Stewart Udall: A Personal Reflection

By Matt Brix

Stewart Udall, Air Force veteran, lawyer, Congressman, Interior Secretary, author, outdoor adventurer.  Each of these titles alone could easily define a lifetime of accomplishment and public service.

I believe Stewart Udall was not defined by what he did, but by who he was – a caring human being and a gentleman.  The immeasurable effect he had on regular people is what made Stewart a hero.  My good fortune in knowing him is but one of thousands of stories that could likely fill volumes.

I first met Stewart Udall four years ago when he and I served on Governor Bill Richardson’s Ethics and Campaign Reform Task Force.  By that time, Stewart was 86 years old.  On first glance, it would have appeared that he was well past his days of fighting for land conservation, or working to protect victims of uranium mining and nuclear testing.

But, I would soon realize that Stewart Udall still had the ability, and the will, to say what needed to be said.

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The Karma of Quack: Gary King and Pay-to-Sue

duckbillNew Mexico Attorney General Gary King was singled out for a special scolding by the mighty Wall Street Journal yesterday over the so-called “pay-to-sue” practices allegedly common among some state Attorneys General.

Yesterday’s editorial was triggered after King called the paper to complain about being mentioned in a previous WSJ editorial called The Pay-to-Sue Business.

That April 16th editorial focused on the questionable practice of state attorneys general accepting large campaign donations from law firms, then turning around and retaining those firms in no-bid contracts for “off-the-shelf” suits that require little original work.  Most of the editorial focused on Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and donations he accepted in 2006 from the firm of Houston attorney F. Kenneth Bailey, who was later given a no-bid, contingency-fee contract to sue a pharmaceutical company on behalf of the state.

But the piece, in listing other contributions made nationwide by the Houston firm, also mentioned a $50,000 campaign donation the firm made to King shortly before his election in 2006.

In yesterday’s editorial, titled Mr. King and His Courtiers, the WSJ explained how King’s explosive reaction to merely being mentioned in the story compelled them to look more closely at operations in King’s office.

“Some public officials are touchier than others. Take Gary King, the New Mexico Attorney General, who reacted to our recent passing reference to him by denouncing us and calling our pay-to-play facts nothing but politics. That sounded like an invitation to investigate Mr. King further, and, sure enough, he deserves an editorial all to himself.”

The editorial goes on to dig into the details regarding the donation to King from the Houston firm and notes that the firm was later retained by the state of New Mexico to sue a pharmaceutical company in a suit similar to others the firm had tried. It also uncovers some embarrassing irregularities regarding the contracts and ultimately, forces King to defend the practice of contracting private law firms altogether.

The knock on King has not gone unnoticed in New Mexico.

Perhaps the most interesting response comes from conservative blogger Mario Burgos, who references widely-ridiculed statements that King has made in connection with his definition of political campaign intervention, an issue that is currently in the courts.

“There’s an old saying that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then its probably a duck,” say AG King. “And I think we know a duck when we see one.”

I’m quite certain King is hoping no one decides to use the old “quacks like a duck” legal standard on him in this case.

Week’s End Flashback: Open ConCom Bill signed, Health Care Reform, polluter bailouts, more Monahan mashing, King v. Balderas and a Pot Poll

As we plunge into a new week, here’s a flashback on some of the stories/posts we found interesting from last week’s fare:

Governor Richardson signed Open Conference Committees bill

Marjorie at M-Pyre speculated on the Gov’s game of cat and mouse.

Steve Terrell told us so and paid tribute to the late Bob Johnson.

Peter St. Cyr makes strong  case for health care reform
Sweeping Good Government Reform Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature.

Dr. John Fogarty warns of another corporate bailout
Polluters are pushing for their own massive bailout

APS and the Office of Circumlocution
Burque Babble translates the hidden meanings in an APS press release.

Who’s Twittering?  Matt has the answers.
New Mexico Twitter users

Attorney General Gary King uses subpoena power against political rival
Haussamen:  AG, auditor engage in a legal food fight

Monahan got skewered again and again over SunCal avoidance,  anonymous sources and blogger credentials

Inkstain:  Anonymous Sources

Monahan ignores SunCal news

Linthicum-Monahan feud continues

And self-appointed defender of the blogosphere Monahan refuses to doesn’t have a NM blogroll.

National blogger Nate Silver gave us some generational polling on pot
Why Marijuana Legalization is Gaining Momentum

And finally, in the Val Kilmer for Governor Watch
Val Kilmer gets the support of fellow actor Russell Means.

The Case for Campaign Contribution Limits: How Bob Perry bought a state Supreme Court

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As we’ve said before, the passage by the legislature of a campaign contribution limits bill – which now awaits Governor Richardson’s signature — was long past overdue.  New Mexico was one of only five states in the nation with no caps whatsoever. Texas is another.

Perhaps that’s why Bob Perry, the multi-millionaire Houston homebuilder, and his wife Doylene Perry have found New Mexico politics so hospitable.  In 2008, Bob wrote campaign checks to the New Mexico Republican Party totaling $240,000.  In the 2006 cycle, the Bob and Doylene dropped a total of $361,000 into the state — to the following beneficiaries:

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Session Wrap: Big Wins for Ethics Reform, Green Jobs and the Environment

gavel1The gavel has sounded, the 60-day session is over, and we’re pleased to report a number of significant victories for ethics reform, green jobs and the environment.

ETHICS REFORM

On the ethics reform front, three high priority measures passed and await the Governor’s signature.

Campaign Contribution Limits: New Mexico was one of only five states with no restriction on the size of campaign donations.  Now you can scratch us from that ignominious list. Thanks to Common Cause, Senator Dede Feldman, Senator Peter Wirth, Representative Jeff Steinborn and others for their tireless work on this issue. (link)

Open Conference Committees: In years past, six designated lawmakers would often meet behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public and the news media, where they could then radically alter passed legislation.  And year after year, the Senate would kill efforts to open up these conference committees to the public.  But this year the Senate broke with tradition and passed this reform overwhelmingly.  Hats off to the sponsors, Senator Dede Feldman and Representative Joseph Cervantes.

Legislative Webcasting: 2009 was the year of sunshine.  Now audio webcasting of floor sessions of both houses is available to the public.  Primitive video webcasts of Senate floor sessions started in the last week.

Defense of Nonprofits: A number of bills were introduced to restrict the public education efforts of nonprofit organizations around legislative issues. All of these assaults of the First Amendment were turned back.  In an impressive show of unity, the nonprofit community rose up to meet the threat, including the ACLU, American Cancer Society, Amigos Bravos, Audubon Society, Common Cause, Environmental Law Center, New Energy Economy, Conservation Voters New Mexico, AFSCME and many others.

GREEN JOBS

New Mexico Youth Organized, working with a host of allies, passed SB318.  SB 318 creates a one million dollar job-training program for green jobs. In the final hour, the legislature also passed HB 622, creating a bonding framework for green jobs.  Extra special thanks to the bill sponsors, Speaker Ben Lujan and Senator Eric Griego!

TIDDs

Conservation Voters New Mexico worked tirelessly to kill a $400 million Tax Increment Development District proposal for sprawl development west of Albuquerque. The California developer SunCal spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on industry lobbyists and advertising.  Nice work, CVNM!

Thanks to all of you for following this blog, and for your commitment to social and economic justice!

Senate webcasting opens to bad reviews

johnsapienI generally don’t encounter much free-flowing consensus when I’m wandering around the Roundhouse. But as I haunted the curving halls of the Capitol yesterday, I found one thing on which everyone agrees:

The new Senate webcasting sucks.

It seems no one – legislators, constituents, journalists – is happy with the single, fixed camera positioned in the back of the chamber that provides a stultifying view of the back of everyone’s heads.

The webcasting began Monday after a protracted battle in the Senate, waged mostly by legislators who apparently did not relish the thought of cameras recording them for posterity if they said something silly.

But proponents of webcasting, including an overwhelming section of the public, pushed for an officially-sanctioned, ever-present light on the sometimes impenetrable process of lawmaking.

In the end, webcasting friends (mostly rank and file Senators) and foes (mostly Senate leaders) compromised on a plan to install one stationary camera in the back of the Senate chamber. As one legislator reasoned, it was exactly the view anyone would get if he or she drove to Santa Fe and sat in the gallery – no more, no less.

It’s gone over like a lead balloon.

The New Mexico Independent’s Gwyneth Doland – who, in the absence of webcasting, has performed a public service by logging hours and hours of legislative webcasting and liveblogs for her site — posted this on Wednesday to register her continuing displeasure with the limited camera scope.

Let’s be clear – the frustrating footage is not the fault of the Legislative Council Services staff, who are working hard to improve the performance of the single camera it’s been tasked with operating.

No, the people I talked to place the blame squarely on the man who spearheaded the much-maligned compromise plan – Sen. John Sapien (D-Corrales).

Let’s recap.

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Department of Distress: SOS on-line woes continue

What’s going on at the Secretary of State’s office?

sos1No, I’m not referring to this.

Infuriating as that is, it’s old news.

No, I’m talking about backlogs in posting public records online and barriers to access for people who are searching for those records.

Legislators, election observers and advocates for good government have been complaining about the efficiency of the SOS electronic filing system since it was instituted.

And I’m here to tell you:  It hasn’t gotten any better during the current legislative session.

I know this because of my personal experience with the office and because of the constant complaints I hear from reporters who frequent the SOS office and are grimly familiar with the roadblocks it throws up for anyone seeking public records.

That really bothers me, because if skilled, paid searchers have problems getting the documents they came for, what chance does the average New Mexican have?

My Story

I made a special trip to the Secretary of State’s office in Santa Fe on Feb. 12.

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Ethics Update: “Constipation is painless compared to this”

constipation1

With most of the major ethics reform proposals still bottled up in the Senate Rules Committee, Senator Dede Feldman offered this diagnosis of the situation in the Santa Fe New Mexican. It’s the Roundhouse Quote of the Year:

“Constipation is painless compared to this,” said Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring several measures this session, including ones to limit campaign contributions, to require disclosure of contributions from contractors and to create an ethics commission.

For more on the legislative session at the halfway point, see FBIHOP.

And for more analysis of the politics of the NM State Senate, see Ethics Reform for Dummies

Ethics Reform for Dummies: The Journal doesn’t get it, but Sherry Robinson does

The legislative session passed the mid-point of the sixty-day session last week, and the major ethics reform bills are still in the Senate Rules Committee.

Bills still waiting for their day are ones to establish an independent ethics commission, Clean Elections public financing, and contributions limits (N.M. is one of only five states with no limits whatsoever).

Bear in mind that this is the calendar dictated by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. Every year, the major ethics reform bills always seem to get to the Senate floor just hours before the end of the session. And that’s where they die outright or get tagged with last minute amendments that send them back to the house as the clock runs out.

In 2007, it was Senator Sanchez who slipped through a bill (later vetoed by the Governor) that would have overturned the state disclosure law that requires candidates and officeholders to file reports electronically to the secretary of state’s website where they can be accessed by the public.

Sanchez offered this excuse to reporter Steve Terrell of the SF New Mexican: “This isn’t trying to hide campaign-finance reports. It’s for people like me who aren’t very good at computers or access to the Internet.” Sanchez also strongly opposes attempts to open legislative conference committees to the public.

But this year, with the public clamor for ethics reform growing and the new media subjecting his actions to greater scrutiny, Sanchez seems to have altered his obstructionist tactics. Continue reading

Transparency Watch: N.M. State Senate proves irony is not dead

By Eli Il Yong Lee – Feb 1st, 2009 at 11:35 am MST
Now let me see if I’ve got this straight. The New Mexico State Senate is NOT currently webcasting its floor sessions because the Senate leadership overruled a vote of the full membership authorizing that this be done.

Say again?

That’s right. Last year (Feb. 12, 2008), by a sizable bipartisan majority (27 For and only 13 Against), the Senate passed the webcast authorization along with a $75,000 appropriation. That was Senate Memorial 45 sponsored by Senator Mark Boitano (R-Albuquerque).

By December 2008, after an expenditure of just $30,000, everything was in place and ready to go for the 2009 session. But then something totally unexpected happened. Continue reading