Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: If Block Steps Down

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 11, 2011

Breaking news: Nobody new called for Jerome Block Jr.’s resignation on Wednesday.

Well, no one that I know of. I haven’t checked my Twitter feed in a couple of hours.

Bipartisan requests for Block to quit the state Public Regulation Commission began flowing last week when the story broke about an investigation into thousands of dollars in questionable charges to a state gasoline card issued to Block, among other possible misdeeds.

So far, Block hasn’t responded to those urgings, nor the possibility that the Legislature might consider impeaching him.

Gov. Susana Martinez, who is among those who say Block should step down, would have authority to name a replacement for him until the next election. She hasn’t talked with any potential successors, her spokesman said Wednesday. “If the seat does come open, we would go through a swift and thorough process to find the right replacement,” Scott Darnell said in an email.

It’s probably not going out too far on a limb to think that a Republican governor would want to appoint a qualified Republican to the $90,000-a-year job — even though the GOP didn’t even field a candidate in this Democratic-leaning PRC district in 2008, when Block was elected.

If Block departed and Martinez appointed a Republican, it would shift the political balance of the elected regulatory body, giving the R’s a 3-to-2 edge.

That situation likely would be temporary, however, as 57 percent of the registered voters in PRC District 3 are Democrats. Only 26 percent are Republicans, while 17 percent are independent or belong to other parties.

I have heard a couple of names of possible Republican candidates. Neither returned phone calls Wednesday. Whether that means anything, I don’t know. Maybe, after observing Block, they think it’s the duty of a PRC member not to return calls.

No shortage of Democrats: As reported previously, there already are plenty of Democrats who want to take his place.

Even before his latest problems surfaced, it was apparent that many felt Block was politically vulnerable, and some believed he wouldn’t seek re-election. Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza jumped in the race months ago. More recently, activist Martin Suazo of Las Vegas, N.M., and Santa Fe mortgage banker Brad Gallegos — whose father is former Corporation Commissioner Louis Gallegos — announced they will run.

Danny Maki, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and son of lobbyist and former Bill Richardson congressional aide Walter “Butch” Maki, said this week that he will announce later this month.

Meanwhile, Santa Fe County Commissioner Virginia Vigil said Wednesday that she has thought about running for the PRC for several years. However, she said she lives very close to the district boundary in southwestern Santa Fe, so she will wait until the Legislature draws new district boundaries next month before she makes a decision.

I’m not sure where all those candidates and possible candidates live, but redistricting certainly does have the potential of creating some havoc in this and other races.

A clue on Facebook? The Rio Grande Sun noticed something peculiar on Block’s Facebook page. His profile says he “Worked at the State of New Mexico (Commissioner).” Worked. As in past tense. As the Española weekly pointed out, that only happens when you enter an end-date in your profile’s employment section.

I’m not sure how long that’s been on Block’s profile and can’t say for sure whether he might have made some mistake when setting up his profile.

But it raises the question: Could a state official these days resign via Facebook?