Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Let it Spin, Crash and Burn, or There Are No Rules in a Knife Fight, or If Your Friends All Jumped Off a Bridge, Would You?

I can’t make up my mind which headline above I should use to write about the media ban on the Republican U.S. Congressional District 1 debate held last Saturday.

“I had wanted to see the first debate…,” my blogger colleague, Mario Burgos, posted.

So did I.

The event was closed to the media by its organizer, former N.M. Rep. Rory Ogle.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, left, and State Sen. Joe Carraro, right, are seeking the U.S. House seat vacated by current Rep. Heather Wilson. She is seeking the Senate position of retiring Sen. Pete Domenici. White and Carraro were scheduled to debate before a Republican group in Albuquerque. Blogger Joe Monahan posted that a “no media” rule was in effect.

“Ok, normally I would be the first one to agree that all debates by candidates for public office should be open,” Burgos wrote. “But, here is the thing. According to the meeting organizer, former State Representative Rory Ogle, both candidates agreed to a ‘no press’ rule.”

Rule? Where does anyone get the idea that they can impose such a rule on a debate for public office? Clearly, not someone who has any regard for: the underpinnings of this country, the political process, a free and open society, or of the party, or the potential electorate.

All the excuses given for disallowing coverage of a public debate simply fail.

I seldom listen to those who tell me to pick my fights. However, I didn’t run over to the event with my cameras around my neck and my voter registration card in my hand to storm the barricades.

My view was that this was such a political debacle that I didn’t want to be anywhere close to the falling debris. Gravity still works and the thud to the ground would have gotten so much dust on my equipment that I would still be trying to clean it up.

When Carraro was contemplating announcing his run for the House, a couple of months ago, he told me that he would invite the press, and me to all his events. I didn’t get an invite to this event, or even to his announcement. He also said that he would beat White in any debate on the issues, hands down.

Is it possible that others, those supporting White, agree with Carraro’s assessment of White’s debating incapability’s, or weakness?

Some suggest that if Carraro did not want to follow this rule, he should have opted out of the debate. Are they manipulating the forum to play a twisted game of hiding the candidates for public office unless you are a member of a new secret political party?

The argument seems to be: come on, everybody else is agreeing to keep the press and therefore, the public, from seeing what the candidates have to say. Was this debate a dry run to see if the candidates can stand up to each other before they take their show on the road?

“…Joe Carraro acted like a big mouth asshole when he invited the media & argued his reasoning with the organizer, Rory Ogle,” Alan Leonetti, seen here, right, at White’s announcement, wrote, in a comment on Burgos’ blog. “It just goes to show the rotten big mouth common character of Carraro,” Leonetti went on before signing off, “Republicanly yours.”

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Debates are tricky events. Republicans are particularly wary. In 1960, former Vice President Richard Nixon squared off against Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kennedy in a televised debate. Analysis of the day reported that Nixon was better prepared and more knowledgeable on the issues. Polling of people who listened on the radio thought Nixon outscored Kennedy. However, for those who watched on television, the results were drastically different. Nixon had been: ill, he had a heavy five-o’clock shadow, applied his own makeup, and he sweated profusely under the intense studio lights. Kennedy appeared tanned and fit, though we would later learn that his health was poor and a closely guarded secret. The two images swung the TV audience in favor of Kennedy.

White, at his announcement, October 10, 2007, has Nixon beat in the sweat department. The new TV lights are nothing compared to nearly 50 years ago.

Twenty years later, the Republicans had little to fear with former California Governor Ronald Reagan. During a New Hampshire debate with front-runner George H.W. Bush, Reagan refused to yield the floor to moderator and Editor John Breen of the Nashua Telegraph by saying, "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green." Reagan had paid for the microphone as part of an event he sponsored because he was unsure if a newspaper-sponsored debate might violate federal election regulations by not allowing the seven-candidate field to participate.

Candidates with strong debating skills want to take on opponents who are not as strong.

We’ve seen it before. A little over a year ago in the U.S. District 1 race between Wilson and her Democratic opponent, State Attorney General Patricia Madrid, went through a series of debates. The first, at Temple Albert, was not aired live, by agreement. That debate had no clear winner, though both sides spun their candidate’s performances as victories.

Wilson accused Madrid of avoiding debates, but Wilson cancelled, at least one dual function.

A later live television debate was different as Madrid froze when Wilson asked her a direct question. Wilson won the election by less than 900 votes.

My Take

The Republican Party, at one level, still touts itself as having a big tent, open to anyone. Bernalillo County Republican Party Chairman Fernando C. de Baca, right, told me that all Republican events are open to the press. It doesn’t seem like he has any influence in this arena.

Leonetti’s assertion, that after seeing the closed debate, White was the winner, will be held as nothing more than an avid supporter attacking his candidate’s opponent in an unveiled negative attack.

There is never a wrong time to do the right thing!

So, even if Carraro had initially agreed to the silly "no media” rule, it is not his later complaint that is at issue. Why did those in support of barring the media not recognize such an act sends a clear message, at least for this group of Republicans, they have no respect for our country?

Ogle, represented Albuquerque’s far-east heights State House Dist. 28 for two years starting in 2003. He was accused in an incident of alleged domestic abuse for throwing a headboard and striking his wife. He was initially charged in July of 2004 with aggravated battery on a household member. He pleaded guilty to an amended charge of battery on the person of another. Ogle’s attorney was former Secretary of corrections Rob Perry, right, at White’s announcement. Ogle was sentenced to six-months of probation. In 2005, fellow Republican Jimmie Hall replaced Ogle in the legislature.

Ogle, Burgos, who disclosed that he has made a financial political contribution to White’s campaign, and Leonetti, are clearly supporters of White. The event was more about supporting White than it was holding an open and honest debate.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

ACLU Is On the Loose

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Click on pictures to enlarge.

You may recall the Aug. 27, 2007 visit of President George W. Bush to Albuquerque and more specifically, the Village of Los Rancho de Albuquerque’s Mayor Larry Abraham’s home on Rio Grande Boulevard, for a Sen. Pete Domenici fund-raiser. I posted Aug. 28.

On Aug. 30, Albuquerque Journal Politics Writer Jeff Jones wrote in a copyrighted story, “Bush Manual Shows Disparities,” that under the direction of the Secret Service, local law enforcement including Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies and Albuquerque Police Department officers enforced a zone of more than 750 feet to keep protesters away from the event.

On Jan. 15, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a law suit in federal district in Albuquerque on behalf of some 150 protesters.

The suit alleges that while the protesters were kept out of the view of the president, a group of supporters were allowed mere yards from the motorcade. The ACLU charges unequal treatment of people who wish to see and send messages to their president in violation of citizen’s constitutional rights.

"There are several ways the advance person can prepare a site to minimize demonstrators," according to the October 2002, "Presidential Advance Manual." In the section, “Preparing for Demonstrators,” it reads, "First, as always, work with the Secret Service and have them ask the local police department to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route." The ACLU in their filing is using the heavily redacted White House manual, as source material.

“The Secret Service makes the final calls for security at presidential events,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White told the Journal, at the time. A Secret Service agent, above, confers with an APD officer during the fundraiser.

"I disagree with their allegations in the lawsuit," Sheriff White said, in another Journal article, “ACLU Sues Over Bush Visit Protest” written by Jones on Jan. 16. City Attorney Bob White also told Jones that APD officers did nothing wrong.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

State Democratic Party Executive Director Laura Sanchez, above, gave a television interview the day before the event, at a sign painting session preparing for the protest. She is one of the named plaintiff’s in the ACLU suit.

American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Legislative and Political Director Carter Bundy, is also a plaintiff. He carried: a protest sign, a cooler, and an American flag as he left the protest site. Bundy is wearing his pajama bottoms. The protest was nicknamed Pete’s pajama party, in honor of Sen. Domenici’s reportedly wearing pajama pants in the Senate office building during the 2006 Christmas break. Domenici said, at the time, that they were camouflaged hunting pants, not pajamas.

Others named as plaintiffs, above, in the ACLU suit include: Laura Paskus-Lawrence, left, with her 19-month old daughter; Stop the War Machine, whose members held this large sign, above; and Jeanne Pahls, third from left, holding and peering out from under the sign. At the far right end of the sign is Bob Anderson. He is not named in the suit, but is a leader of Stop the War Machine and a former Green Party U.S. Congressional candidate for N.M. District 1 seat in 1998.

Jason Call, above, who, at the time was a Democratic U.S. Congressional candidate for N.M. District 1 seat, was attempting to see the president up close to show him his sign. Call has since withdrawn from the Congressional race.

The plaintiffs have agreed not to make individual public comments, instead directing questions to an ACLU spokesperson in New York City.

Sheriff White, who was present, said in a story, “ACLU free-speech lawsuit targets Albuquerque-area law enforcement,” by Albuquerque Tribune Reporter James Brosnan, that he could see the protestors from Abraham’s house. Jones wrote, Sheriff White added that, “the protesters were not hidden from Bush's view.”

Yet, from this vantage point, about as close as anyone was allowed to get, the wall behind this Secret Service Agent, above, who was conferring with APD officers, blocked the view of Mayor Abraham’s house.

White is equivocating. A Republican, he is now running for the First U.S. Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Heather Wilson, who is running for retiring Sen. Pete Domenici’s seat.

As this picture shot with a telephoto lens shows, one would be hard pressed to read the printing on the signs at Abraham’s gate. Therefore, the president would likewise have had difficulty seeing the protesters signs while sitting in his limousine. There also was a moving unmarked law enforcement vehicle that paralleled the heavily armored vehicle, partially blocking the view.

"Did we try to make that area as secure as possible? Absolutely," Sheriff White told the Journal. However, it clearly was not about security, because Sheriff White’s deputies violated the cardinal rule of dignitary protection; don’t watch the protected party, instead watch the crowd. The deputies, closest to the supporters, have their backs to them and are facing the president’s limousine.

Sheriff White equates a distasteful message with a security risk. Citizens who disagree with the administration have as much right to send their message, as do those who are in support. Law enforcement may not quash one, while encouraging or facilitating another.

The supporters appear to be on the street side of the utility poles, which may mean that they were not on private property as White maintains, but were on the public right of way.

Had the American flags appeared a minute earlier, this Albuquerque Police Lieutenant would have gotten a face full of complaints for not providing equal access to citizens and the local press.

Sheriff White doesn’t get it, or doesn’t care. The violation of the Constitutional rights comes from allowing the group of supporters to be closer than other citizens based on their message.

Sheriff White fails to understand the rationale behind the legal exception that allows for restricting parts of the First Amendment, specifically: speech, peaceable assembly and the right to petition government for a redress of grievances. Both protesters and supporters have equal rights.

The two legal theories that the courts use in their consideration are called the time, place and manner restrictions, and content neutrality.

The regulation is on where and when expression is made, as opposed to what is said. The First Amendment tolerates restrictions on time, place and manner. It is not tolerant of content regulations.

There are four criteria that must be met to constitutionally justify imposing time, place and manner restrictions. The restriction must be:
content neutral,
not a complete ban on a kind of communication,
the state must articulate a "substantial interest" to justify the restraint, and
the restriction must be narrowly tailored so it does not restrict anymore than it needs to, to meet the stated goal.

Sheriff White cannot get past the first criteria, content neutrality. He tries to use security as an excuse, but to do so, he has to judge the nature of the messages, pro and con.

Sheriff White was the 2004 Bush Bernalillo County re-election coordinator, when Vice President Cheney came to Rio Rancho High School to speak at a public gathering. Apparently, using “Section V. Crowd Raising and Ticket Distribution” of the Advance Manual, “Proper ticket distribution is vital to creating a well-balanced crowd and deterring potential protesters from attending events.” Sheriff White required citizens, wanting to attend, to sign a loyalty oath to the Republican Party to obtain tickets for the event.

This is not the first time, nor is it limited to only one party, that has such limitations have been made.

The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was interspersed with demonstrators, some peaceful, some confrontational, and a few who became violent. Their protests, eventually spurred an 18-minute nationally televised “police riot.”

Just days before the 1968 general election, then Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate on a final campaign tour, spoke in Albuquerque. APD officers and a Secret Service Agent block entrance to two supporters of Independent Presidential candidate Alabama Gov. George Wallace, at the Agnew event.

Prior to the Sept. 4, 2003 debate at Popejoy Hall on the University of New Mexico campus for the Democratic Party Presidential candidates, limitations were imposed on demonstrators supporting various candidates.

Mayor Martin Chávez, then a supporter of Sen. John Edwards, confronted a group of “Draft Wesley Clark” demonstrators on the mall and then spoke to a UNM Police Lieutenant.

Chávez then walked past the group, and the officer challenged Gen. Clark’s supporters. He ordered them to move more than a block away and out of sight of the partisan Democratic crowd.

The only difference between the supporters and the people attending was, they were carrying campaign posters in a public place and they did not have tickets for the event.

Law enforcement protective details are often placed in positions where their obligation is conflicted by personal and sometimes political considerations. If it were up to the Secret Service, the president would never leave the relative security of the White House. Therefore, the further away anyone is from the president, the better. However, the Secret Service is also pragmatic; they recognize that those under their protection are political animals, dependent upon public contact.

The White House Advance manual encourages “…deterring potential protestors from attending events.” To the Secret Service, following that political request actually makes their job easier; one less potential problem, the possible disruption by demonstrators.

The Secret Service’s primary role is to protect the president from physical or murderous attacks.

The Secret Service has its own protocols, separate from the White House Advance manual. It is, for obvious reasons, not widely distributed. It has been developed, altered and updated over the years. From my experience, the Service has always maintained a tight control on access to the public. However, there were few previous hints that the Service was being used as blatantly political as it is with this administration.

Security details are often placed into situations where they become personal valets. Here, Lt. Mark Romero, head of the New Mexico State Police Governor’s Security Detail, loads luggage in the rear of a state vehicle after Gov. Bill Richardson’s return from his diplomatic trip to Sudan, where he helped broker a cease-fire in Darfur. The NMSP motto "Pro Bono Publico" or "For the Public Good," is inconsistent with personal service. This is not a job for the State Police; rather it’s a task that should be done by some personal aide, or political operative. Remember, President Jimmy Carter carried his own bags.

My Take

It’s not just about protesters.

It is also about the phrase, “…or of the Press…” the First Amendment’s section that prohibits government, originally through, “Congress shall make no law…” from affecting the freedom of the press.

By the time the president left the event, there were only a half a dozen demonstrators left; while there were almost twice as many members of the local media still present.

KOAT TV Photojournalist J. Paul Hyso, above, turned his back on the motorcade and shoots one of his trademark low-angle shots of one of the few remaining protesters at the event.

I grant the need for providing security to the president when he is in the open, but the cordons imposed here, were excessive. There is no reason, once the president is inside his rolling safe, with its four inches of armor plating, to impose a restriction on where citizens of this country stand, observe, report, photograph, or express themselves, except to violate the Constitution.

The final phrase of the First Amendment, “…or the right of the people…, and to petition the government for a redress of grievance.”

The president represents “the government,” the demonstrators have a right to petition, carry signs, shout and protest their grievances directly. In an ironic twist that only a constitutional absolutist could embrace, the first amendment petition clause would not apply to supporters; they would be covered by the free speech clause. Petition is an additional and specific right. Redress of grievances means to set things right. In order to be considered, to set things right, the government must be aware. Petition can come in formal and informal ways. The government itself often generates the grievances upon which redress is sought.

I am not trying to encourage such restrictions. However, had the Sheriff’s Deputies not allowed the supporters to stay where they were, the grounds for this suit would not have gotten the needed traction.

President Richard Nixon, a man who had to resign, in disgrace, because he criminally tried to destroy his political enemies, was even willing to withstand acts of ridicule and indignity, as seen here during his second inaugural parade Jan. 20, 1973, unlike the current president.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chilly Chili

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is a chili pod from a holiday ristra in some leftover snow on a street across from the State Capitol before the legislature opened its session Tuesday.

It might speak volumes, metaphorically, about the 30-day “short session” of the 112 part-time unpaid citizen legislators and their views of their upcoming work.

The session started with the housekeeping chores of accounting for all its members being present and signed in. Each house had to fill vacancies that opened during the last year.

In the House, two new representatives were sworn-in: John Peña, left, D- McKinley and San Juan Counties, replaced Irvin Harrison who retired in April, and Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez, right, D- Grant and Hidalgo Counties, replaced Manuel Herrera, who died of cancer in October.

Howie Morales, D- Catron, Grant and Socorro Counties, with his hand raised, is sworn in,replacing Senate Pro-Tem Ben Altamirano, who died last month. He was escorted by other Senators in the chambers: William H. Payne, R- Bernalillo, John Arthur Smith, D- Hidalgo, Luna and Sierra Counties, Cynthia Nava, D- Dona Ana County, and John Pinto, D- McKinley and San Juan Counties.

The Senate elected Tim Jennings, above, D- Chavez, Eddy, Lincoln and Otero Counties, Senate Pro-Tem. He accompanied his colleagues as the two bodies joined in the House chamber to listen to Gov. Bill Richardson give his sixth State of the State address.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is Sen. Cisco McSorley, D- Bernalillo, taking a picture of Richardson’s speech.

According to the State’s Constitution, the short session is limited to only three topics:
budgets, appropriations and revenue bills,
bills drawn pursuant to special messages of the governor and,
bills of the last previous regular session vetoed by the governor.

“Energy efficiency, domestic violence, ethics reform, domestic partnership, and expanding health care coverage to every New Mexican are major issues facing this state and are the heart of my agenda,” Richardson told legislators, government officials, workers, guests and citizens crowded into the chamber’s floor and gallery.

Sen. Dede Feldman, center, D- Bernalillo County, Chair of the Interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, took notes as Richardson spoke of his "Health Solutions New Mexico Plan."

Richardson seemed well received by the overflow crowd. It is of interest that the Governor comes down and goes up the aisle of the House chamber where the majority members sit. It makes one wonder why he does not extend his hand to the minority?

After the speech, House Republican Caucus Representatives, Minority Floor Leader Tom Taylor, left, San Juan County and Minority Whip Dan Foley, right, Chaves, Lincoln and Otero Counties, gave their assessment of the governor’s speech.

Their take was that with only 30-days, much was being asked and not all could be accomplished. Taylor said that the cost of the governor’s health care coverage was greater than the available resources. At best, the legislature might be able to set a framework for implementing a plan over a number of years.

Foley said that the Republican side wanted to first work on issues where both parties could come to some common ground and hoped to do so in the first 20-days of the session. Then, in the last 10-days tackle the more contentious issues. He suggested that the domestic partnership was such an issue, saying that he thought there would be significant “push back” from both sides of the aisle.

Taylor said that he had adopted a policy of signing on to cosponsor bills with Speaker of the House Rep. Ben Lujan, D- Santa Fe, on issues where the Republicans previously might have introduced a separate competing bill with minor changes. The example he gave was, Democrats might have, in the past, introduced a four percent tax cut and the Republicans would have introduced a bill with a four and a half percent tax cut. Now they won’t fight over two bills.

I asked if there was any such offer of cooperation from the other side and Taylor snapped, “It doesn’t matter!”

My Take

It sounds like spin to me. The Republicans are trying to look like they are playing nice on issues they know they have no chance of impacting, while also recognizing that the Democrats have no reason to even give the appearance of also playing nice.

According to Steve Terrell’s NM Legislature Blog, the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee passed out the “Domestic Partnership” bill, 4-3 along party lines, with Democrats for and Republicans against. Terrell reports that the small committee room was overcrowded and people interested in the issue had no access, while the House chamber sat empty.

HCPAC Chairwoman Rep. Gail Chasey, D- Bernalillo, right, seen here during the opening session, ignored a call to move the hearing to the chambers from Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R- Bernalillo. When questioned by Terrell as to why the hearing wasn’t moved, Chasey admitted maybe she should have, but spun the story to complain that there was a need for a Capitol building expansion. It seems she is bemoaning the fact that the previously discussed expansion issue was dead in the water, killed prior to the session.

As this second picture of a different chili in the snow bank shows that, along the gutter of the street, the snow has a lot of road splash and is no longer pure and the chili, not so fresh. Prediction on this session will be, the temperature chilly and the chili, not so hot.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Muppet Show

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is State Sen. Tim Jennings’, (D) Chavez County, nameplate in the back row of the Senate chambers.

Today, he will be moving his seat to the front row after he is formally elected to be the Senate President Pro Tempore. He replaces Sen. Ben Altamirano, who died Dec 27.

Jennings has the backing of the Republican side of the Senate and at least five Democrats, according to an insider close to the legislative process. Jennings has a reputation of being outspoken, is considered to be no friend of the Governor, hence the support of the Republicans, and is assured of election to the Democratic Party controlled leadership post.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is Jennings, right, in Roswell Sept. 5, 2007, talking with two State Police Officers assigned to the Governor’s security detail. They were present for the inaugural jet service to and from Dallas by American Eagle, a feeder division of American Airlines.

I was in Santa Fe Monday, helping deliver copies of the latest Capitol Report New Mexico magazine.

On the way, we came upon a rare sight; a State Legislator driving the speed limit to the Capitol. Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, (D) Bernalillo County, was, however, talking on her cellular phone as she entered the city limits of Santa Fe. Darn, local laws!

One of the staff people in the elevator asked if we were ready for the session? The 30-day, off-year session starts at noon, today with Gov. Bill Richardson’s State of the State opening address.

“Is anybody ever ready for the beginning of the session?” I responded. Maybe the tourists are, like these men taking pictures of each other in front of the Capitol.

For about a week, as I was thinking of the start of the session, an old television tune kept running through my head. Jim Henson and Sam Pottle wrote the Muppet Show Theme Song.

“It's time to play the music
It's time to light the lights
It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight.”

The chambers are ready; the small United States and New Mexico State flags are set out on the members’ desks. Sergeants at arms were being briefed.

“It's time to put on makeup
It's time to dress up right
It's time to raise the curtain on the Muppet Show tonight.”

Those who read me regularly know, that I am a stickler for the presentation of the flag. The flag code doesn’t address how to present flags on a desk. When flags are displayed behind a speaker, the American flag is to be to the left, when the audience looks at the speaker. When the flags are in front of the speaker, the American flag is to be to the audience’ right.

“Why do we always come here
I guess we'll never know
It's like a kind of torture
To have to watch the show”

What has me confused is that in the Senate, as displayed by the Jennings desk picture above, the nation’s flag is on the left while facing it.

In the House, the flag is on the right.

“And now let's get things started
Why don't you get things started
It's time to get things started
On the most sensational
This is what we call the Muppet Show”

Correction: I misidentified Rep. Williams Stapleton, as Jane E. Powdrell-Culbert. My apologies to Powdrell-Culbert and to my readers.