Monday, March 30, 2009

On the Line

I almost forgot to post the video of my appearance on The Line last week on KNME.

Means on Kilmer

I'm off work this week, but I just had to post this.

I got a lot of response to the story about the poll that asked pointed questions about Val Kilmer.

But the most interesting email I got was from another actor (well, that's just a part of his resume) who ran for governor here. That's American Indian Movement activist Russell Means, who in 2002 unsuccessfully sought to get on the gubernatorial ballot representing a third party called the Independent Coalition Party.

Here's what Means had to say about Kilmer:


I would appreciate it if you would print my statement in response to "Poll probes gubenatorial contenders' policies, past.

Having been in the news for over 40 years, let me quote the late great Civil Rights Attorney, William Kunstler who represented me during my Wounded Knee 1973 trials, "When you are in a struggle, any news is good news".

This is good for the Kilmer Gubernatorial camp if there is one. Because if you are a threat, they come after you. I know I have been there. I for one am mis-quoted often. Remember the media doesn't tell the news they "sell" the news!

I know the man and he's got my vote....Go Kilmer!

Russell Means
American Indian Activist, Actor, Author, Artist

Friday, March 27, 2009

All Things Val

Kilmer in Wonderland
I just saw in Monahan that he learned from Coleman about an article in London's Daily Telegraph about Val Kilmer that quotes from this very blog.

You can read it HERE.

And speaking of the star who would be governor, I talked Thursday morning with an Albuquerque woman who was called by a pollster who sounded suspiciously like the one Monahan blogged about a couple of days ago. She was asked questions about 2010 gubernatorial candidates, including some very pointed ones about Kilmer -- including some about his religion. (He's reportedly a Christian Scientist).

You can read that HERE.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Avenging Bob

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 26, 2009

Bob Johnson, thou art avenged!

That’s what I wrote on this very blog last week shortly after the state Senate voted 33-8 to pass House Bill 393, which would open conference committees to the public.
The late Bob Johnson of FOG
The late Johnson was director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and fought for years to get the Legislature to open those meetings, where Senate and House members work out differences in the budget and other bills passed by each chamber. Conference committees are the last major areas not covered by the Open Meetings Act. Johnson, a retired Associated Press executive, died in 2007.

Like I said, Johnson fought hard to open the meetings. And sometimes he got kicked in the teeth for his efforts. During his last session, some senators, in defending secret meetings, bashed Johnson, pointing out that FOG was funded by (gasp) newspapers, using a tone of voice as if they were revealing the organization was a front for the Communist Party or something nefarious.

As I’ve noted before, lawmakers never do this to lobbyists for drug companies, oil companies or developers.

But Johnson might not be completely avenged yet. There’s still an opportunity to kick him in the teeth. And the person in the position to do that is Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson for years has given lip service to open conference committees. A few years ago, he even chided newspaper editors at a legislative breakfast to push harder for such a bill. And as recently as Saturday afternoon, Richardson said at a post-session news conference that he would sign HB393.

But sometime, apparently between then and Monday, the governor started backpedaling. His press office began telling bloggers and newspapers that there might be some problems with the bill.

“While the governor is supportive of the concept of opening conference committees to the public, he is taking the time to scrutinize the final bill passed by the Legislature,” spokesman Gilbert Gallegos told my colleague Kate Nash. “The governor also wants to hear all sides of the issue, including the rationale for allowing the Legislature to close committee meetings without changing the law.”

Gallegos was referring to a section of the law that would allow the Legislature to change its rules to re-close the conference committees.

But as another longtime fighter for open conference committees pointed out (Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, who has fought for years to open the committees), it would take a two-thirds vote to change the rule.

I don’t know what led Richardson to his current stance on the bill. And I don’t really think it’s worth speculating. I just can’t envision the governor vetoing this bill after telling so many people he’d sign it. I just don’t think Bill Richardson wants to be remembered as the man who killed open conference committees.

But let’s wait until the governor does sign that bill until we officially proclaim, “Bob Johnson, thou art avenged!”

Hung up in Taos: Bill Richardson will be remembered as the man who ended the death penalty in New Mexico. And even though he admitted he struggled with the decision, the governor now seems comfortable with signing the bill to abolish capital punishment and replace it with the sentence of life in prison without parole.

He appeared Monday on The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss the move, basically telling the MSNBC audience the same thing he told us — that even though he’d always supported the death penalty, the system isn’t perfect, so there’s a chance for wrongful executions and that the prisons here are so bad that spending the rest of your life there might be worse than death. (He didn’t mention that the governor is responsible for prison conditions here.)

But the most notable thing about the Maddow appearance is a clever headline that appeared on a backdrop behind Maddow as well as in a headline superimposed on the screen during the Richardson interview: “Taos Shalt Not Kill.”

I guess in the minds of some MSNBC employees, Taos is synonymous with the entire state.

But to be a literal stick-in-the-mud, all nine legal executions in New Mexico since 1933 were carried out here in Santa Fe County.

The last person legally executed in Taos County, when executions were the responsibilities of counties, was John Conley, who was hanged in 1906.

In his book Myth of the Hanging Tree, former state historian Robert J. Torrez said Conley had tried to slash his throat with a dull blade shortly before the execution and in fact was unconscious at the time he was hanged.

Torrez lists two other legal Territorial period Taos hangings (one of which, in 1857, he says was “probable” though not fully documented.) However, between 1867 and 1881, according to Torrez, there were three lynchings performed in Taos.

UPDATE: The original version said Sen. Feldman carried the confrence committee bill on the Senate floor. She did speak strongly for it and she did have similar bills that didn't make it to the Senate floor. But it actually was Sen. Linda Lopez who carried HB393.

Blog bonus: Here's Richardson on Rachel

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Anybody Still Out There?

Boy it sure has been quiet here at the merry Roundhouse since Saturday. Actually by 1 p.m. or so Saturday, the place was pretty much a tomb.

But unlike past sessions, I'm keeping this blog year-round, so do check back frequently. It'll get more active in here as folks shake off their post-session haze.

I'll be posting Roundhouse Roundup: The column here every Wednesday night or Thursday morning (except next week, when I'll be off work) as well as other fun stuff. So stick around.

Meanwhile, check out my story in today's New Mexican about the top brass at New Mexico Magazine. CLICK HERE.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Images of the 2009 Legislature

I'm still decompressing from the end of the session.

Here's a look back with some of the snapshots I took of the session.

Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne

So that's why they call Sen. Bill Payne The Whip ...

State Sen. Tim Keller in my chair

First Sen. Keller takes Shannon Robinson's seat, then he steals my chair.

CSF students

College of Santa Fe students preparing to camp out on Capitol grounds to protest the loss of their school.

After the Press Conference

Some familiar faces captured following a press conference a few days ago in Gov. Richardson's cabinet room.

Former Running Mates

Former running mates and possible gubernatorial rivals Mayor Marty Chavez and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish enjoy each other's company before a news conference.


Pork Fest? Not this session!

Abeyta, Stephenson & Ashman
Some music in the Rotunda by SF Community College Board member Chris Abeyta, State Folklorist Claude Stephenson and Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman.

God is Watching

God is watching. And so are these guys.


The governor and Dr. No

Keith and Barry

House Republican Whip and AP reporter Barry Massey talk revenie figures.


Val Kilmer goes to governor's office to measure the drapes.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Not Worth a Darn

Here's a recording made by Kate Nash of the confrontation between House Speaker Ben Lujan and Senate Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith.

Kate has some context:

The committee took up an amendment put on the bill, which deals with financing of charter schools among other projects. The amendment, put on by House Speaker Ben Lujan, raised the eyebrows of Smith, who questioned whether it was allowable. The committee took out that amendment.
Smith is talking first. Lujan comes up and tells him he's "full of shit," a "racist SOB" and "not worth a darn."

Get this widget Track details eSnips Social DNA


The Senate is calling it quits.

Good Morning!!!!!!

I was at the Capitol until 3 a.m. last night, following the campaign contributions limits bill, which passed after lengthy debate. About halfway through my first cup of coffee, the Senate concurred with the House version, so it's going to the governor, who has sais he'll sign it.

The most exiting thing last night was the surprise failure of the Suncal TIDDs bill, SB249 -- which died on a tie vote. A move to reconsider also ended in a tie.

As I said last night, the pro-TIDDs folks could try to revive the issue by voting on the identicial HB470. which is on the House calendar. However, even if they could win a House vote, Rep. Brian Egolf said it surely would be filibustered in the Senate, as happened last year.

Quick background: TIDDs -- Tax Increment Development Districts -- are a public financing process in which the current tax base is measured in the district in question. The developer gets a percentage of the increase in taxes over that current tax base in the future.

The idea is that the project and infrastructure built for the project will spark growth in the area. SunCal and other advocates of TIDDs say the method is a good way to create desirable developments and jobs.

But opponents say TIDDs lead to urban sprawl, take existing businesses out of their current locations and adversely affect tax revenues.

California-based SunCal has been is pushing SB249 and HB470 to help finance the initial stage of what eventually would be a 55,000-acre residential, commercial and industrial project on Albuquerque's Way-Out-West Side.

The company hired a small army of lobbyists and launched a huge advertising campaign. How much did they spend? We don't know yet. They aren't required to report that until April.

This whole sheebang's over at noon. Keep watching this blog.

House Debates Campaign Contribution Limit Bill

And they've been doing that close to two hours.

Republicans tried to amend it several times, including one aimed at non-proffits that get involved in elections and one that wold require all candidates currently collecting contributions to "zero out their accounts."

Currently Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones says she has two more amendments.

It's nearly 2:30 a.m. Many representatives are sleeping. I'm jealous.

If it passes, the bill will have to go back to the Senate because the House amended it to limit contributions to $2,300 per election cycle for state offices. The version that passed the Senate had the limit at $2,300 per year. There are four years in an election cycle. You do the math.

UPDATE: The bill passes 49-17.


Another Chance for Suncal?

There's another Suncal TIDDs bill -- HB470, sponsored by Rep. Ed Sandoval that's on the House calendar.

Conceivably, the House could pass that -- perhaps by waterboading wayward votes -- and send it to the Senate. There were a lot of votes that flipped on both sides in the vote to reconsider, which tells me there's some room for play.

It would be a race against the clock, but not impossible.

Friday, March 20, 2009

House Ties on TIDDs Bill

The House just voted 33-33 on SB249 for the SunCal TIDDs bill.

Because of the tie, it failed. Something tells me, it ain't over yet.

Four members weren't there. I bet there are arms being twisted as I type this.

UPDATE: A few minutes later, the House voted to reconsider. Again a 33-33 tie. Rep. Brian Egolf tells us that it can't be considered again. He knows more than me, but with this much money riding on this bill I'm reluctant to rule anything out.

CSF Students Protest

College of Santa Fe Students Protesting the Possible Death of CSF

These was taken right before sundown. There were a couple of dozen College of Santa Fe students protesting the lack of action on HB577, which would allow the state to negotiate the purchase of the college, which otherwise will shut down this year.

UPDATE: After posting the photos I got an e-mail from one of the protesters addressed to "Respected Members of the New Mexico Press." Somehow I was on that list.

My name is Irina Zerkin and I am a senior at the College of Santa Fe. As I write this, several dozen fellow students, staff, faculty, and members of the Santa Fe community are sitting outside the east entrance of the Roundhouse holding a sit-in. We started arriving at 5pm tonight, and intend to stay here until the Legislative session ends tomorrow, unless our bill gets heard.

The bill I refer to is HB577, which outlines a process by which any NM state institution might be able to acquire the College of Santa Fe. HB577 passed through both the House Education and Appropriations and Finance Committees without any problems, and then was met with great support on the House floor. The bill then passed UNANIMOUSLY through Senate Education. That was about two weeks ago, however, and since then the Senate Finance Committee has been sitting on our bill.

We are not holding this sit-in to demand that the Senators vote yes on our bill (although that would be nice.) We are here simply because we deserve a fair hearing. It is absolutely undemocratic for the Finance Committee to just ignore the bill and hope we go away.

A Song for All of Us

For everyone involved in the Legislature -- lawmakers, staff, Capitol workers, lobbyists, activists, reporters, bloggers, and you gentle readers who have been following the session:

A song for us all:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

One Last Thought on Conference Committees

Bob Johnson, thou art avenged!

Senate Votes to Open Conference Committees!

Senate votes 33-8 to open conference committees. HB 393 goes to the governor, who in the past says he favors the bill.

Voting no were Sens. Ingle, Kernan, Cravens, Beffort, Asbill, Phil Griego, Jennings and Michael Sanchez.

UPDATE: Now I don't feel so dumb about my predicition in this old column.

Conference Committee Debate Starts

Sen. Linda Lopez is carrying HB393.

Check out live blog HERE

Check out webcast HERE

It looks like they're passing out an amendment. If Senate amends it, it could go back to the House and could even end up being decided in a conference committee!

The Farmer is the Man Who Feeds Us All

Thanks to all the agriculture organizations for their annual Roundhouse "Growing for You" feed. Great meat, vegetables and dairy products from right here in New Mexico.

UPDATE: Here's the participating organizations who fed the masses in the Rotunda:

New Mexico Wool Growers, New Mexico Cattle Growers, the state Farm & Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Beef Council, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, the Public land Council, Farm Credit of New Mexico, Dairy Farmers of America, New Mexico Water Conservation District, New Mexico CowBelles, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and the College of Agriculture at New Mexico State University.

Tempers Flare in Senate

No love lost this morning between Sens. Eric Griego and Bill Sharer.

In the debate over HB 37 -- notifying Indian tribes about developments -- Sharer implied that Griego implied that people trying to amend the bill were racists. Griego responded he wouldn't dignify Share's remarks with a comment, then commented that certain senators might have a guilty conscience. Sharer interupted in protest, then Lt. Gov. Diane Denish gaveled him down.

Sen. Mike Sanchez asking Senate to take deep breaths. In with the good, out with the bad.


Earlier the Senate was about to debate Sen. Dede Feldman's Open Conference Committe bill. But Feldman asked that bill be held over. Is she waiting to get Rep. Joe Cervante's House bill on the floor? (Unlike Feldman's bill, Cervantes' bill would not have to go to the House, because the House already passed it.)

Roundhouse Roundup: Manny's Prison

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 19, 2009

Will Manny Aragon’s new job be washing the Unabomber’s underwear?

The former state Senate titan — sentenced this week to 57 months in federal prison on corruption charges — agreed to report within the next 60 days to the minimum security “prison camp” in Florence, Colo., which is about 35 miles west of Pueblo, Colo.

The camp, which holds about 500 male inmates, is considered a satellite of the Administrative Maximum Facility, better known as the supermax prison in Florence, which is home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals.
Ted Kaczynski
Lovely neighbors: Among the current guests in the supermax are Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; terrorist Jose Padilla (an American convicted of lending support to al Qaida); Omar Abdel-Rahman, aka “The Blind Sheik,” and a couple of others convicted for their roles in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui; Terry “Oklahoma City Bomber” Nichols; Richard “The Shoe Bomber” Reid; and former FBI agent-turned-spy Robert Hanssen.

The prison next door, where Aragon will serve his time, doesn’t host as many famous people. But New Mexico’s former state treasurer, Robert Vigil, convicted in the wake of an FBI kickback investigation, is there. Vigil is scheduled for release in December, according to the Federal Prison Bureau’s Web site.

It also was the home of Eddie Davidson, the “Spam King,” who was convicted of fraud for cheating strangers in an e-mail scheme.

Last July, Davidson walked away from the prison camp. Soon afterward, he shot and killed his wife, 3-year-old daughter and himself in nearby Arapahoe County.

The Florence prison also was in the news in January after a 47-year-old prison secretary there was sentenced to six months in federal prison for having sex with an inmate assigned to clean her office.

Get a job: “As a minimum-security facility, each of the 500-plus men assigned to Florence Camp was within 10 years of his release date,” says a Web posting by inmate Michael G. Santos, who spent 18 months at the camp. “There were no convicted sex offenders at the camp, nor were there inmates who had been found to have committed acts of violence within the past several years.”

Most of the minimum-security inmates get jobs servicing the supermax and other facilities in the Florence complex, Santos said. “All capable inmates reported to regular work assignments,” Santos wrote on his Web site. “Staff members assigned those jobs according to institutional need, though savvy inmates sometimes succeeded in maneuvering their way into desirable jobs.”

Santos was of seven inmates assigned to work at the supermax laundry. “Other camp inmates were required to work in food services, landscaping, or worked for the education department as tutors,” he wrote.

Santos was sentenced to 45 years in prison on federal cocaine charges in 1987. He could be released as early as 2013. His stint at Florence began in December 2003. He writes and sells articles about prison life — aimed at new prisoners coming in — on a Web site run by his wife.

He said workers from the camp traveled to the maximum-security prison by bus. “Guards from the supermax searched us, requiring us to walk through metal detectors and sometimes to strip off our clothes for a full body search.” They worked seven-hour shifts in the locked laundry room, “washing and mending clothing for the supermax prisoners who lived locked in single cells.”

Super salads: Here’s some good news for Aragon. According to Santos, “The meals at Florence Camp were better than at any of the other prisons where I had been held. Portions of the main meals were abundant, but I especially appreciated the fresh salad bar as well as a hot bar offering rice and beans. If the scheduled meal did not seem agreeable, I could always bring a pack of tuna and add it to a salad.”

It might not be like those steaks at the Bull Ring that Aragon got used to as a legislator. But it could be worse.

“Four microwave ovens were available for inmate use inside the housing unit,” Santos wrote. “A hot-water dispenser was also available for instant coffee or cooking dry soups. Many inmates preferred to purchase rice, beans, tuna, and other items from the commissary; they prepared meals in the housing units when they wanted to avoid the institutional setting of food services.”

Santos said he shared a two-man cubicle in his housing unit.

“Each of the housing units was of an identical floor plan, constructed in the shape of an X.” Each wing of the X held approximately 36 men in cubicles with either two or four beds. When I was confined there, the bed frames were made of steel with springs, and mattresses were sufficient for a comfortable rest.”

Inmates in each housing unit have six television rooms. “They were small, with seating capacity for fewer than 20. In order to lessen possibilities for confrontations with others,” Santos wrote.”

Inmates have access to a laundry, Santos said, as well as “a commissary, a chow hall, two classrooms, a small library, a recreation room for the table games, arts and crafts rooms, and a gymnasium. Outside, the camp had an excellent weight lifting area, and a running track that circled a softball and soccer field.”

Drawbacks: Aragon will have a better time if he’s not in the habit of sleeping with a blanket over his head. “At Florence, guards frequently interrupted routines with unscheduled census counts, or they might take privileges away from the entire camp if an individual broke one of the many rules,” Santos wrote.

“Having had many years of confinement behind me, those disruptions did not bother me, though newer prisoners found the controls suffocating," Santos wrote. "For example, at Florence, guards sometimes woke prisoners in the dead of night if the inmate committed the infraction of covering his head beneath the blanket.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gov. Richardson's Statement

Today marks the end of a long, personal journey for me and the issue of the death penalty.

Throughout my adult life, I have been a firm believer in the death penalty as a just punishment – in very rare instances, and only for the most heinous crimes. I still believe that.

But six years ago, when I took office as Governor of the State of New Mexico, I started to challenge my own thinking on the death penalty.

The issue became more real to me because I knew the day would come when one of two things might happen: I would either have to take action on legislation to repeal the death penalty, or more daunting, I might have to sign someone’s death warrant.

I’ll be honest. The prospect of either decision was extremely troubling. But I was elected by the people of New Mexico to make just this type of decision.

So, like many of the supporters who took the time to meet with me this week, I have believed the death penalty can serve as a deterrent to some who might consider murdering a law enforcement officer, a corrections officer, a witness to a crime or kidnapping and murdering a child. However, people continue to commit terrible crimes even in the face of the death penalty and responsible people on both sides of the debate disagree – strongly – on this issue.

But what we cannot disagree on is the finality of this ultimate punishment. Once a conclusive decision has been made and executed, it cannot be reversed. And it is in consideration of this, that I have made my decision.

I have decided to sign legislation that repeals the death penalty in the state of New Mexico.

Regardless of my personal opinion about the death penalty, I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime. If the State is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong.

But the reality is the system is not perfect – far from it. The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country.

Even with advances in DNA and other forensic evidence technologies, we can’t be 100-percent sure that only the truly guilty are convicted of capital crimes. Evidence, including DNA evidence, can be manipulated. Prosecutors can still abuse their powers. We cannot ensure competent defense counsel for all defendants. The sad truth is the wrong person can still be convicted in this day and age, and in cases where that conviction carries with it the ultimate sanction, we must have ultimate confidence – I would say certitude – that the system is without flaw or prejudice. Unfortunately, this is demonstrably not the case.

And it bothers me greatly that minorities are overrepresented in the prison population and on death row.

I have to say that all of the law enforcement officers, and especially the parents and spouses of murder victims, made compelling arguments to keep the death penalty. I respect their opinions and have taken their experiences to heart -- which is why I struggled – even today – before making my final decision.

Yes, the death penalty is a tool for law enforcement. But it’s not the only tool. For some would-be criminals, the death penalty may be a deterrent. But it’s not, and never will be, for many, many others.

While today’s focus will be on the repeal of the death penalty, I want to make clear that this bill I’m signing actually makes New Mexico safer. With my signature, we now have the option of sentencing the worst criminals to life in prison without the possibility of parole. They will never get out of prison.

Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe.

The bill I am signing today, which was courageously carried for so many years by Representative Gail Chasey, replaces the death penalty with true life without the possibility of parole – a sentence that ensures violent criminals are locked away from society forever, yet can be undone if an innocent person is wrongfully convicted. More than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years in this country, including four New Mexicans – a fact I cannot ignore.

From an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should be behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to support and use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That’s not something to be proud of.

In a society which values individual life and liberty above all else, where justice and not vengeance is the singular guiding principle of our system of criminal law, the potential for wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings. That is why I’m signing this bill into law.

Decision on Death Penalty

Gov. Bill Richardson has reached a decision about the death-penalty repeal and will announce whether he’ll sign or veto House Bill 265.

He will announce that decision at 6 p.m.

Richardson had been a staunch supporter of the death penalty. But in recent weeks he’s said he’s softened his views. After the bill passed the Senate last week, the governor’s office set up a hot line and asked for public input.

On Tuesday the office announced that more than 9,400 people had expressed their views. The sentiment was 3-to-1 in favor of repealing capital punishment.

Log Jam!

Senate Majority leader Michael Sanchez just announced that the Senate will continue not hearing House bills because a House Committee -- Business & Industry -- isn't hearing Senate bills.

Sanchez said he's spoken with House Speaker Ben Lujan, who assured him he's working on the problem. But until something gives, Sanchez said, no more House bills will be introduced in the Senate.

"If they don't believe me, just try me," he said.

UPDATE: 3:21 PM. Sanchez just said there's a B&I meeting at 4:30 pm. He didn't say whether the Senate bills would be heard.

End the Death Penalty, Denish Says

We still don't know when today Gov. Richardson will act on HB285.

But he just got some advice from the Lt. Guv.

Santa Fe, NM – Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish today personally delivered a hand written note to Governor Richardson urging him to sign a bill ending the death penalty in New Mexico while ensuring that convicted murderers face life in prison without possibility of parole. Denish issued the following statement:

“Today I urged the Governor to sign legislation ending the death penalty in New Mexico. But we must do everything in our power to bring justice to those convicted of murder. Therefore, I support replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole. If you’ve committed murder, you will be behind bars the rest of your life, no exceptions. I will continue working with our police officers and prosecutors and with victims’ families to make sure justice is served.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Lessons of Manny

What lessons?

Even though the story of Manny Aragon sometimes seems to be used as a Faustian cautionary tale about the abuse of power at the state Legislature, few at the Roundhouse seem genuinely interested in making state government more transparent.

My story in Wednesday's New Mexican about Aragon's fall and its effect -- if any-- on ethics legislation is HERE.


Speaking of legislative fun and games, right before the Senate recessed, Majority Leader Michael Sanchez announced he wouldn't be doing any House bills because, he said, at least two House committees were refusing to do Senate bills.

This could blow up into a full-fledged hissing match -- or it could all blow over and fizzle out by noon. We're a little early for a complete meltdown.

Manny Sentenced

From the Associated Press:

ALBUQUERQUE— Former New Mexico state Senate leader Manny Aragon was sentenced Tuesday to 5 1/2 years in prison for his role in a corruption case that stained his long career of public service.

Aragon also was fined $750,000 — the bulk of which he already has forfeited to the government — and ordered to pay at least $649,000 in restitution.
Aragon, an Albuquerque Democrat who served in the Senate for 29 years, offered a rambling 20-minute speech, and then broke into tears, before being sentenced by U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson.

Once one of New Mexico’s most powerful politicians, Aragon last year pleaded guilty to three federal felony counts of conspiracy and mail fraud in a scheme to defraud the state in the construction of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse in Albuquerque.

U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt said after Tuesday’s hearing that “the era of picking the taxpayers’ pockets is over.”

The real surprise, for those of us who covered him the Legislature, was that the rambling speech was only 20 minutes.

Death Penalty Clarification

Astute readers have pointed out that in my story in today's New Mexican, I mistakenly said that if the governor signs HB285 New Mexico would be the 15th state to repeal the death penalty.

Not quite true.

True, we'd be among 15 states to not have a death penalty.

However, most of those states just never bothered to adopt a death penalty law after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state capital-punishment laws in 1972. In one of those states, New York, the courts threw out its death penalty law.

The only state in which the Legislature repealed the law -- and the governor signed the repeal -- was New Jersey, in 2007.

The Gary Johnson Poll

Up in the lobby of the Governor's Office yesterday afternoon I ran into a police detective I knew from my cop reporter days, Gary Johnson, who now holds the rank of captain.

Johnson was waiting to urge Gov. Bill Richardson to veto HB285, which would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without possibility of parole. His argument was that Santa Fe Police were able to crack two old murder cases and get a confession out of serial killer David Bruce Morton back in 2003 because Morton feared the death penalty.

You can read my story HERE.

Seeing Capt. Johnson reminded me that last week I talked to former Gov. Gary Johnson, no relation, who was governor in 2001 when child-killer Terry Clark was executed. Gov. Johnson now is opposed to the death penalty, which he said one day will lead to New Mexico executing an innocent person -- like we almost did in the Vagos case back in the '70s. (See that story HERE.)

So my poll of Gary Johnsons on the subject of the death penalty is evenly split, 50/50.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Death Penalty Main Concern at Guv's Open Office Hours

Out of 62 people who signed up to talk to Gov. Ricahrdson during his open office hours today, 36 were there to talk about HB285, which would repeal the death penalty.

No breakdown on who was for and who was against. But judging from people I talked to in the lobby, there were plenty of folks on both sides of the issue.

Guv Gets Death Penalty Bill

Here's the official word from the Governor's Office:

" ... we received the Death Penalty Bill on Sunday and the deadline date to take action is Wednesday at midnight."

I'm predicting Gov. Richardson will take action on Wednesday well before midnight.

If I Could Turn Back Time

Those of you looking forward to the death of Daylight Savings Time -- and I'm surprised at the number who have written me saying just that -- will be disappointed at the latest devclopment in Sen. Mary Jane Garcia's effort to eliminate DST.

On Saturday the Senate temporarily tabled SB716 so Sen. Cisco McSorley could amend the bill to make DST permanent. Sen. Garcia, I'm told, didn't mind that because it's the twice-a-year switching she objects to.

However, according to a source close to Garcia, by Sunday McSorley was told by the Legislative Council Service that the only option federal law allows is to opt out completely.

So Garcia will move to permanently table the bill today, I'm told.

Don't forget to fall back in October.

Senate Webcast Ready to Roll

The Senate webcasting camera -- which of course was up and ready to go BEFORE the session started -- is once again up and ready to go when the Senate convenes this morning. The link is HERE. That page also has a link to the House audio feed and the Senate audio feed, I guess for those who don't want to look at the back of the senators' heads.

Here's a tip to slweepy senators: Be sure to nap with your face down on your desk rather than leaning back in your chair. That way if the camera catches you, you can claim you were just studying revenue projections.

And remember, folks "Any political use of this stream is prohibited." Even if your senator stands on the floor and calls for higher taxes, less money for veteran services and says "the children" can go to Hell, you can't use the video in an attack ad when that senator is up for re-election in 2012. As President Nixon used to say, "That would be wrong."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Death Penalty Repeal Goes to Governor

The state Senate, following nearly three hours of debate, voted 24-18 to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

That means House Bill 285, sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque will go to Gov. Bill Richardson for signature.

The governor’s office set up a hotline for getting the opinions of New Mexicans on the issue. That number is 505-476-2225. Those wishing to weigh in via e-mail can do so through the governor’s web site at: and clicking on “Contact the Governor.”

“This is an extremely difficult issue that deserved the serious and thoughtful debate it received in the Legislature,” Richardson said in a prepared statement. “I have met with many people and will continue to consider all sides of the issue before making a decision.”

Richardson must act on the bill within three days after he receives it.

The 24 senators who voted for the bill were all Democrats. Three Democratic senators — Richard Martinez of Española, Tim Jennings of Roswell and John Arthur Smith of Deming — joined the 15 Senate Republicans in opposing the bill.

This was the first time since 2001 the Senate has voted on a death-penalty repeal. Martinez voted for the repeal in 2001, but Sen. Phil Griego, who voted for HB285 voted against the similar bill in 2001.

Kate blogged the roll call HERE

Amnesty International just emailed this:

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today welcomed the passage of House Bill 285, which would abolish the death penalty in the state. The human rights organization praised the legislature for voting to eliminate a fatally flawed and costly system, and urged Governor Bill Richardson to allow the bill to become law.

“Abolition of the death penalty is a trend that is destined to continue, and New Mexico will be remembered as a trailblazer and a beacon of hope for everyone who believes in human rights and justice,” said Larry Cox, executive director for AIUSA. “With steps toward abolition being taken across the country, it is clear that Americans are beginning to reject a system that does not prevent violent crime. By supporting this legislation, Gov. Richardson would further burnish his human rights credentials by making New Mexico a true exemplar for other states.”

New Mexico would be the second state in the United States to legislatively abolish the death penalty; New Jersey led the charge when Governor John Corzine signed abolition into law in December 2007. Currently Nebraska, New Hampshire, Kansas, Colorado and Montana are considering a variety of abolition bills.

“From a human rights perspective, there are multiple reasons to abolish the death penalty – but in these hard economic times, there is also a clear budgetary argument to be made for scrapping this system,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of AIUSA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. “According to the Public Defender’s Department the state will save millions of dollars, which can then be applied to genuine crime prevention measures. Retaining the practice does not make any financial sense."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries who campaign for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Live Webcast of Death Penalty Debate

Courtesy of New Mexico Independent and SF Reporter.

UPDATE: Live blogging HERE

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Death Penalty Debate Friday Morning?

That's what Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said this evening when he dropped by the Capitol press room. He didn't promise it, but he sais to listen for it "early." The Senate convenes at 10 a.m., but it won't be that early.

Meanwhile check out my look at the history of capital punishment in New Mexico. If you think the state has been relatively reluctant to execute criminals in the past 50 years or so, you're wrong. The story is HERE.

The Living Daylights

This just in -- a news release from Sen. Mary Jane Garcia's office:

Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia’s (D-Dona Ana) "Wake Up Call" measure exempting New Mexico from observing daylight-saving time is springing forward toward becoming law. The Senate Public Affairs Committee today voted 7-1 in favor of the proposal.

States Sen. Garcia: "There are so many reasons for New Mexico to exempt itself from this archaic policy. Health issues include increased numbers of heart attacks for the three days following the switch, and sleep deprivation that affects concentration, mood and motor skills. Professional and social schedules are disrupted: hasn’t every one of us at some point in our lives missed an appointment because we forgot to change the clocks? Doing this would align us with Arizona, which doesn’t observe daylight-saving time, and would relieve the Navajo Nation from their current bizarre situation of operating within two different time zones."

The "Wake Up Call" bill is Senate Public Affairs Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 716. It now goes before the full Senate for consideration.

Daily Beast on The Guv

Gov. Richardson with Sen. John Arthur Smith
Longtime Santa Fe writer Sally Denton profiles Gov. Bill Richardson's problems today in The Daily Beast.

She even quotes me saying “He was more involved with the legislature last year when he was campaigning full-time for president in Iowa.”

(I probably did tell Sally "last year," but of course that was two years ago when Richardson was running for president. At this point in the session all these years run together in my tender head.)

Death Penalty Bill in Senate Today?

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez just dropped by the newsroom hinting that HB285 would be heard on the Senate floor today.

I just spoke with bill sponsor Rep. Gail Chasey who said she doesn't know. The item is on the Senate calendar, but it might be heard Friday.

Watch this space.

Roundhouse Roundup: The Truth in Music Act

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 12, 2009

Next time you go out to a rock club or casino to hear some '50s R&B sounds of The Platters or The Drifters or The Coasters, there's a chance that other bands passing themselves off as The Platters or The Drifters or The Coasters are playing in Nebraska and South Carolina and maybe Oregon at the same time.

It's an old trick, but sometimes it works. And it's been working for several years.
Grease for Peace!
Basically there are unscrupulous music promoters who organize several touring groups under the names of bands who had big hits in the 1950s. And they bill themselves under the name of these groups even though none of the musicians you see on stage ever had anything to do with the original band.

But that could come to stop if House Bill 934 — the Truth in Music Advertising Act — becomes law. The House on Wednesday passed it with little discussion by a 57-6 vote.

Rep. Al Park, D-Albuquerque, is the sponsor of the bill. But the real power behind it is someone who has performed '50s and early '60s music on stage for years — Jon Bauman, better known as Bowzer from the band Sha Na Na.

Bauman is the head of the Vocal Groups Hall of Fame Truth in Music Committee.

"It's the vocal groups who are mainly impacted by this, which I consider a bizarre form of identity theft," said Bauman in a phone interview Wednesday.

He said the practice hurts the ticket-buyers, who believe they are paying to see actual rock 'n' roll heroes. It hurts the venues, who believe they are getting a good deal on brand-name groups. But most of all, Bauman said, it hurts the original artists, people like Carl Gardner of The Coasters and Ben E. King of The Drifters, who are still alive and trying to make a living by performing.

Bauman has been traveling to various state legislatures pushing similar bills. According to news accounts, he's recently been in Oklahoma and Washington to lobby for the bill. Bauman was in Utah this week, where The Salt Lake City Tribune reported he ended his talk to the House of Representatives by slipping into his Bowzer character and launching into "his signature doo wop, ending with a bass-note 'thank you.' " The Utah House passed the bill unanimously.

Bauman, who now performs with a band called Bowzer's Rock 'N' Roll Party, hopes to be able to make it to Santa Fe when HB934 starts moving through the Senate. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gimme the truth: According to a fiscal impact report, Park's bill would make it illegal for anyone to advertise or conduct a live musical performance or production in New Mexico "through the use of a false, deceptive or misleading affiliation, connection or association between a performing group and a recording group."

Those violating the act could be fined between $5,000 and $15,000.

Under the law, the attorney general or a district attorney could file an injunction to stop a performance. So far that hasn't happened, Bauman said, though there have been cases in which the promoter was forced to advertise the show as a "tribute" to the band being impersonated and offer money back to ticket-buyers who thought they had paid to see the real group.

Elvis impersonators and "tribute bands" — the kind you see advertised that specialize in the music of The Doors, The Grateful Dead, and Creedence Clearwater Revival — would not be affected by the measure, as long as the advertising didn't imply it was the real band or singer playing.

Who reports that an impostor is playing? Bauman said there's a loose-knit group of diehard '50s music fanatics who are always on the lookout for such advertising.

The fiscal impact report says 17 other states have passed similar laws. Bauman said the correct number is 27 states.

The number of shows by phony bands has significantly dropped in states that have passed the law, Bauman said.

Will it pass the New Mexico Senate?

It took umpteen years to get rid of cockfighting and we were one of the last two states to outlaw it. There might be those who don't mind the fact that New Mexico could be the last bastion of phony doo-wop groups.

The Fabulous '50s: There has been at least one impostor band passing themselves off as the '80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bauman said. There was a case of phony Temptations, whose claim to the name was the fact that one member had been a sideman for one of the later incarnations of the famous Motown group.

It's the relatively anonymous doo-wop and R&B groups who were the pioneers of rock 'n' roll who have been hurt the most. "Obviously you couldn't do this with the Beatles," he said. "You couldn't do it with U2."

Back before the days of racial integration, record companies often would release albums without the photos of black artists, he said, for fear it would hurt record sales.

The trick, Bauman said is to have a band of younger musicians with one singer in his late 60s or 70s. That's what Bauman sardonically calls "The Real One." "People will see the older guy and think, 'Hey that's the real one.' "

Of the real "real ones," Bauman said, "These were the pioneers of rock 'n' roll. They were the pioneers of a movement whose music, I believe changed this country. I'm doing this as a type of public service."

Blog Bonus:

Here's Bauman/Bowser testifying at a committee of the California State Assemby two years ago.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Turn Back the Clock

Yesterday on the floor of the Senate, Democratic Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana, complained about Daylight Savings Time. She said the number of divorces and heart attacks rise in the days immediately following the first day of daylight savings each year.

That prompted The New Mexican's Quote of the Day from Sen. Kent Cravens, R-Albuquerque: “If you can outlaw divorce and heart attacks, you’ve got my vote.”

Maybe that's what Garcia is trying with SB716.

From her press release only minutes ago:

"Daylight savings time is a health hazard", stated Senator Garcia today.

"It causes us to suffer from sleep disruption and deprivation that is essentially jet lag. You have drivers on the road who are half asleep on their way to work in the morning. Daylight savings can also cause major computer glitches, as we saw this weekend in New Mexico when dozens of people’s unemployment claims were impacted. Should we allow an outdated concept that was started in response to the climate and politics of World War One England to continue to dictate how we do things in present day New Mexico? I am carrying this bill as a "wake up call": people need to be aware of the origins of daylight savings and how irrelevant it is to us in New Mexico."

Senator Garcia’s initiative is Senate Public Affairs Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 716: a "public peace, health, safety and welfare" measure commonly known as a "dummy bill". SPAC has indicated that it will hear the bill this Thursday, March 12.

Executions in NM

There seems to be a lot of confusion concenring the last execution in the state before child-killer Terry Clark was killed in November 2001. Even proponents of HB285 have said recently that Clark was the first "since 1961."

Not true. The previous execution was the gas chamber death of David Cooper Nelson on Jan. 8 1960.

Here's a little history: Between 1913, when New Mexico became a state and 1933, 20 people were executed by hanging. During that period, executions were the responsibility of individual counties. Accordng to Myth of the Hanging Tree (2008) by former state historian Robert J. Torrez, only one of those took place in Santa Fe county, Elbert W. Blancett, who was hung July 9, 1920. (But there were several men hung in Santa Fe during the Territorial period.)

In 1933, the state took over the execution business. There were n more hangings. It was the age of electricity.
Was Thomas Johnson framed?
Here's a list of all those executions:

* July 21, 1933: Two men die in the state's new electric chair. The first was Thomas Johnson, a black man convicted of killing 18-year-old Angelina Jaramillo, who had been raped and killed in her Santa Fe home. Through the years some have claimed that Johnson was framed by authorities. Author Ralph Melnick wrote a book called Justice Betrayed (2002) in which he argues Johnson was innocent and the guiilty party was part of the victim's family.

* July 21, 1933: Santiago Garduno was executed the same day as Johnson. He was convicted of murdering his stepson. Garduno gave the boy a drink of whiskey laced with strychnine.

*May 10, 1946: Pedro Talamonte, who was convicted in Gallup of murdering his 25-year-old wife.

* June 13, 1947: Louis Young was the second black man accused of killing a white or Hispanic Santa Fe woman to die in the electric chair. Young was a prison inmate who worked as personal handyman at the prison warden's home which was near the victim's house. Young confessed to the crime following a late-night visit to his cell by authorities, though he soon recanted, saying the confession was forced. Despite efforts by civil rights organizations throughout the state, Young was executed.

*Feb. 19, 1954: Arthur Johnson , who was convicted of murdering and robbing a Hobbs man.

* Oct. 29, 1954: Frederick Heisler was convicted of murdering a man who had given him a ride hitchhiking.

* Feb. 24, 1956: James Larry Upton, who also was convicted of murdering a man who had given him a ride hitchhiking. According to newspaper accounts, several spectators at his electrocution were drunk and rowdy.

* Jan. 8, 1960: David Cooper Nelson was the first and only New Mexico inmate to die in the gas chamber. He was the third New Mexico inmate to be executed after being convicted of murdering a man who had given him a ride hitchhiking.

* Nov. 6, 2001: Terry Clark, who was convicted of the 1986 murder of 9-year-old Dena Lynn Gore in Artesia. Clark voluntarily halted his appeals process. He, so far, is the only New Mexico to be executed by lethal injection.

Death Penalty Repeal Headed to Senate Floor

I Twittered this hours ago, but I got too busy reporting to blog ...

Anyway, in case you didn't hear, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-5 to give a do-pass to HB285, which would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life-in-prison-without possibility of parole.
Former Gov. Gary Johnson
You can read the full story HERE.

I spoke with former Gov. Gary Johnson shortly after the vote. He was governor in 2001, during the last execution in the state, that of child-murderer and rapist Terry Clark.

Johnson had been a strong supporter of the death penalty, but the Clark execution, and research Johnson did into the subject around that time, made him soften his position. Right after the execution he said he'd give serious consideration to signing a death-penalty repeal in 2002. But nobody bothered to introduce a bill in the 2002 session, even though Johnson said he'd put it on the call.

Now he flat out says he's become a death penalty opponent and would have signed a repeal. Read more of Johnson's comments in my story in today's paper.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Senate About to Recess

Looks like no action on webcasting today.

Senate Judiciary Committee to consider death penalty abolition, HB285.

Saturday Night Massacre

Sen. John Sapien
That's a basic description of how people who support webcasting the Legislature felt after Saturday night's fun and games in the Senate.

Basically here's what happened:

Sen. Mark Boitano's legislation, Senate Resolution 3, would have changed the Senate rules to require live streaming of Senate floor sessions.

But here's the catch: Because it's a rules change, the resolution needs a two-thirds majority if any amendments are tacked on from the Senate floor.

And they amended it. Twice.

One of the amendments would create a webcasting oversight committee. The other has to do with camera angles.

That's right. Camera angles. Sapien and the senators who supported his amendment felt it essential to have the web camera mounted at the back of the chambers to give viewers the same vantage point of people in the gallery.

I wasn't working Saturday, but I got sucked in the live blogging by The New Mexico Independent and Santa Fe Reporter. (Tip, these guys started the live blogging around 11 am. The webcasting debate didn't start until around 8 p.m., so you might want to skip ahead.)

So guess what the Senate did Saturday night ... Basically they played with the bill like a cat with a wounded mouse.

Freshman Sen. John Sapien sponsored the two amendments. Apparently at some point Sapien claimed he wasn't trying to sink the resolution.


But senators supporting it said that's exactly what was going on.

Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, who participated in the live blogging, explained it best.

You have also to realize that another consideration involved in putting an amendment on, to raise to the required vote to two-thirds: requiring 28 votes allows a lot of senators to ostensibly vote FOR webcasting on the final passage, perhaps as many as 27, while knowing that the rule will fail. They can then say they "supported" webcasting, but would not have done so had it required a simple majority ...

Is that too cynical? We'll see today (hopefully) how close the affirmative vote comes to 27.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Eye on New Mexico

I've had a little trouble embedding Part 2 of my appearance on KOB's Eye on New Mexico. So to see that segment, go to the KOB site HERE.

More on the Upcoming Death Penalty Vote

On Friday I interviewed Randy Steidl, a man who spent 17 years in an Illinois prison, including 12 years on death row before his case was thrown out of court is HERE.

Steidl is pictured here with Viki Elkey of New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear the death penalty repeal bill, HB285, Monday afternoon.

Steidl's case is fascinating. It was the subject of a lengthy report on CBS's 48 Hours. You can read that entire report HERE.

A former Illinois State Police lieutenant who tried to reopen the case told CBS “I was told that I could not reopen the Rhoads case. That it was too politically sensitive. I could not touch it.”

The officer, Michale Callahan, eventually was transferred out of the investigations division. He sued the department, claiming alleged his superiors punished him for conclusions he reached in that investigation. Though the jury in Callahan's civil suit ruled in the detective's favor, a federal appeals court reversed that verdict.

Callahan believes that the person behind the killings might be a businessman and a big contributor to Illinois politicians.

Steidl on Friday talked about possible political motives for Illinois authorities. He said shortly before the murders, he and his co-defendant, Herb Whitlock had talked to the FBI about corruption and public drug use by local law enforcement.


Don't forget to catch me this morning on Eye on New Mexico on KOB TV, Channel 4, 10 a.m.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sorry ... not much blogging today

I had to go down to Albuquerque this morning and had to hustle to get my story in for Saturday's paper. (It'll be worth reading, I promise.)

Looks like the webcasting vote was postponed. Just didn't have the time, thought there was plenty of time to yack about the big Senate/House basketball game, which is taking place as I type this. Maybe Saturday?

I got in in time to hear Senate President Pro-tem defend his letter asking for leniency for former Sen. Manny Aragon, who awaits sentencing for his fraud conviction. Jennings made it clear he did not send the letter on official state letterhead, though he did sign his name as "Sen. Tim Jennings." Aragon's deeds were a betrayal of the public trust, Jennings said, but he did some good things too.

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia joined in. She talked how emotional Aragon got years ago when a bill he supported to help children with cancer was vetoed.

"It takes a big man to shed real tears," she said of Aragon.


Sen. Majority Leader Michael Sanchez dropped by the news room for one of his informal chats.

He said he has no problems with the weird sunset clause on the latest version of the campaign-contribution limits bill -- the law wouldn't go into effect until after the 2010 governor's race, then would expire right after the 2012 election. But, Sanchez said, he wouldn't try to stop anyone from amending the bill to get rid of that clause.

Sanchez said he doesn't think any ethics commission bill will pass this year. He said he has concerns about who would have authority over the ethics commission. Sanchez used the example of the state Organized Crime Commission back in the '80s. I'm not sure who he was talking about, but he said some decent public servants were smeared by that commission. Any old timers (older-timers than me!) out there who can fill me in, please use the comment feature here.

Sanchez also said he expects HB285, the death penalty repeal, to successfully clear the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill is scheduled to be heard by Judiciary on Monday.


Finally, please tune into Eye on New Mexico 10 am Sunday on Channel Four. I had a good discussion with Dennis and Nicole. I think the link to the video will be HERE. I'll correct it if that's wrong.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Richardson Poo-Poos Contribution bill

Gov. Bill Richardson, in a news release today, called a campaign-contribution limits bill that passed the Senate Rules Committee "temporary ethics reform" and called for a stronger bill.

“I’m pleased that this issue is moving forward, but we don’t need temporary ethics reform,” Richardson said. “I urge legislators get me a bill with a firm and permanent cap on campaign contributions.”

The current bill has a sunset clause that would mean the bill, which would go into effect in 2011, would end in 2012.

The governor said he met with Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez on Wednesday concerning ethics bills. He called the meeting "productive."

“I am hopeful that Sen. Lopez and her colleagues will move forward with additional ethics reform legislation – most importantly, a bill that creates an independent ethics commission,” Richardson said.

The current campaign-contribution bill is Senate Rules Committee substitute for SB116, SB262, SB346, and SB52.

Press Release Headline of the Day

(From Senate GOP spokeswoman Diane Kinderwater)

Webcasting Bill Expected to be Heard, but regrettably still not Seen, on Senate Floor Friday

That's Sen. Mark Boitano's bill, SB401, which would require live video streaming of Senate floor sessions.

UPDATE: Kinderwater later sent a correction. It's Boitano's Senate Resolution 3, which also deals with webcasting, not SB401, that's being discussed Friday.


The Senate just passed SB341, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lovejoy, which would outlaw driving while texting. The vote was 22-15.

Here's a sobering little passage from the bill's Fiscal Impact Report:

An estimated 20 percent of drivers are sending or receiving text
messages while behind the wheel, according to a Nationwide Insurance study. And, according to another poll, that number skyrockets to 66 percent when drivers 18 to 24 are isolated


Roundhouse Roundup: Trouble with the House Scoreboard?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 5, 2009

Could this be the script of a political attack in the next election?

Announcer's voice (over a grainy and unflattering black-and-white photo of the legislator): "Voters in House District 24 sent Janice Arnold-Jones to the state Legislature to represent the citizens. But when it came to voting on an important bill concerning worker safety (voice begins to drip with sarcasm; cue the horror-movie music) Janice Arnold-Jones couldn't be bothered." (Show printout of roll-call vote House Bill 628; close-up on the blank space next to her name.) Call Janice Arnold-Jones (flash her home phone number) and ask her why she doesn't have the time or the courage to vote on major legislation."

No, don't really call her.

Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, insists she did vote on HB628.

She pushed the button at her desk on the House floor to vote, and, she said, the red right lit up on the board that allows onlookers on the House floor and gallery to see how each member voted, indicating she voted "no," as she intended.

But after the vote, a House colleague pointed out to Arnold-Jones that the printout of the roll call on the bill did not register any vote for her.

Her vote wasn't decisive. The bill — which deals with lawyers being present during inspections of businesses by the Environment Improvement Board — failed by a 10-vote margin — 11 when you include Arnold-Jones' vote.

"It looks like I took a walk on the vote," Arnold-Jones told me. The printed record is what constituents — and researchers hired by political rivals — look at around election time.

Skipping votes can become an issue in a campaign. In 2002, Bill Richardson, running for his first term as governor, ran devastating ads against his Republican opponent, who was a state House member, for missing several votes. "John Sanchez didn't show up for work," was the disapproving catch-phrase in those ads.

There was a back-and-forth on the House floor between Arnold-Jones and Speaker Ben Luján on Wednesday. Luján said House members have to be careful. "If you just slightly hit the button, (the light) goes off again," he said. When Arnold-Jones asked that the record reflect her "no" vote, the Speaker initially hesitated, saying he didn't want to start going back and letting members vote on bills they'd missed.

But he finally relented, and no House member objected to counting Arnold-Jones' vote on HB628.

Arnold-Jones said she's convinced there's something wrong with the House electronic voting system.

"It really makes you wonder how often this happens," she told me. She doesn't believe the mistake happened on purpose. "It could easily happen to any of us," she said.

Steve Arias, chief clerk of the House, said he doesn't believe there's anything wrong with the voting system. He told me he did run a test on the system after Wednesday's floor session, and nothing appeared to be wrong.

On Tuesday, Arias said, his staff had to replace the buttons used by Rep. Ben Rodefer, D-Corrales, which, he said, had stopped working. "We tested the system three times after that, and it worked fine," Arias said.

Arias said the House first began electronic voting in 1980. The computer "brain" was upgraded in 1994. "Then there was another computer upgrade three or four years ago, and we got a new vote board," he said.

The Senate, by the way, has no electronic vote board. The votes there are done verbally or by show of hands.

Although Arias doesn't believe there is a systemic problem with the House vote apparatus, Jones is sure there is. She said she asked a sergeant at arms to bring her the printout for each floor vote.

Colón seeks second term: State Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón announced this week that he's seeking a second term.
The chairman in Denver, Aug. 2008
If he's got any opponents, they've been awfully quiet about it.

Although Colón can't — and indeed, doesn't — take complete credit for the Democratic sweep in New Mexico last November, the fact his party won the state's electoral votes for Barack Obama, took all three congressional seats and the vacant U.S. Senate seat, and picked up a six seats in the state Legislature does give Colón some pretty good bragging rights for his re-election.

As he said in his e-mail announcement, "We funded and ran a nearly $2 million coordinated campaign to insure that while the Obama Campaign was working to elect Barack Obama, our local candidates had resources to grab his coattails and ride them to victory."

Not surprisingly, Colón's announcement says nothing about one of the Democrats' less lustrous moments last year — the February presidential caucus, which brought complaints about inaccurate voter lists, inadequate numbers of ballots and general confusion. Plus, it took a couple of weeks to get the final results — in which Hillary Clinton barely edged Obama. A promised public summit concerning the future of the caucus was canceled in April and never rescheduled.

Colón is a strong ally of Gov. Bill Richardson. In a recent opinion piece in an Albuquerque paper, Colón claimed the federal grand-jury investigation into an alleged state pay-to-play scheme was politically motivated. Colón served as treasurer of a Richardson public charity, the Moving America Forward Foundation, which has refused to disclosed contributors and expenditures.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Watch Me on KOB Sunday

I'll be on Eye on New Mexico with Nicole Brady, 10 a.m. Sunday on KOB TV, Channel 4.

Casino/ATM Bill passes

It was a closer vote than I expected, but the Senate approved Sen. Richard Martinez's bill (SB330) to allow racetrack casinos to have automatic teller machines on the gaming floor. The vote was 20-16.

The bill goes on to the House.

One reason gambling issues fascinate me is because both supporters and opponents cut across party lines.

The vote was a "show of hands," so I just got the names of those voting against the bill. Opponents included Republican Sens. Rod Adair, Sue Wilson-Beffort, Mark Boitano and Bill Payne.

Democrats opposed were Sens. Peter Wirth, John Arthur Smith, Tim Eichenberg, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, Howie Morales, Steve Fischmann, Linda Lopez, Bernadette Sanchez, Linda Lovejoy, Eric Griego, Dede Feldman and John Sapien.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Senate Public Affairs Passes Death Penalty Ban

SB285 now goes to Senate Judiciary, which has been the end of the bill in recent sessions.

The roll call in favor of the do-pass recommendation:

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia
Sen. Eric Griego
Sen. Cynthia Nava
Sen. Tim Eichenberg
Sen. Dede Feldman

Voting against were
Sen. Vern Asbill
Sen. Gay Kernan

It was a party-line vote with Dems for and GOP against.

Absent were Sens. Mark Boitano and George Munoz.

No Vote on Casino/ATM Bill Today

Apparently the Senate has decided not to debate Senate Bill 330, sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, which I wrote about in today's New Mexican.

That's the bill that would allow racetrack casinos to put automatic teller machines on the gambling floor.

Unfortunately the funniest part of the story got cut in the editing process.

It was when Guy Clark, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling told me there's been a rise in advertising for adult diapers in gambling magazines. (Clark argues that the gambling industry gets people addicted to slot machines and would do anything to keep compulsive gamblers at the machine. Adult diapers would help that purpose.)

Not being a big reader of gambling magazines, I can't verify if it's true that those ads are there. But what an image it conjures.

Senate Public Affairs to Hear Death Penalty View

House Bill 285 makes its first stop in the Senate this afternoon. In the past the Public Affairs Committee has passed this bill out, giving it to Senate Judiciary, where it is laid to rest.

A man who was sentenced to be executed in New Mexico back in the '70s has written a letter to legislators asking them to vote for the bill.

This was Ron Keine, one of the four members of the Vagos motorcycle gang, who spent 22 months on death row. He and his co-defendants were freed only after the real murderer confessed after a religious conversion.

In the letter Keine says that when falsely-accused death-row inmates are exonerated, it's not a sign that the system is working. Instead, he says, it's usually because some outside force -- in his case it was a Detroit newspaper -- forces the issue.

I don't think Keine is coming to New Mexico to personally lobby for the bill this year. But he was here four years ago and I interviewed him. Here's a re-print of that story.

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 16, 2005

Even when he was sitting in court on trial for murder and listening to evidence that eventually proved to be fabricated, Ron Keine and his three co-defendants had a hard time believing they were in serious trouble.

"We just thought it was a bunch of rednecks messing with us again, " Keine said Tuesday. "They're just trying to teach us a lesson. They're going to turn us loose and say, 'Get out of town and don't come back.' "

But he was wrong. In 1974, Keine and three other members of a California-based motorcycle club were found guilty and sentenced to death for the murder of William Velten, a University of New Mexico student.

Keine and his friends spent 22 months on death row until the real killer came forward and confessed. At one point, Keine was so close to going to the gas chamber that an assistant warden came to talk to him about what he wanted for his last meal. In late 1975, a judge exonerated the four wrongly accused.

Keine, 57, who lives near Detroit, is back in New Mexico this week to talk to state legislators about supporting House Bill 576, which would repeal the death penalty.

Among those he's especially trying to reach are Republicans who favor capital punishment. Keine is a past chairman of the Clinton Township, Mich., Republican Party. "One reason I got into politics is to try to change the system legally from within, " he said. "I chose the Republican Party, because I agree with their fiscal issues."

Except for coming to New Mexico to give a deposition in a civil case against the state about eight months after his release, Keine said this was his first time he'd come back. "I didn't realize how beautiful New Mexico is, " he said. "I didn't see that much of it before."

The other defendants -- Thomas Gladish, Clarence Smith and Wayne Greer -- have died since their release.

A bunch of punks

The Velten case is one of the state judiciary's most infamous miscarriages of justice. A Central Avenue motel maid who testified that she saw the four bikers murder Velten in a room at her motel recanted her story and said she'd been told by sheriff's investigators to tell the story. There was no blood or other evidence of a bloody killing in the motel, despite the fact the victim -- whose body was found in a remote area southeast of Albuquerque -- had been shot, stabbed and castrated.

Keine insisted, as he has since the beginning, that he and the others were still in California when the murder took place. "We left from California a week after the murder, " he said. Gas receipts backed up their story.

Keine and the others were going to Michigan, where most of them had family, in a borrowed van. "We were a bunch of punks, " he said. "A long-haired motorcycle gang who talked a lot tougher than we really were."

Keine said his only previous criminal record was a conviction for malicious destruction of property when he was 19.

The bikers came to Albuquerque authorities' attention after they were arrested in connection with an alleged armed robbery of a Tucumcari gas station.

Keine said the gas station had burned down more than a year before the arrest. He said the group had stopped there to urinate, and he took a set of cow horns from a pile of rubble. "We had guns in the van -- legal guns -- but we were accused of armed robbery, " he said.

The group was arrested in Oklahoma and extradited to New Mexico, where they were held in the death row section of the old penitentiary for two months before their murder trial.

"There were two prison snitches who claimed that we'd confessed to the murder, " Keine said. "Every single thread of evidence they had against us was manufactured. It was a big lie. They had to know it."

At the trial, Keine and the others sat silently in the court as prosecutors made their case against them. "Our attorney tells us to show no emotion whatsoever, so you're sitting there raging as the prosecutor tells lies. And the papers write, 'They showed no remorse, ' " Keine said.

"I kept thinking, 'This is the American justice system. When these rednecks get done with us, they'll just send us on our way.' I was naive."

The four were convicted, and under the state death-penalty law then in effect, all first-degree murderers were to be punished by execution.

That law -- passed by the Legislature in reaction to the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned all states' capital-punishment laws -- eventually was found to be unconstitutional. Nobody was executed during the time it was in effect.

Life in 'The Dungeon'

Keine recalled the 22 months he spent in a 6-by-9-foot cell in the basement of the old main facility, a place known then as "The Dungeon." He said he and his fellow death-row inmates were allowed to shower only once a week, though he got around that by positioning himself below the faucet on his sink.

"Every so often, I'd smack a guard, just so they'd take me out to go to a hearing (in another part of the prison), " Keine said.

At one point, when his execution date was only 10 days away, an assistant warden came down to ask Keine about his last meal and any other final requests.

"I was a smartass back then, " he said. "I told him all I wanted was for him to be holding my hand when they put me in the chamber and dropped the pellet."

Fortunately, the date of execution was delayed.

The case unravels

On the outside, the case against the bikers was beginning to fall apart. A girlfriend of Greer's contacted The Detroit News, saying, "They locked up my old man. There's no way in hell he's guilty."

The paper sent a reporter to Albuquerque, who started poking around and finding problems in getting documents pertaining to the case. More reporters followed. One of them tracked down the motel maid, who admitted her story was a complete fabrication and she'd been jailed on the order of a prosecutor and threatened with charges of accessory to murder when she tried to recant before the trial started.

Still, Judge William Riordan, who had presided over the original trial, refused to grant a new trial for the four bikers.

But in 1975, a drifter named Kerry Rodney Lee had a religious conversion and confessed to the crime. He led authorities to the gun that had killed Velten.

This led to another court hearing in which Judge Vernon Payne ruled the state had to give the bikers a new trial. When prosecutor James Brandenberg said he wouldn't bring new charges, Payne ruled the four men were to be freed.

"A guard came up to me and said he had to take me back to prison, " Keine recalled. Keine refused and yelled to the judge, "Your honor, this guy's trying to handcuff me."

Payne said from the bench, "These men are free, " Keine said.

"We walked out still in prison garb, " he said. The men went to a party at the office of their attorney, Hank Farrah, and drank champagne. Keine was driven back to his home state by a Detroit News reporter.

Life after prison

But life after death row was hardly a party for Keine. "It was hard to find a job, " he said. "I found that people read the headlines but don't read the whole story. All they knew is that I'd been 'involved' in a murder.

"I had employers tell me they couldn't hire me, because I'd be bad for employee morale and scare the women, " he said.

And he doesn't really blame them. "Who would believe that attorneys would stand up there and lie and put a person to death? Who's going to believe that?" asked Keine, who now owns a plumbing business.

Even harder than his economic problems was what Keine calls "The Syndrome."

For years after his release, he said, he'd be reading a book or a magazine or be sleeping when "you wake up and it hits you, this cold feeling. The anger builds up. I'd get mad at myself for not being able to leave it behind. It puts you right back there."

Eventually, he said, "I just gave that up." Instead, he's putting his energy into fighting against capital punishment.

Keine said he's been actively fighting for death-penalty repeal for the past few years. "I didn't want to talk about it for many years, " he said.

But now he wants to help prevent anyone else from suffering what he went through.

Recalling his thoughts during his trial, Keine said, "I didn't think they'd convict us and send us to death. I had faith in the American justice system. Now I know it's broken. I don't believe the government should kill people."