Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Dog Gone

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 23, 2010

Jim Scarantino — lawyer, pundit, investigator, political gadfly and now an opera singer — announced Wednesday that he’s leaving his job as top dog at the New Mexico Watchdog website.

Scarantino informed his readers that he’s off for a year of travel — including visiting World War I battlefields in Europe, where his grandfather fought as a 16-year old Sicilian solider.

He’s also going to spend some time on the opera stage. “I am singing with Opera Southwest in its October performances of Rossini’s ‘The Italian Girl in Algiers’ and hopefully next March in ‘La Traviata,’ ” he wrote.

“I auditioned for the small men’s chorus,” Scarantino told me in a phone conversation Wednesday. “There’s 12 men who play sailors, pirates, eunuchs. ... I’ve never done anything like this before.”

He’ll also be visiting Cuba. Scarantino, of course, isn’t the only New Mexican to go there in recent months. “I’m going to check up on what Bill Richardson did while he was there,” he joked.

The Watchdog website is a creature of the Rio Grande Foundation, a conservative “free-market” think tank.

Under Scarantino, Watchdog was relentless in raking the muck in the offices of Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

He’s the one who first reported Denish had spent federal funds on hiring public relations staff and for Christmas cards. (Denish cried foul, saying the cards were paid for with campaign funds. A few days later, her campaign paid the expense — about $800 — of her public information officer writing news releases promoting activities related to 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry.)

Some days it seemed as if Watchdog was a one-man opposition-research team for the Republicans, who frequently trumpeted Scarantino’s work.

Scarantino, though, says he’s actually a registered Democrat. “Back in 2004, when I was backing John Kerry and saying that (Vice President Dick) Cheney should be impeached, liberals loved me,” Scarantino said. “I was ‘open-minded and fair.’ But when Obama was elected and I started criticizing him, they said I was a crazy right-winger.”

Taking the helm of the New Mexico Watchdog is Rob Nikolewski, who currently runs a news blog called Capitol Report New Mexico. It’s also owned and published by the Rio Grande Foundation. Nikolewski, who works out of the press room in the Roundhouse, is a three-time Emmy Award winner for his work as a television sports reporter. strikes again: They must love New Mexico over at, the nonpartisan website, funded by the Annenburg Public Policy Center, that analyzes political ads from around the country.

FactCheck in recent months has scolded both Republican Susana Martinez and Democrat Diane Denish for various attack ads. In the latest exciting episode, an article by Joshua Goldman and Melissa Siegel published Wednesday, they come down on Martinez’s ad that says Denish helped the Mesa de Sol Development — which hired Denish’s husband as a lobbyist — get hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks.

“But Martinez, a district attorney, uses circumstantial evidence to make her case in an ad that falsely accuses Denish of ‘hiding a scandal,’ ” FactCheck says. “The evidence cited by the Martinez campaign fails to prove that Denish misused her office to help the developer get a tax break or that the tax break was connected to her husband’s lobbying job or her campaign contributions.”

Click HERE to see Factcheck's treasury of New Mexico political ads.