Thursday, June 9, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Conspicuously Absent

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 9, 2011

When State Auditor Hector Balderas on Wednesday announced his office’s report on procurement irregularities and funny accounting practices at the state Corrections Department, he not only shed light on an apparent huge mess in a state Cabinet department.

Hector Balderas
State Auditor Hector Balderas
He also may have provided an inadvertent reminder of an old political rivalry.

I’m referring to one routine paragraph near the end of the news release:

“Balderas’ staff worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation throughout the course of the special audit and provided federal agents special audit documentation. Because the special audit indicates that potential criminal violations may have occurred, Balderas stated that his office has referred the report to the FBI, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and other state law enforcement agencies. Balderas also will refer the report to the governor, the Legislative Finance Committee, and other state oversight agencies.”

Conspicuously missing is the state attorney general, a guy named Gary King.
It might have been just an oversight. After all, Balderas is running for U.S. Senate and surely doesn’t want to needlessly agitate a fellow elected Democratic state official.

And for the record, the Attorney General’s Office is mentioned in the report. It listed the Attorney General’s Office first among the state agencies that would be contacted with the audit findings.

Attorney General Gary King
AG Gary King
Still, the omission brought back memories of two years ago, when King subpoenaed a variety of records from Balderas’ office. Balderas at the time called the action a possible “abuse of the subpoena process.” After a closed-door grand jury hearing on the subpoena, Balderas told a reporter, “I look at it as, ‘They’re obstructing our office.’ ” A spokesman for King declined to comment at the time.

Balderas said the attorney general’s subpoena stemmed from a tip by a disgruntled State Auditor’s Office employee who accused Balderas of making state employees baby-sit his children and complained about a punch clock installed at the Auditor’s Office. It’s not clear what happened to the subpoena because grand jury proceedings are secret. But no charges were ever filed.

Not long after that, Balderas began an investigation into whether King’s office properly spent money set aside by the Legislature for an animal-cruelty task force. Like “Babysitterpunchclockgate,” nothing ever came of the animal task force probe.

That was the last time Balderas and King sparred in public. But perhaps some tensions still are simmering.

Speaking of tensions: The U.S. Senate primary still is nearly a year away, but on the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez already are duking it out.

GOP Lt. Gov. Candidate John Sanchez
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez
A Sanchez spokesman told the Albuquerque Journal this week that Wilson “is exactly right, we do have a spending problem. But she forgot to mention that she took part in digging the economic hole that we are in. Records matter.”

But on Wednesday, “Wilson allies” told The Politico that Sanchez basically was a darling of union bosses, pointing out that in 2002, he had a 71 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, according to the Project Vote Smart website.

I’m not sure what that really means. In that same year, Sen. Rod Adair, perhaps the state’s most conservative legislator then and now, got a 77 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, according to Project Vote Smart.

But Politico pointed out that in 2001, Sanchez broke with the GOP by voting to reinstate collective bargaining and to raise the minimum wage.

Heather Wilson Supports Lawsuit to Stop Healthcare Bill
Former Congresswoman Heather Wilson
Even worse, at least among the Republican base, Politico dredged up a 2002 quote from a Sanchez speech to the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce where, trying to distance himself from then-Gov. Gary Johnson, he said, “And I don’t care what you want to say or do. ... You cannot run the state of New Mexico like a business.”

“This is just another example of John Sanchez isn’t who he says he is,” Wilson’s campaign manager said in an email.