City would be managed by Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Perlman, below, City Attorney Bob White told Albuquerque Tribune’s city hall reporter Erik Siemers.
Chávez claimed he could make decisions and govern, while campaigning around the state, including using BlackBerry technology.

If elected, the president of the Council would become the mayor pro-tem, said Deputy City Attorney and Acting City Clerk Randy Autio, left, seen here with fellow Assistant City Attorney Greg Wheeler during the Don Harris Ethics Board Hearing. The then mayor pro-tem would get to replace their seat to fill their unexpired term or until the next regular election.

So, should Chávez be elected, he would take office in Jan. 2009 and the president of the Council, elected at the first meeting of Dec. 2008, would become the mayor pro-tem. Contrary to the public discussion that is now taking place, it is not the next council president’s election that counts, but the following one.

I don’t usually respond to anonymous comments, especially from someone else’s blog. Because of the openness of this new medium where everyone has the same voice, it is necessary to not give credence to inaccuracies.

“Read the city charter, he can't run again,” an anonymous commenter wrote on the Eye on Albuquerque blog, about Chávez’ announcement for senate. “The charter only allows for two consecutive terms. Now if he challenged this it probably would not stand up in court, but by the time the senate election is over it will be too late for him to challenge the city charter.”

“I've read the charter, there's no mention of the mayor being restricted to two terms...only councilors...better to be prepared than to assume he's out,” a counter anonymous commenter wrote.

Let’s look at the Charter; it’s the equivalent of the federal or state constitutions. It’s the people’s grant of power to form a city government.

Here is the Charter Revision Commission, above, during a mid Feb. 1971, work session.

The Commission was Chaired by: the former President of the City Commission, Ex-officio Mayor and the just defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate, Pete Domenici, right. He would go on the next year to be elected to the U.S. Senate and re-elected five times.

In a special election, on June 29, 1971, the people of Albuquerque adopted this Charter.

The preamble says, “We, the people of the City of Albuquerque, under the law of the State of New Mexico, do ordain and establish this form of government for the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

Article five is about the Mayor; section two establishes the term and salary:
“The term of Mayor, unless sooner recalled or removed, shall begin on December 1st of the year of election and shall be for four years or until a successor is duly elected and qualified; after having served two consecutive terms, the incumbent Mayor shall be ineligible to hold office for four years thereafter.”

So, the Mayor is term limited.

Section three is about the Mayor's powers; performance; appointments:
“The executive branch of the city government is created. The office of Mayor is created. The Mayor shall control and direct the executive branch. The Mayor is authorized to delegate executive and administrative power within the executive branch. The Mayor shall be the chief executive officer with all executive and administrative powers of the city and the official head of the city for all ceremonial purposes. The Mayor shall devote full time and attention to the performance of the duties of office and shall hold no other paid public or private employment.”

Section four is about the duties of the mayor:
“The Mayor shall:
(j) Faithfully execute and comply with all laws, ordinances, regulations and resolutions of the city and all laws of the State of New Mexico and the United States of America which apply to the city.”

The importance of the Charter language is that it’s what the people wrote and what they expect of their government. It is binding on those in government.

Chávez has sworn to uphold the Charter three times and well knows its contents.

The crucial words are, “The Mayor shall devote full time and attention to the performance of the duties of office and shall hold no other paid public or private employment.”

Unlike other charters and constitutions that don’t have such precise language, these words mean what they say. Further, the city Personnel Rules and Regulations make provisions for employees who wish to seek elected office. Employees may be granted a leave of absence of up to a year, to run for office. They may not take time off piecemeal, once a worker announces for office; they may not work for the city. If they lose, they may return to work.

The Mayor is the only full-time elected city official paid by tax dollars.

Gov. Bill Richardson, above, has taken an extraordinary amount of time from his office. The Governor's activities have ranged from making an announcement to the press upon returning from Darfur where he brokered a cease fire-deal, to seeking the Democrat Party's presidential nomination. The State Constitution, article five, section seven states:
“In case the governor is absent from the state, or is for any reason unable to perform his duties, the lieutenant governor shall act as governor, with all the powers, duties and emoluments of that office until such disability be removed.”

There is a difference; the Governor is protected by a line of succession and has no written duty to devote his full time and attention to his office.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, seen here on last years’ campaign trail with her boss, Gov. Richardson, has to be well appreciated for taking care of his duties while he’s out running.

Albuquerque has no deputy mayor. Under the Charter the CAO has hands-on duties to run the city on a day-to-day basis. The CAO has specific duties, but does not substitute for the mayor in the mayor's absence.

"My pledge is to work tirelessly and endlessly, to get up earlier, to work harder and go to bed later than anybody else campaigning for this seat," Albuquerque Journal’s political writer Jeff Jones quoted Chávez as saying at his announcement for the senate.

In order to fulfill that pledge, he has to violate the mayoral oath to uphold the city's Charter. He may not do both. The mayor has a choice to make; either he may serve as mayor or he may run for the senate. He may not have it both ways.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Ten years ago, Chávez, seen here with his then wife Margaret Aragón de Chávez, nearing the end of his first term, announced that he would not run for re-election. Instead, he would wait a year to run for governor. He lost and returned to city politics running for and being elected mayor in 2002 and being re-elected in 2006.

There are those who will argue at every turn as to why the simple words should be interpreted to allow the mayor to run for senate while retaining his office. If he leaves the city to run, he is still being paid by the city. The admonition is not so much about his being paid, but that he is not to be distracted or to leave the city to campaign. He may not take vacation or “leave without pay” to run. He must stay home. He is paid to think about the city, not the Senate.

“Not everything is black and white,” echoes in my ear. I have heard that before about interpretations.There’s some truth to that.

“The Mayor shall devote full time and attention to the performance of the duties of office…” is not subject to such interpretation.

Now, Mei Sheng is black and white. Not in Albuquerque!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Inconvenient Truth

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Back on Wed., May 10, 2006, I posted, “Matthew and Michael Paul Astorga,” a piece about how I had a chance encounter with events involving Michael Astorga, the man alleged to have killed Bernalillo County Deputy Sheriff James McGrane Jr. on Mar. 22, 2006.

A channel 7 KOAT-TV News photographer had videotaped me, below left, standing over a spent shell casing at the scene.

After the fatal balloon accident Mon., Oct. 08, 2007, KOAT-TV reported on previous deadly balloon accidents. They ran archived footage of the 1982 El Globo Grande balloon accident that killed four and injured five people. I had flown that day, landed and while packing up my balloon, saw the El Globo Grande rising, while on fire, over the North Valley.

I followed the balloon that eventually settled into the Rio Grande. I joined a number of other balloonists, crewmembers and citizens in trying to recover the balloon. I had indirectly gone into “cop mode” and took charge. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s brought in their airboat and we attempted to get the waterlogged fabric into the vessel. Because of the amount of water in the balloon and the way we put the fabric in the boat, there was no way for the water to escape. I cut panels of fabric to let the water out. I told a local Federal Aviation Administration field office inspector of what had been done to recover the balloon.

A channel 7 KOAT-TV News photographer had videotaped me, above right, standing in the river struggling with the balloon.

At times I feel that I am experiencing, “Forrest Gump moments,” having been at events that later are viewed as historic and it seems that my images end up in the TV memory banks.

I am seen from my backside and metaphorically, it might be prophetic. I am perceived by some as being an ass for pointing out facts that some wish would remain hidden. To that, I plead, “Guilty!” However, that maybe is just what former Vice-President Al Gore calls "An Inconvenient Truth."

So what’s wrong with this picture?

There are some things that need to be said.

"An Inconvenient Truth" is the name of his Academy Award winning documentary film. Gore, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 12.

The premise of Gore’s message is that man is adding to global warming and that if not checked it, will have an irreversible affect on the world.

Mayor Martin Chávez has adopted Gore’s philosophy and wants to make Albuquerque a city that does not add to climate change. He has taken strides within the government to adopt energy policies, such as using natural gas and purchasing hybrid vehicles.

Now it seems that Chávez’ plans include indoctrinating city employees with Gore’s ideas. All 6,500 employees are being mandated to see the film. The first groups had to spend upwards of four hours sitting through lectures and the entire film, according to a city source who shall remain anonymous to keep them from being retaliated against.

Once questions about the propriety of showing a film with a political theme were raised, city leaders changed the curriculum. In a Journal story, Director of Human Resources Patricia Miller said that the film had been edited to show only the “scientific portions.”

"Overall, the response has been good," Miller told the Journal’s city hall reporter Dan McKay. That’s not what I hear city workers think.

Though the Bush administration has not been quick to embrace Gore’s premise, the scientific evidence has overtaken the political ideology.

That’s the point. Not everyone agrees as to what is the extent of the problem.

Natural warming has been going on for centuries, proof is seen in Glacier National Park, where the ice has been receding this geological cycle. It is difficult to say where natural warming ends and man made heating overtakes it.

Chávez is pushing Gore’s political ideology on civil servants who are required to remain non-partisan.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Round ‘em Up, Put ‘em in the Political Corral

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Tuesday, Oct. 9
Mayor Announces for Senate.

Mayor Martin Chávez announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pete Domenici. Using the backdrop of Eclipse Aviation’s showroom, Chávez threw his hat in the ring, joining Santa Fe political newcomers: developer Don Wiviott, Finance Director of the Santa Fe Community Housing Trust Jim Hannan, and alternative newspaper Mother Media Publisher Leland Lehrman, who are already in the race.

Wiviott, left, said he is solidly in the race, while Hannan is viewed as reconsidering his position because he said he would drop out in favor of Rep. Tom Udall. Udall has since announced he would not run.

"Mayor Martin Chavez pledges he can still be the mayor while trying to become a U.S. senator," according to an Albuquerque Tribune article written by City Hall Reporter Erik Siemers on Oct. 10.

"That is challenging," Chavez said Tuesday, moments after announcing his bid to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, an Albuquerque Republican. "One of the facets I really seriously considered was to be assured I could still do a great job for the city."

On the Republican side, Rep Heather Wilson announced she was seeking the senate seat last week. Political newcomer, oil industry investor, part-owner and Chief Executive Officer of Port Westward LNG, Spiro Vassilopoulos, left, announced his bid at a Republican Pig Roast Saturday at the Mesa Verde Ranch near Alamogordo according to Alamogordo Daily News Staff Writer Karl Anderson.

I did not cover the Chávez event. It was not because I didn’t want to, but because I had a prior appointment.

It seems that the far-right wing of the Republican Party sent operatives to the event and issued counter Chávez press releases and had their mobile billboard parked in front of the Eclipse Aviation factory headquarters.

My take is that before Wilson could even get a sign printed, announcing her candidacy, party operatives would be going negative. I find it inappropriate to try to trash the opponent at his announcement. However, it may be foretelling the level of nastiness we have in store for the next 13 months. I doubt that the Republican Party would allow Democrat Party operatives to attend their events, let alone hand out anti candidate materials anywhere near their location. It will make covering the campaigns all that more difficult.

Wednesday, Oct, 10
White wants to go to Washington

Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, standing before his family and a group of supporters, announced his intention to run for the New Mexico Congressional District 1 seat being vacated by Rep. Wilson, who is seeking the senate seat from which Domenici is retiring.

Thursday, Oct. 11
Lujan Grisham also wants to go to Washington

Former Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham stepped up to the podium and announced that she wanted to be the next congresswoman from New Mexico’s district 1. Lujan Grisham is running for the Democratic nomination.

The diminutive Lujan Grisham made a point that she was standing on a step stool to be seen behind the tall podium, She invoked the names of members of her family who had served N.M. in the past. They included her grandfather, Eugene Lujan, who served 20 years on the State Supreme Court and her cousin, former Rep. Manuel Lujan Jr., a Republican who was a 10-term congressman in the seat to which she now aspires.

Manuel Lujan’s brother, Edward, a former State Republican Party chairman, who also made a failed bid for the seat when brother Manny left congress, showed his support, above right, by sitting with her family.

She served during Gov. Gary Johnson, then Gov. Bill Richardson’s administrations as director of the Agency on Aging, which changed its name to the Aging and Long-Term Services. Richardson elevated her to his cabinet as Health Secretary.

Albuquerque City Councillor Martin Heinrich, above, announced in May his intentions to run on the Democratic side.

Tuesday, Oct. 15
Representative wants to be a Senator

Republican Congressman Steve Pierce, who represents the southern district of New Mexico apparently, is going to run for the senate seat vacated by Domenici.

Though he has not officially announced, Associated Press broke the story this morning that Pierce was sending out letters later this week soliciting campaign contributions. His formal announcement will occur at a later date.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

There is a possibility that not all candidates are in these races yet. Political buzz is running rampant as potential candidates try to assess the level of financial support and how they would match up against others in the races. There are almost as many political trial balloons floated as last weeks Balloon Fiesta’s mass ascensions, and just about as much hot air.

Each announcement brought issues with them.

Chávez’ run raises questions of conflict with the city charter over his duties, powers and performance in office. This will be the topic of another posting.

“Unfortunately, mistakes have been made by those in Washington, and the Iraqi government has not stepped up,” White said. “We all want to bring the troops home, and I will do just that, but our troops must return in victory because al Qaida must be denied a safe haven in Iraq.”

Political foes and even some friends are jumping on the quote. Though it appears that he is trying to establish himself as independent, White used the word, “victory” that is undefined and is perceived by many as code for a protracted war “on terrorism,” with under-manned forces, with no clear goals and a questionable ability to extract troops. He takes a vets’ view of how the military works, not the view of a congressman in understanding foreign policy at the level of oversight.

White holds up his opposition to his former boss Gov. Johnson’s efforts to change the “War on Drugs” as showing his independence. However, some saw White as being ideologically out of touch with the reality that the “law enforcement only” approach to the drug problem without attempting to break the psychological and physical dependence cycle, not as being independent, but intransigent.

Lujan Grisham brings baggage from her days as director of Aging and Long-Term Services, at which time several scandals broke, including the failure to follow up on patients who left state hospitals at Fort Stanton and Los Lunas when they were closed. Several former mental patients were sexually abused and the whereabouts of others could not be established.

Lujan Grisham’s claim that her grandfather’s term on the Supreme Court was 20 years is disputed as his having served from 1945 to 1959, or 14 years.

Pierce’s entry opens his House seat. The third federal level position held by Republicans will now be up for grabs.

As my blogging colleague Joe Monahan asks, “Are we having fun yet?” The answer is, you bet!

There You Go Again

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Mario Burgos, a young political blogger, of the far right persuasion.

This is not an attack on his politics, just his sense of political history.

As noted, he’s young -- 38; however, he’s getting to an age where he should know better.

Since I retired, I chose to return to the university and have taken the journalism track. I’m the old guy who sits in the back of the room and listens to how young people view the world.

One thing that keeps me entertained are comments made by students, and sometimes by young teaching assistants. They run along the lines of, “this is the first time (some event) has ever happened.” Almost always, it simply isn’t true.

Burgos, in writing of Congressman Steve Pierce as being a self-made man, pointed out as a matter of comparison, another self-made man, “who was the first to be elected to two-consecutive terms as Governor in New Mexico.” He linked to a Wikipedia entry for Gov. Gary Johnson, who served from 1995 to 2003. Of course, there’s that one little problem; it simply isn’t true. Johnson was the first governor to be reelected to a four-year term, but in the old days, prior to 1970, governors served two-year terms.

Clyde Tingley was elected in 1934 and re-elected in 1936, becoming the first two-consecutive term governor.

The other two-consecutive term governor was David Cargo, elected in 1966 and re-elected in 1968. Cargo ran for several offices since and always mentions that he was the first Republican to serve two-terms. In 1970, Cargo ran in the Republican senate primary against Anderson Carter, but lost.

Pete Domenici was the primary winner for the Republican gubernatorial bid against Democrat Bruce King in 1970. King won and was later re-elected twice, but not consecutively.

Yet, when President Richard Nixon, left, came to Albuquerque Oct. 31, 1970, for a campaign visit, it was U.S. senatorial candidate Anderson Carter, right, and Gov. David Cargo, center, who stood in the open top of the presidential limousine passing the crowd at the International Sunport.

Isn’t politics a weird dance? Here is Cargo, who was a lame duck at that moment, embracing the man who defeated him for the next election. While Cargo was still the governor, Nixon’s visit was to support candidates for office and the governorship should have been on the Republican Party’s radar. Domenici didn’t get the support or visibility from Nixon. It probably was the best thing to ever happen to Domenici, for he went on to a six term run as U.S. senator.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

History has a way of repeating itself and hopefully, of teaching lessons along the way.

Burgos is seen here, left, at the Darren White for congress announcement, Oct. 10, making nice with his former Republican legislative primary opponent, Kathy McCoy, right, of Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe Counties District 22, who battled each other for the seat in 2004.

The race was nasty before it started when Burgos announced his intention to run for incumbent four-term Republican State Legislator Ron Godbey’s seat. Godbey later announced, that due to his wife’s ill health, he would not seek reelection. McCoy received 50.3 percent of the primary vote to Burgos’ 40.3 percent and 9.60 percent for third candidate, Charles Mellon. Mc Coy was unopposed in the general election.

“Youth is wasted on the young,” according to a George Bernard Shaw quote, which seems appropriate.

Yet, enthusiasm doesn’t overcome experience or basic research.

Burgos is attempting to dissuade Pierce from entering the senatorial primary against his favorite politician, Heather Wilson.

Burgos raises an interesting argument, in favor of the youth of Wilson, 46 and Pierce’s age, 60 as reasons for the southern district’s representative to stay in the house, letting Wilson become the junior senator.

Burgos’ rationale is that Pierce retain his seat in congress and run for governor in 2010, get re-elected in 2014, then run for president in 2016, when 69. He would be the same age as Burgos’ favorite president, Ronald Reagan, who took the White House address.

“There you go again,” to quote Reagan with the title of this entry.

Burgos needs to remember that everyone has a right to their opinion, but no one has right to be wrong on their facts.

Burgos would have been about four years old when Domenici was first elected to the senate in 1972. He, most likely, has no personal recollection of the string of candidates who tried mightily and failed to dislodge the now venerable senator:
1972 -- Former state representative Jack Daniels, who was current Lt. Gov. Diane Denish’s father;
1978 -- New Mexico Attorney General Toney Anaya;
1984 -- State Legislator Judith Pratt;
1990 -- State Senator Tom R. Benavides;
1996 -- Bernalillo County Democratic Party chairman, Art Trujillo, Abraham J. Gutmann (Green), and Bruce M. Bush (Libertarian) and;
2002 -- Former Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, Gloria Tristani, who is the granddaughter of the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez.

Burgos’ argument is that Pierce is too old to run for senate, but nine years from now would still be young enough to run for president. Burgos’ age bias is showing.

In politics, you’re only as good as your last election and you can only promise to be as good in the next election, but not the one after that. Burgos is arguing for who will make the best senator in 2014, not 2008.

My take is, let all the candidates who want to run, from all sides, in. The Republican Party is bigger than the idea that Burgos has that Heather Wilson should be the anointed successor to Domenici. Though all indications seem that this was true, this week Wilson said in a Journal interview, that she and Domenici had never spoken about her becoming a senator. Domenici has not made an endorsement and Wilson has not yet asked.

Letting all voices into the critical discussions can only help the decision-making process and it might even allow for a broader look at the issues. This is an election of a representative form of government. Wouldn’t it make sense then that the candidates listen to those they hope to represent? Shouldn’t it be a conversation rather than a canned campaign speech telling voters what “They” will do rather than listen to what the constituents want them to do?

Quit picking on us old guys Mario; it’s kind of irritating… and read more history.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Busy Busy Busy…

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I’ve been busy. So busy, that I’ve seemed to have neglected my blogging. Instead of making individual entries, here’s what happened last week.

Public Relations for PR folks
Friday, Sept. 28

I helped out my buddy Benson Hendrix with the New Mexico Public Relations Society of America’s fall conference by photographing some key events. He co-coordinated the event. You should remember Hendrix as the man under the bus, about a month ago.

Members of the “PR and Social Responsibility” panel discussion are: bloggers Sophie Martin of National Dance Institute, New Mexico Advertising Federation, and she is a cofounder of Duke City Fix .com, and Mario Burgos of Mudhouse Creative advertising agency and They are with Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland Advertising.

These are the people whose jobs are to influence you. Their clients often entertain you and you may enjoy their work, but at other times you may loathe them. I find it amazing at how often they are able to succeed at both.

There were a number of people whose titles are associated with governments. Public information officers or communications and marketers, advertisers and pollsters populate their ranks. Their efforts are to inform: sometimes just the facts, sometimes the spin and sometimes you’d think they’d say anything for money. The entire range was present. These were folks that I had worked with and a few with whom I’d crossed swords. For the most part, away from the particular issue upon which we had disputes, they are decent and pleasant people worth sitting down at a meal.

This is Tom Carroll, left, president of D.W. Turner, a large PR firm in Albuquerque. He spoke about “Winning Political Campaigns.” He has five rules. I heard his first two, before going on to cover another speaker. “Winning is better than losing” and hit them early, hit them hard and hit them often.

I have to agree with Carroll, winning is better than losing. He is one of those with whom I’ve crossed swords.

In 1995, Mayor Martin Chávez and then City Councillor Steve Gallegos sent a quarter cent public safety tax initiative to city voters. Carroll and Rick Homans ran the public relations campaign to gain support for the tax. Carroll and Homans attempted to strong arm the leadership of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association when they opposed the tax. I wrote an Op-Ed piece for the September 27, 1995, Albuquerque Journal headlined "Public Safety Tax Proposal is Seriously Flawed." Along with other efforts by the union, the measure was defeated.

The Big-Hat Lady
Sunday, Sept. 30,

This is Mary Ann Fiske. She was a life-long social activist who died Sept. 19 after a long battle with cancer. She was 60.

Fiske was unique. She was a Quaker, but brought together diverse groups through interfaith efforts. I met her while raising ethical questions before the City Council. She was organizing a group called the Ethics Brigade to monitor governments’ behaviors, corruption and standards. Fiske had her work cut out for her.

It wasn’t the only work Fiske did. She had been involved in a wide range of social causes, from feeding people for as little as 17 cents a meal, to going to Africa on teaching missions. Fiske successfully organized efforts to convince airlines to stop returning Central Americans seeking political asylum in the U.S. during the Reagan administration years. A large percentage of refugees, prior to her involvement, were returned to their countries and killed before they could even clear the airport.

In the last few months of her life we walked; mostly for the exercise, but always for the conversation. We sometimes were joined in our strolls, by her husband, Chuck Hosking, or by someone from her wide circle of friends. Fiske hosted potluck suppers and the conversation was wide ranging. Politically, I was an outsider. I didn’t argue my positions, and found that there were a number of common points that we simply approached from different angles.

These are some of the more than one hundred people who gathered at the César Chávez City Park, near where Fiske lived, in the South Broadway community to celebrate her life and memory.

I called her the Big-Hat Lady for a couple of reasons. Fiske wore big hats to protect herself from the sun in her fight against cancer. I have a theory that all social change in this country since, at least abolition, has been caused by women who wore big hats. Think of the images over the past hundred and fifty years or so that photography has been around and look at the depiction of social movement parades, protests and gatherings; notice the number of big hats.

Fiske might not have been well known beyond her groups, but her influence will be missed in this community.

Pre-game Election Show
Monday, Oct. 1

I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time with my blog associate Joe Monahan, working with and for Joe It started when he invited me to join him at the KANW 89.1 FM radio station for his one-hour pre-election show.

His guests, seen here continuing the conversation outside the studio, were: Terry Brunner, left, office manager for U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D) N.M., Albuquerque Tribune’s City Hall Reporter Erik Siemers, State Rep. Larry Larrañaga (R) Bernalillo County Dist. 27, State Rep. Al Park (D) Bernalillo County Dist. 26, and Monahan. It was a great discussion. The off air comments were, of course, better than what hit the airwaves.

The main point of contention was the question of whether District 9 City Councillor Don Harris could successfully withstand a recall effort.

Municipal Elections
Tuesday, Oct. 2

Voting turnout was low. When I went to the polls, there were the six or seven poll workers and one couple voting. There had only been 60 voters by 3:15 pm at my two-precinct polling place that has 1,700 registered voters. I was not asked for anything more than my name, no photo ID was requested and I did not get my paper receipt.

It was a simple enough process. The keeper of the scanner said he had experienced no problems when I asked if “the shredder” was working properly. As I left, there was a mad rush with five people backed up at the door waiting to sign in. Only about 10 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Election Day Coverage

That evening, it was back to KANW with Monahan, left, and his returning guests Reps Park and Larrañaga, joined by State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, right, (D) Bernalillo County Dist. 12, former State Rep. Lenton Malry (D) Bernalillo County and Steve Cabiedes. Monahan also had Vic Segura downtown at Civic Plaza watching the vote count and producer Kevin Otero was on staff. I ended up manning a computer, pulling up official results and answering the phone. It takes a lot of people to put on a simple little show.

Malry, left below, arrived with early polling results from District 6 and was able to predict the strong showing and eventual victory of Rey Garduño with nearly 49 percent of the votes and avoiding a special election if he had not gotten 40 percent.

Monahan, above right, working two cell phones with candidates, runs a tight ship. He comes ready for bear. He has numbers, statistics and dates that will stop anyone who “kind of remembers that race or issue,” dead in their tracks.

This is Rear Admiral B. James Lowe, U.S. Navy (ret.), left, of New Mexicans for Democracy that mounted the recall of Harris, right, seen during cross-examination during an Ethics board hearing Sept. 24.

The surprise of the night was the unsuccessful recall of City Councillor Harris. The only prediction I had made about the recall was that I thought the turnout in District 9 would not be greater than any of the other odd-numbered districts that were not electing councilors. As far as I could tell from the limited information posted on the County Clerks website, those numbers held up. What I found remarkable is that Harris got virtually the same percentage as he did to get elected.

During the regular municipal election, October 4, 2005, Harris was in a four-way race for the District 9 seat that went to a special run-off election when none of the candidates received 40 percent of the vote. Incumbent Councillor Tina Cummins got 2,251 votes for 26.73 percent, Vivian Cordova got 1,115 votes for 13.24 percent, Chris Catechis got 2,111 votes for 25.07 percent, and Harris received 2,943 votes for 34.95 percent.

In the run-off election on November 15, 2005, 3,686 voters went to the polls. Cummins got 1,236 votes for 33.53 percent while Harris received 2,450 votes for 66.47 percent.

In the recall there were 4,466 votes cast; 1,519 supported the recall for 34.01 percent while 2,947 opposed the recall for 65.99 percent. The media played the story as Harris having survived the recall. The numbers should have made it clear that survival was not the correct phrase to describe it. More district voters went to the polls by about 500 votes and he lost less than a half percentage point. It would seem that Harris’ popularity is fairly consistent.

At the same time, voters amended the Charter to do away with recall. The change now requires that a person be accused of a crime: malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance, before a recall can be instituted. Councillor Craig Loy was the author of the amendment. As a retired police captain, one has to wonder if he doesn’t realize that a public official convicted of malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance is automatically stripped of their office before any other punishment is doled out. Albuquerque has never recalled a public official and only twice has the question even reached the ballot.

The head-scratcher around the table was why District 4 Incumbent Councillor Brad Winter engaged in responding to negative attacks from newcomer Paulette de Pascal. She was a non-starter, unqualified and incapable of mounting a serious campaign. So why did Winter’s camp react while his opponent was in a self-destructive free fall? Answer: he had slash and burn advisors who are too close, have a history of reactive negative responses and were unable to recognize with any accuracy that going negative, in this case, was unnecessary. In spite of it, Winter won by the largest margin in memory of city elections with more than 80 percent.

Wednesday, Oct. 3
Word came that New Mexico’s senior Senator Pete Domenici was announcing that he would not seek a seventh term.

Domenici Announces his Retirement from the U.S. Senate.
Thursday, Oct. 4

After 35 years in the senate, Pete Domenici announced that he would not seek a seventh term. He had announced his run Feb. 20, but said things have changed. He has been diagnosed with Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration or FTLD, an incurable disease that causes dysfunction of the brain. Though he doesn’t expect the disease to affect his last 15 months of this term, he could not assure New Mexicans that he could serve seven more years.

With his wife Nancy at his side and before about 50 family members and staffers, Domenici made the announcement in the gym at Saint Mary High School in downtown Albuquerque, where he attended class as a boy. About 200 people were present, mostly supporters, some from as far back as his school days; all seemed to have a story about him.

The media was out in force; most local television stations had two cameras and some had three.

Print journalists also were out, including Barry Massey of the Associated Press and Mike Gallagher of the Albuquerque Journal.

Monahan was in great demand by local TV stations for his historic take.

KOAT TV Action 7 News co-anchor Doug Fernandez, left with Saint Mary School's Security Art Limon to his right, photographers, Albuquerque Journal’s Roberto Rosales and The New Mexican’s Luis Sánchez Saturno await Domenici’s arrival.

There was a law enforcement and school security presence; firm direction, but not overbearing. Top law enforcers, U.S. Marshal Gordon Eden Jr., along with Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, left, and Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz, right, both uniformed and with their public information officers in tow, were conspicuous.

White is heading to Washington this week to consult with national Republican Party officials about entering the congressional race.

Wilson’s Announcement, she’s out of the House and into the Senate race
Friday, Oct. 5

Less than 24-hours after Domenici withdrew, New Mexico District 1 Congresswoman Heather Wilson held a hastily arranged press conference, where she announced her candidacy for senate. Standing at a podium with a two-year old congressional yard sign posted on the front, she was the first candidate to seek the soon to be vacated senate seat. Wilson portrayed the announcement as subdued in light of Domenici’s sudden retirement; alluding to his health and she said that now was not the time for formal announcements or celebrations.

Since the 1998 special election to replace Congressman Steve Schiff, who died in office of cancer, Domenici has championed Wilson.

Domenici held Wilson’s arm high in a victory celebration on June 26, 1998. From the left are her son Josh and her husband, Jay Hone, Wilson, Domenici, then to the right are the late Dee Johnson and her husband, then Gov. Gary Johnson. Wilson had been Johnson’s cabinet secretary of New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department before running. She defeated Phil Maloof.

There was no doubt, even that evening; Domenici was grooming her to replace him.

As the presumptive Republican candidate for years, it was clear that Wilson was trying to get her name in the public’s mind first. She is probably trying to ward off others who currently are considering entering the race, specifically New Mexico District 2 Congressman Steve Pierce of the southern part of the state.

Though she narrowly won her last election over Democrat Attorney General Patricia Madrid by less than 900 votes, local Republicans seem solidly behind her. She has broken with the White House position on a few issues and is seen as less conservative than Pierce.

Everybody Loves Puppies
Saturday, Oct. 6

This is Stubby, a two-year old pit bull mix, who was one of 11 recipients presented with Animal Protection of New Mexico’s 2007 Milagro Award.

Stubby was honored for saving the life of an Embudo man who nearly froze to death in subfreezing weather in Feb. 2006. The dog woke her “human” at 3 a.m. with wild barking and would not stop, even when put out. In what Steve Harris called a “Lassie moment, ” She kept running back and forth,” Harris said, until he followed her into the pasture. She led Harris to the body of a local man who suffers from mental issues. The man had wandered from his home and slipped into the Rio Grande when he attempted to get a drink. He had lain down in the field while his clothing began to freeze to his body in the 15-degree temperature.

Founder of Save the, Dr. Carol Noon, seen below right, was the special guest speaker. She spoke of her organization’s efforts to rescue 266 chimps that originally were used by the U.S. Air Force in aerospace research, then for biomedical research, before being warehoused by the Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo, N.M. Coulston had, “the worst record of any lab in the history of the Animal Welfare Act,” Noon said. She acquired the primates, formed Save the Chimps, bought 200 acres of land in Florida and built a permanent sanctuary called, Islands in the Sun, for the animals.

State Senator Mary Jane García, seen above left, (D) Dona Aña County, was given a special Champion for Animals Milagro Award for sponsoring a bill outlawing cockfighting.

The biannual recognitions were made at a Santa Fe banquet and other awards were presented to:
Advocacy Award: Deborah James, Rio Rancho
Animal Award: Stubby Harris, Embudo
Board of Directors’ Award: Tamsin Faith Bemis, Albuquerque, Awarded posthumously
Executive Director’s Award: Governor Bill Richardson, Santa Fe
Direct Animal Services Award: Jemez Valley Animal Amigos, Jemez Springs
Humane Education Award: Lannie Alexander, Albuquerque
Lawmaking Advocacy Award: Rep. Justine Fox-Young, Albuquerque
Lawmaking Advocacy Award: Rep. Thomas Swisstack, Rio Rancho
Mary Jane García Champion for Animals Award: Sally Mayer, Albuquerque
Media Award: Sunny Aris, Ruidoso MTD Radio

Animal Protection of New Mexico approached me through Capitol Report New Mexico seeking to use pictures of Gov. Bill Richardson, State Reps. Swisstack (D) Sandoval County District 60, and Fox-Young (R) Bernalillo County District 30. Part of my deal with them was credit for the magazine, dinner, the opportunity to photograph the recipients and write about the event. Richardson was already going to be a no-show, as he is on the Democratic presidential candidate campaign trail. Fox-Young and Mayer were also no-shows.