Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fugitive Murder Suspect Captured After Writing Gov. Martinez

Noe Torres
Gov. Susana Martinez is holding a news conference this afternoon about the arrest in Mexico of a Clovis murder suspect.

According to a news release from Martinez's office, suspect Noe Torres:
... has been charged with the murder of Carlos Perez and the attempted murder of his brother Ruben Perez. Torres and his accomplices originally targeted Ruben when they went to the Perez residence on September 15, 2005 and shot nine rounds into Carlos and Ruben’s bedroom window. Carlos Perez was killed by a bullet that struck him in the head. While Torres was never apprehended and fled to Mexico, his accomplices were all tried and convicted for their roles in Carlos’s murder.

But here's the twist.

Torres, according to the news release had been taunting Clovis law enforcement officials through phone calls and letters. And on Jan. 18 Martinez herself received a letter from Torres. It's not clear what he had to say to the gov, but the next day she gave it to Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte, along with a packet of information on the case.

"Six days later, Torres was arrested by Mexican authorities and is now in the process of being extradited to the United States to stand trial," the news release said.

I'll update if there's more information out of the news conference.

UPDATE: 4:55 pm  Here's the letter that Noe Toress sent to the governor. (Some of it's faded. Use Full Screen feature.)

Noe Torres Letter to Gov

Monday, January 30, 2012

Corrections Nominee Hits Snag

Gov. Susana Martinez's nomination of Gregg Marcantel to be secretary of Corrections apparently has hit a  roadblock.

Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez said in a news release that "Secretary Designate Marcantel background investigation and questionnaire have identified issues that cannot be ignored."

Court records sent with the news release indicate that Marcantel as a Bernalillo County police detective had been one of two detectives in charge of a confidential informant with a record of convictions for rape and kidnapping in Socorro and Albuquerque. According to a civil lawsuit filed in 1997, the informant, at the time he was under the watch of Marcantel and his partner, raped two children.

A court deposition also shows that Marcantel, while working as a corrections officer in Louisiana, had been suspended twice. In a letter to Marcantel, Lopez said these facts were not disclosed on Marcantel's background questionairre.

Lopez has asked Marcantel to testify at a closed-door executive sesseion of the Rules Committee on Wednesday.

However, a spokesman for Martinez calls Lopez's allegations against Marcantel a "smear job."

“The case Senator Lopez is using to smear Gregg Marcantel is the same case in which he was given the nation’s “Top Cop' award by the National Association of Police Organizations. In fact, Marcantel’s actions were deemed so exemplary that he was invited to the White House as a result of the award by President Bill Clinton. 
Furthermore, Secretary-designate Marcantel does not believe this should be discussed in `executive session,' but rather in a public committee meeting and looks forward to defending his integrity against these political attacks. 

Secretary-designate Marcantel is making great strides in professionalizing the Corrections Department and holding those accountable who were allowed to take advantage of taxpayers during the previous administration. He has protected and served the public with great distinction throughout his law enforcement career.” 

Darnell also supplied a quote from Jim and Rita McGrane, the parents of slain Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deputy James McGrane, Jr.

 “Gregg Marcantel is a man of impeccable integrity who has dedicated his life to protecting our community. When our son was murdered in the line of duty, then Lt. Marcantel spearheaded the murder investigation and personally went to Mexico to take custody of Michael Paul Astorga. We know Gregg’s character and are sad to learn that someone would personally attack him.”

Marcentel is one of several Martinez cabinet appointees waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. The Rules Committee this morning recommended confirmation of Retta Ward as secretary of Aging & Long-Term Services.

Another GOP Candidate in CD 3

There's another Republican who wants to challenge incumbent Congressman Ben Ray Lujan.
Jefferson L. Byrd

Jefferson Byrd, a Quay County rancher and engineer, announced today that he'll seek the GOP nomination.

In an email, Byrd wrote:

“After much prayer and counsel with my wife Suzanne, and with growing grassroots support across the district, I believe that my strong conservative background is best to take on Ben Ray Lujan’s socialist policies. In order to effectively compete for this seat, we need a true conservative who is from the district and has actually lived through the tough times that the Obama/Lujan agenda has created.”

Rick Newton of Taos announced late last year that he's seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in this district. Both Byrd and Newton are political newcomers.

The Third District is considered a safe Democratic district. Not only is there a near 2-to-1 voter registration advantage for Dems, in recent elections the national GOP has basically ignored the Republican nominee in CD 3.

Lujan also has Democratic primary opposition. Former Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya recently announced he'll run against Lujan. Artist Sean Closson also is running as a Democrat.

UPDATE: 5:52 pm The original version of this gave an incorrect name for Harry Montoya (who I've know for years.) Sorry Harry, and thanks to Chris for pointing it out.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Letting the Clock Run on Murder

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 29, 2012

It took eight years for Teri Johnson and Laura Bowman, two Albuquerque sisters, to find out what really happened to their brother, Michael Snyder. The two found out last week that it also might take a long time to convince the Legislature to take action to change a law they say created an injustice for their family.

Snyder, a mechanic who suffered from multiple sclerosis, had been missing since 2002. In 2010, thanks mainly to a tip from an informant, his body was found buried next to the house he had built for his family in Albuquerque. His wife, Ellen Snyder, was accused of killing him, burying the body and lying to police, claiming that Michael Snyder left his family after an argument.

However, prosecutors thought charging her with first-degree murder would be too risky, and the statute of limitations for second-degree murder is only six years. So, in a plea deal -- opposed by Johnson, Bowman and other family members -- Snyder pleaded last year to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. She waived the statute of limitations on that charge. The sentence also includes time for lesser charges such as tampering with evidence and tax fraud.

Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring a bill (Senate Bill 37) to eliminate the statute of limitations for any homicide. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the similar House Bill 31. Gov. Susana Martinez endorsed the legislation in her State of the State address.

Currently, there is no time limit in New Mexico for prosecuting first-degree murder cases. But that's not the case for all homicide charges.

But Payne's bill ran into trouble Thursday with the Senate Public Affairs Committee, which added amendments that Payne said waters it down.

The sisters expressed disappointment immediately following the hearing. "We don't want to send the message that if you're a clever enough criminal, you'll get away," Bowman said.

"It's disappointing to see opposition to something I thought was a no-brainer," Johnson said.

The bill was opposed by the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New Mexico Women's Justice Project. Sheila Lewis of the latter group said eliminating statutes of limitations gives families of homicide victims false hopes and does not allow them to get "closure."

The sisters disagreed.

But following the meeting, they didn't seem to have much false hope about the prospects of the bill.

The main hang-up by some committee members was the fact that the statute of limitations would be lifted for homicides, including assisted suicide.

The committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, to eliminate the statute of limitations on second-degree murder. But for the lesser crimes, manslaughter, vehicular homicide and assisted suicide, the statute of limitations would be raised from five years to 10 years.

Then the committee voted to pass an amendment by Sen. Tim Eichenberg, D-Albuquerque, to drop assisted suicides completely from the bill. The amended bill goes on to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The trouble with that, Payne said, is that in murder cases like Snyder's, when evidence comes in years later, defense lawyers will try to plea it down to some of the lesser crimes -- such as assisted suicide.

Payne said the statute of limitations could become an issue if the West Mesa murders ever go to court. Nobody has been charged in the killings of 11 women found in a mass grave on Albuquerque's West Mesa in 2009.

Most prosecutors, Payne argued, wouldn't attempt to try cases with weak evidence anyway. But in cases where the evidence is good, time shouldn't be a barrier, he said.

Though disappointed, the two sisters aren't giving up. "This affects everyone who walks the streets of New Mexico," Johnson said.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Howe Now?

Monday night at a League of Women Voters event, I ran into Public Regulation Commissioner Doug Howe, who told me that he was running for the position this year as a Democrat.

Shortly after talking to him, I blogged about it and wrote a brief for Tuesday's New Mexican.

Then, late last night, I read this in today's paper:
"I don't know how to be a politician. I'm not one. I might be able to learn. But I need a lot more than two months to do it. I finally came to the conclusion that it is an insurmountable task."
I'm not sure what happened between Monday night and yesterday. But I guess that makes this card a collector's item.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Eldorado Incident: Occupy vs ALEC

The protest of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) dinner at the Eldorado apparently turned violent last night after a small group of Occupy Santa Fe protesters went inside the hotel and disrupted the dinner.

According to several legislators who were there, a female guest of Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, was struck in the eye by a piece of cardboard  -- actually a satirical dinner menu and program created by the protesters. According to legislators, her cornea was scratched.

Rehm declined comment, but a spokeswoman for House Republicans who talked to him said Rehm's guest's eye is being monitoring and is improving today.

The incident was denounced by members of both political parties, including some who have expressed agreement with Occupy's positions on issues. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe said the incident made the protesters look like their opponents' caricature of the Occupy Movement.

Jeff Haas, a spokesman for the protesters, said in an email to The New Mexican, "While Occupy believes that confrontation and civil disobedience are often effective as demonstrated by Dr. King and Rosa Parks, we regret that anyone was injured last night by either flying paper or rough treatment by hotel security or ALEC members. Fortunately the injuries were minor compared to the devastation to people and the environment caused by ALEC legislation"

But Sen. Eric Griego, an Albuquerque Democrat who has been sympathetic to the Occupy movement, said on the Senate floor, this kind of incident "undermines Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez. I stand with my colleagues who say we can't tolerate this behavior."

Haas said photographer Lisa Law, who was with the protesters was "roughed up by hotel security and ALEC members who sought to grab her camera."

Law said in a Youtube posting that she was "attacked from the back" and "ended up with a bloody hand and a very stiff and sore neck, arm and back." She said she made a police report on her injury.

Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Farmington, who is a state co-chair of ALEC, told reporters that he arrived early to the dinner so he could talk with protesters outside of the hotel. He said the discussion was cordial.

After the main protest outside dispersed some protesters came inside to the hotel bar, Bandy said.

About the time the ALEC guests were eating their salads in the Old House restaurant inside the hotel, a small group of protesters entered, Bandy said. Estimates on the number ranged from three to seven. "At least three of them really carrying on," Bandy said.

A female protester began flinging the cardboard menus. Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, said they were about the size of a large Christmas card.

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis said protesters were "hurling the cards like karate stars."

Kintigh, a retired FBI agent, said Rehm stood up to confront the protester when his guest was struck by the envelope. "That's when yours truly stood up." He said he placed his hands on the woman and escorted her out of the door.

In a Santa Fe police report on the incident, no suspects were named.

Several legislators in the House and the Senate blasted the protesters.

Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne, the other ALEC state co-chair, said the incident was the worst thing he's ever seen in Santa Fe. Besides the protesters, Payne also criticized the hotel security, Santa Fe Police and "the tenor of the press" in Santa Fe. He specifically mentioned recent articles of mine about ALEC and lobbyist expenses.

Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, said many groups engage in responsible, peaceful protests, but when any group resorts to violence, "it's our responsibility to call them out."

Egolf, who was quoted in my article criticizing ALEC, agreed with other legislators about the Eldorado incident. "When folks start crossing the line, getting in people's faces and throwing things, it's deplorable," he said.

"And it's extremely counterproductive. Now you can't have a conversation on issues like economic disparity and leveling the playing field." Instead, he said, the issue is personal safety at legislative functions and the behavior of the protesters.

Without naming him, some House Republicans criticized statements about ALEC  made by Egolf  in Monday's story.

"I believe in free speech and individual liberty," Bandy told reporters. But public officials, he said, "need to be awful careful  about inciting people to violence."

Egolf said in the article that ALEC "is the truest embodiment of all the things that people who care about keeping corporate money out of politics, preserving our democracy and keeping our air, land and water clean fear most."

On Thursday Egolf said, "Everything I said about about the organization and issues. ... I didn't make any comment about any members."

Here's a video of the incident by Lisa Law of 40 seconds

Party Time!

As I do periodically during a session, I checked the first batch of lobbyist reports yesterday  to see who is throwing parties, hosting dinners and paying for meals for legislators during the session.

Just a few have come in so far. My story about that is HERE.

There's one thing this year that's more difficult in looking up these reports in the past. The Secretary of State's Office has changed systems. In the old days (up to the 2011 regular session) you could just go over to the office and go through a stack of paper reports.

But now it's all automated. No more paper. The good news is there will be no more errors based on lobbyist penmanship. The bad news is, while all the reports are now online at the Secretary of State's Campaign Finance site , there's no quick way to search for the 48-hour reports (the reports lobbyists have to file during a session within two days of making an expenditure more than $500.)

Thus, unearthing the information requires the help of SOS staff. I was able to find a few of the reports on my own Tuesday (including the golf passes given to legislators), but the SOS staff yesterday located a couple more that I'd missed.

I'm hoping that they update the website -- which is very helpful with finding campaign finance reports and other stuff -- so that you can go directly to the 48-hour reports.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Legislative Committee Process Explained

Thanks to KNME's In Focus, specifically Matt Grubbs for pointing this out.


 Speaking of Grubbs, he also called my attention to this video he found when recently Googling "Terrell" and "Roundhouse:



Sometimes state legislators only get grief.

But sometimes they get cool gifts -- like free golf passes.

Here's my story in today's New Mexican  about this gift from The New Mexico Golf Tourism Alliance.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Howe to Run for PRC -- as a Dem

Public Regulation Commission Doug Howe, who was appointed late last year by Gov. Susana Martinez to fill out the term of Jerome Block, Jr., said Monday he will run this year for a full term on the regulatory body.

Howe, who has worked for several energy companies and as a consultant to regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was an independent when appointed to the body in November.

However, he said Monday that he intends to run as a Democrat. He joins an already crowded field in the Democratic primary.

Block resigned last year after pleading guilty to multiple felony counts in Santa Fe District Court.

ALEC: Free Market Think Tank or Right-Wing Puppet Master?

A couple of years ago The New Mexico Legislature passed and the governor signed  a bill that some now say sprang from model legislation developed by a controversial right-wing organization.

The group: the American Legislative Exchange, aka ALEC.

The bill? The one that established the state Sunshine Portal.

The Sunshine Portal, of course, was supported by an overwhelming majority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, was one of its main champions.

But, as  talk about in an article in today's New Mexican, a handful of other bills that might have originated with ALEC have been introduced in this state in, but none of those has passed. (An anti-ALEC website, ALEC Exposed, has a list of such bills HERE.)

I spoke to the two New Mexico legislators -- Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque and Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Farmington, who are currently state co-chairs of ALEC in this state.

I also spoke with Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who is not very fond of ALEC.

The chief criticism of ALEC deals with the fact that corporations pay the lion's share for the group, its conventions and its task forces, which recommend the model legislation.

This is an area in which no side's hands are clean. Corporations pay millions of bucks to subsidize both the Republican and Democratic national conventions every four years, as well as to throw lavish events to wine and dine the delegates. Even non-partisan groups like the Council of State Governments and National Conference of State Legislatures have corporate sponsorships.

The one thing that sets ALEC apart however is that private businesses are allowed to become actual members of the organization in general and the various task forces. As ALEC itself says, "ALEC provides the private sector with an unparalleled opportunity to have its voice heard, and its perspective appreciated, by the legislative members."

So check out my story, check out ALEC and its critics   and decide for yourself.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Executive Privilege -- Down But Not Out

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 22 2012

Only minutes after Gov. Susana Martinez was inaugurated — just after midnight on New Year’s Day last year — she signed an executive order stating that unlike her predecessor Bill Richardson, under her administration “executive privilege” no longer would be used as an excuse to withhold documents that might be embarrassing to public officials.

The order states that “access to public information should be the rule and the denial thereof an exception.” And the order established a policy that any agency under the governor’s control that wants to invoke executive privilege to deny releasing documents must receive written authorization from the Governor’s Office.

Journalists and others concerned about openness in government were happy about the order. But some cynics among us sarcastically scoffed, “I wonder how long this will last.”

Gov. Susana MartinezNow, one year later, an environmental group that last month made a public-information request to the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department doesn’t think Martinez’s office is living up to that high-minded executive order.

Conservation Voters New Mexico on Dec. 16 requested several of the documents — mostly emails and memos dealing with the controversial pit rule.

This rule governs how oil and gas producers handle waste from drilling operations. Martinez wants the rule, which was implemented by Richardson’s administration, to be repealed. The Conservation Voters want to keep it.

The department denied most of the documents that had been requested. Some of the denials were based on attorney/client privilege. Fair enough. But others were denied solely on the basis of executive privilege.

That response prompted Leanne Leith, Conservation Voters’ political director, to file a follow-up public-information request. She asked the Governor’s Office for copies of the written authorizations for executive privilege denials — not just from Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources but from several other departments as well.

Leith got a reply: “We have reviewed your request and the Office of the Governor does not hold any responsive documents,” the governor’s records custodian, Pamela Cason, wrote in a Jan. 13 email.

I asked Martinez’s spokesman Scott Darnell how all this squared with Martinez’s executive order.

“As you know, throughout the administration, executive privilege is asserted sparingly,” Darnell said Wednesday. “I will look into this situation further, but these documents have not yet been reviewed by the Governor’s Office for executive privilege.”

He said Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources staffers felt they should immediately produce the documents that they knew didn’t fall under executive privilege while the others were still being reviewed.

Said Darnell, “That is not the procedure that is regularly followed, and we have addressed this issue with them. We will work to ensure that all of [the department’s] responsive documents are examined by our office quickly, and any documents not deemed to be executive privilege by the Governor’s Office will be provided to the requestor.”

Sarah Welsh, executive director of New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, agreed with Darnell that Martinez’s office has used “executive privilege” infrequently.

As for complying with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, Welsh said, “The Martinez administration has been really good, particularly with requests made to their office.”

As for those executive-privilege claims by the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, we’ll just have to wait and see how those turn out.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Harry Montoya Challenges Ben Ray

Former County Commissioner Harry Montoya, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress the year Ben Ray Lujan got elected, is once again challenging Lujan for the CD3 seat.

In an email statement Montoya said:

I believe that being a Democrat means standing up for working people, for families, for children, and for the environment. I will stand up for these ideals even when standing up is hard, or inconvenient or painful, because doing the right thing is what matters most of all. For too long, the corruption of the machine politics has been getting in the way of solving important problems in New Mexico.

Montoya joins artist and political newcomer Sean Closson in challenging Lujan in the Democratic primary. Republican Rick Newton also is running.

Montoya came in third in a crowded 2008 Congressional primary that Lujan won. Montoya also ran unsuccessfully for state Land Commissioner in 2010, losing to Ray Powell, who went on to win the general election.

He served two terms in the County Commission from 2003 through the end of 2008.

Layoffs? What Layoffs?

Gov. Susana Martinez was quoted today by KOB TV talking about how she's done with the state budget.

 "The savings we accrued allowed us to balance a budget without laying off state employees, or no furloughs, no salary cuts and yet we balanced a budget without raising taxes," she said.

Well, that's true.

Unless you count 33 jobs at the Public Education Department
And 16 jobs at Expo New Mexico
And 11 at the Tourism Department.
And 11 others at the Economic Development Department, Regulation and Licensing Department, Commission on the Status of Women, State Land Office and Organic Commodity Commission.

But who's counting?

(In fairness, the state has hired back many of those laid off last year, albeit at lesser salaries.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 2 Legislature 2012: What now?

Sen. Michael Sanchez drops by the
Capitol newsroom  yesterday
After the regular hoopla of opening day -- which basically was flattened yesterday  by Speaker Ben Lujan's announcement that he's been suffering from lung cancer -- things are expected to slow way down for the next few days as bills are introduced and printed, committees are organized, etc. If it's like every other regular sessions I've covered in the last 11 years, there will be no floor sessions whatsoever on Friday.

That gives me a little time to catch up on a few things. Before the Lujan announcement, I had intended to blog about Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez's chat with reporters in the Capitol newsroom a couple of hours before the session started.

Sanchez said a few interesting things. First of all he predicted the same result for Gov. Susana Martinez's bill to repeal the law allowing undocumented residents to be issued driver's licenses. In other words, he said, it'll pass the House but be thwarted in the Senate.

I asked him what he thought about Sen. Steve Fischmann's Guest Worker Act (Senate Bill 14), which would establish guest-worker permits for immigrants and allow those with such permits to get driver's permits.

Sanchez seemed positive about the bill, saying it's an interesting concept that deserves serious discussion in the session. His one reservation was the fact that implementing such a program, as Fischmann has acknowledged, would require waivers from the federal government. And there's no guarantee the feds would go along.

(I wrote about that bill in an article published a few days ago. It's HERE.)

Sanchez, who never has been a favorite of the governor's (come to think of it, he wasn't a favorite of the previous governor also), was skeptical of Martinez's recent statements that she intended to communicate better with lawmakers. He said there's been no hint of that so far.

"I think she's lost my phone number," he said.

Hey, tell all your pals to join in the lunchtime live blog at the New Mexican at noon today. Any legislators or other officials reading this also are very welcome to join in. It's at www.santafenewmexican.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Speaker Lujan Announces He Has Lung Cancer, Won't Seek Re-election

Shortlly after convening the House of Representatives today, Speaker of the House Ben Lujan confirmed he is battling stage 4 lung cancer.

He said he was first diagnosed in 2009. He apologized to friends, family and other legislators for keeping his condition secret for so long. The speaker said that he had undergone chemotherapy through 2010 and later went through radiation therapy as well.

He said it was rough when undergoing the treatment to endure attacks on "my leadership and integrity." Lujan in 2010 survived a close primary challenge for re-election, then faced a challenge for the speakership by Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.

Lujan, who has been speaker since 2001, told a somber House that he would not seek re-election. He said his cancer has increased his awareness that Democrats and Republicans need  to work together for the betterment of the state.

"We can't sacrifice education for partisan politics," he said.

He received a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle after the speech.

Carl Trujillo, who came close to beating Lujan in the 2010 Democratic primary, has announced he is running for Lujan's seat, which the Speaker has held since the mid '70s.

UPDATE: 2 p.m Trujillo's campaign released this statement:

 "We fully anticipated this possibility and we wish Mr. Lujan and his family well. We plan to make no changes to our campaign. We have always considered our opponent to be the entire political machine, not just one man. More than ever, now's our time to create the change we need."

Here's a copy of Lujan's speech.

NM House Speaker Ben Lujan's Announcement That He Has Cancer

UPDATE 1-18-12 9:20 am;  My full story on Lujan's speech is HERE

Also check out Trip Jennings' article about what happens next. That's HERE

Apparently There's Something Happening In the Roundhouse Today ...

No, It's Not a Paul Revere & The Raiders Reunion
There sure are a lot of people here. The Tea Party is on the west side of The Capitol, the Occupy folks are on the east.

The House media gallery is filling up. (No more space for laptops. I'm back in my office in the Capitol news rooms typing this.)

The gavels bang in about an hour and a half and the governor gives her speech, supposedly about 30 minutes later, though traditionally these things run late.

The New Mexican's Legislature page can be found HERE. 

And don't forget the Legislative Lunch Live Blog Wednesday at noon.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez just came into the news room. Gotta go!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Legislature is Coming to Town

Yes, it's that time of year again.
Remember this from last year?

I contributed to The New Mexican's big pre-session package published today.

My story on the political tensions facing the Legislature itself is HERE

My colleague Trip Jennings focused on the role of Gov. Susana Martinez in the upcoming session. That's HERE

A quick list of the major issues facing the Legislature can be found HERE

I also wrote a wise-guy list of things legislators say and what they really mean. (If you are a legislator and you read this, remember, it's not you I'm talking about. It's those other guys. Read it HERE

This year the New Mexican will have a live blog on its website each Wednesday (noon to 12:30 pm) during the upcoming Legislative session. It's going to be called "Legislative Lunch." Granted, lunch during the Legislature usually involves slurping a Frito pie in the House or Senate gallery or over my computer keyboard in the office. We'll see if I can blog and eat at the same time. Pleas join us. Watch The New Mexican web site for further details

Roundhouse Roundup: Primary Memories

Downtown Des Moines Jan 1, 2008
A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 15, 2012

Like any self-respecting political junkie, I've spent a lot of time, especially since the New Year, following news coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. 

I've done that every four years since 1968 when Gene McCarthy's surprising New Hampshire showing put a major crimp in LBJ's re-election plans. (I was 14 at the time.) 

But this year, I was a little wistful while reading articles or watching news coverage of the early contests. That's because four years ago, I was there, in both Iowa and New Hampshire, covering what turned out to be then-Gov. Bill Richardson's final days as a presidential candidate. 
Richardson in Concord, NH

Richardson himself says he gets a little nostalgic when following the coverage. "... I do miss those town meetings and I do miss the campaigning and, you know, it brought a lot of memories" he said when I saw him at the Roundhouse last week. 

Though I still shiver when I think about how cold it was in Des Moines when I stepped out of the airport on Jan. 1, 2008 (according to those who were there, it was much warmer in Iowa this year), I have a lot of fun memories on that trip. 

There was the airplane hangar in Dubuque, where Richardson addressed a small crowd. It was so cold that you could see people's breath when they spoke, but that didn't stop the inquisitive Iowans from asking lots of (mostly intelligent) questions. I found that in both states, the people there seem extremely engaged. They like and expect to deal with the candidates personally. 

Paul & Kucinich at Merrimack Restaurant
I was impressed with the speed and efficiency displayed by both parties. By the time I left the caucus at a Des Moines high school, the results were being announced on the radio. A couple of weeks later I contrasted that with the problem-plagued New Mexico Democratic Caucus — which took about two weeks just to get results. After this year's razor-close Republican Caucus, in which Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum by eight votes — or did he? — Iowa's vote count didn't seem nearly as efficient. 

But the Hawkeye State still is far better at snow removal than we are. 

In New Hampshire I ate breakfast in the now-closed Merrimack Restaurant in Manchester in a booth next to the one where Ron Paul, then Dennis Kucinich were being interviewed on the radio.

Bill & Chelsea:
Can you feel the love in this room?
The day before, I had run into Chelsea Clinton in a Portsmouth coffeehouse, right before Richardson arrived for a planned appearance. 

In both Des Moines and Manchester, Richardson's concession speeches sounded more like victory speeches. He got about 5 percent in New Hampshire and 2 percent in Iowa. In Iowa he declared, "We made it to the Final Four!" I was reminded of that Tuesday night when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who came in a distant third in the GOP primary, buoyantly declared he had a "ticket to ride" out of New Hampshire. 

In his final New Hampshire speech, Richardson referred to the Nevada primary, saying, "We head out West and the fight goes on!" But even before I got off the plane in Albuquerque the next night, word had spread that Richardson was calling it quits. 

(For the record, the best concession speech in history had to have been former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris' in 1976 after a disappointing showing in New Hampshire. Harris, who since moved to Albuquerque, actually said that he'd lost because the "little people" he'd been fighting for in his campaign "couldn't reach the voting levers." He left the '76 contest not long after that. 

I must confess I was secretly hoping that former-Gov. Gary Johnson's campaign for the Republican nomination would have caught on last year so I could have at least argued with my editors that they should send me to Iowa and New Hampshire again this time. 

Blog bonus: CLICK HERE to see a bunch of my snapshots from Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008
Richardson's last rally before the NH primary

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's Official Now -- Trujillo is Running

Last month Carl Trujillo's campaign manager Faith McKenna told me that Trujillo would once again run for House Speaker Ben Lujan's seat and would make an official announcement in January.

She was telling the truth.

From Trujillo's announcement:

“Today, I’m officially announcing my 2012 candidacy for New Mexico State Representative District 46. As many of you know, we came within just a handful of votes of victory in 2010 when we first launched our campaign to stand up against the entrenched and outdated Party Machine that has ruled New Mexico for far too long.

"Growing up in this community, as a son, a husband and a father, I see the damage that entrenched career politicians have done to our community for too many years. Every corrupt deal that goes down and lines the pockets of party politicians and their cronies steals opportunities from our kids and our community. We need to vote out the entrenched, corporate-funded party politicians, and elect real people who will put the interests of our community first."

Lujan has not said whether he'll seek re-election.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nick Salazar is IN

Last week longtime New Mexico House stalwart Nick Salazar said he was considering not seeking re-election because of the new redistricting plan that would pit him against a fellow Democrat, Rep, Thomas Garcia.

However, Salazar, a Rio Arriba County resident, just dropped by the Roundhouse press room to say that he will run again.

"If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose," he told reporters.

In a news release, Salazar said, "Due to encouragement and support by my colleagues, friends, and constituents, along with my priest, doctors, and most important of all, my family, I have decided to be a candidate for re-election in June as state representative for District 40, which is now comprised of Rio Arriba, Mora and Colfax Counties."

 Salazar, who is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, has been a representative since 1973.

Salazar said he's talked to Garcia who indicated he's running. I haven't heard from Garcia yet. If I do, I'll update this post.

UPDATE: 6:34 pm  I spoke with Rep. Garcia earlier. He said he'll make an announcement near the close of the upcoming session -- but that he will be running for some elected position this year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Williams-Stapleton Gets Primary Challenger

Beleaguered State House Democratic Whip Sheryl Williams-Stapleton has a primary challenger for the Democratic nomination for her House seat this year.

 Rob Nikolewski of  Capitol Report New Mexico just confirmed that Cara Valente-Compton, a University of New Mexico law student, will run against the whip.

The challenger said that Williams-Stapleton's recent Roundhouse outburst -- in which she accused Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, of "carrying the Mexican's water on the Fourth Floor," a barb aimed at Gov. Susana Martinez -- played a role in her decision to run.

“Of course it did,” Valente-Compton said, “but it’s not the primary reason why I’ve decided to run. But we do have to elevate the tone in Santa Fe … we’re professional people and we have to treat others, and those we disagree with, with respect …. I was raised by Republicans, you have to honor and respect them.”
Williams-Stapleton has apologized to Martinez, Espinoza and the public in general for the remarks.

I think there will be a few interesting primary challenges this year.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

ACLU Asks For Summary Judgment in Suit Against SOS

New Mexico’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking a judge to rule on its suit that would force the Secretary of State’s Office to turn over the names of the foreign nationals who registered to vote in New Mexico.

The issue first arose during last year’s Legislature when Secretary of State Dianna Duran told a House committee considering legislation aimed at alleged voter fraud that 17 non-citizens  had illegally registered to vote in the state and that 37 of those had actually voted in elections here.

“Secretary of State Duran undermined the public's confidence in our elections when she alleged fraud, then refused to substantiate those claims, the civil liberties group’s New Mexico director Peter Simonson said in a news release. “Making unfounded allegations that cast doubt on the integrity of our entire system of government is reckless.”

I’ve asked for response from the Secretary of State’s office. I’ll post that whenever I receive it.

The lawsuit is seeking the lists of alleged foreign nationals who registered to vote and the signature rosters and checklists that would prove they actually cast ballots in an election.

In November, Duran’s office released a report saying it could only prove that 19 foreigners actually have voted here — and that some of those might have done so mistakenly thinking they had the right to vote. The number of non-citizens who registered to vote shrank to 104, according to the report.

In addition to those, Duran’s office has said there were two other registered voters who voluntarily asked that their names be taken off the voter rolls because they are noncitizens. One of those was a 22-year employee of an unspecified county government who has been voting in most elections since the late '90s. In both cases, the person did not know it was illegal for a non-citizen to register to vote until they applied for citizenship.

The Secretary of State’s office has released more than 100 pages of documents — many of which were heavily redacted. But they have refused to release records with the non-citizen names or the voter rosters

Duran’s office has claimed that releasing the records sought would violate state and federal privacy laws against releasing Motor Vehicle Department records. The ACLU has argued that it’s not seeking MVD records but instead voting records, which are considered public information.

Links to the motion for summary judgment and other documents in the case can be found HERE.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Americans Elect Submit Petitions to SOS

Americans Elect --  a  national organization touted as a computer-age alternative to “hyper-partisanship” and special-interest dominance in electoral politics -- took a step forward Monday by submitting petition signatures to get on the ballot in New Mexico.

Patricia Pallares of Bosque Farms, who has been active in the group, said she brought in petitions with 6,891 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office.

State Bureau of Elections Director Bobbi Shearer said a minor political party needs a little more than 3,000 signatures to get on the ballot. Shearer said her staff will determine how many of Americans Elect’s signatures are valid in about a week or 10 days.

Ken Ortiz, the  Secretary of State’s chief of staff, said if enough of the group’s signatures are verified, Americans Elect will join the Democratic, Republican Libertarian and New Mexico Independent parties on the ballot in November.

Americans Elect was established last year as a way to get average citizens — not the bases of the major parties — involved in the nominating process. All registered voters in the country — and who have access to a computer — are allowed to become delegates.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican

GWAR: What is it Good For?

Mr. Urungus
I normally don't blog about every political endorsement that comes across my computer screen, but I can't ignore this one.

Longshot Democratic Congressional hopeful Sean Closson, who is challenging incumbent Ben Ray Lujan in the Democratic primary has been endorsed by one Oderus Urungus, singer for the infamous costume-metal band GWAR.

 "He's not bad, for a human...I think a GWAR fan in congress is only fair. I mean, most congressmen like ABBA or some shit," a Monday news release from Closson said. "... we need more metal in government and Sean Closson is just the guy for the job! Plus he paid me to say this."

Urungus, whose real name is Dave Brockie, is a semi-regular "Intergalactic Correspondent" for a Fox News show called Red Eye.

 My big question: Does this mean Ben Ray will have to scramble for the Marilyn Manson endorsement?

Here's a Fox segment with Urungus:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Adventures in Email Land

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 8, 2012

As a political reporter, a good chunk of my email consists of announcements of government meetings or political events, people criticizing or, less frequently, praising something I've written, a few scattered tips for stories, political organizations indignantly pointing to the outrageous misdeeds of their opponents or politicians asking for money. 

But I also get my share of interesting stuff. 

Such as the email in the Turkish language I got Monday with a color photo of red and green serrano peppers. It's apparently an ad for some kind of weight-loss product. 

To quote from that email, 

Samandag biberi Hatay ilimizde yetisen zayiflamaya etkisi muthis olan bir biber turudur. Unlu tv sunucusu MESUT YAR bu biber sayesinde ( gün 3-4 adet tuketerek) toplamda 40 kilodan fazla kiloyu cok kısa bir zamanda vermeyi basardı.

I'm not sure how I got on this list for this product, except maybe the fact I've written about legislators taking trips to Turkey. 

Or maybe someone who saw me at the Turkish-American friendship dinner I covered a couple of months ago thought I needed to lose weight. 

On Thursday I received an unsolicited email appealing to my status as a white man. 

Usually when people start talking about "white pride," I start sniffing for swastikas. But whoever sent this didn't appear to be an overt racist, though he's far more concerned than I am about what he calls "a subtle bias against whites." 

The email was hawking an e-book by an author named William McGaughey for 99 cents, billed as a "moderate white man's race manifesto" that "proposes a way that persons of the white race can regain their dignity without becoming an enemy of others." 

"What it means to be white in America has never been adequately considered. For the past fifty years, there has been a consensus based on historic injustices perpetrated by the white race against other peoples. Politically correct strictures have been imposed upon white society, brooking little dissent. However, this situation is starting to change. Barack Obama's election as President has opened up new horizons for white as well as black people." 

Well that's good. I'm tired of all those other races putting me down because I dance like a goofball. 

You thought the "birther" movement was dead just because President Obama produced his birth certificate last year? Think again. A frequent sender of emails to me (and other New Mexico reporters as well as various national conservative pundits) on Thursday forwarded a request he'd sent to Secretary of State Dianna Duran. 

"On or about December 13, 2011, I wrote to you requesting that your office provide me with some direction and/or guidance that would assist me in getting President Obama removed from the New Mexico 2012 presidential primary election ballot over allegations of fraud because I now believe that there is a preponderance of indisputable evidence, which I also shared with you in my letter, that collectively prove that he in fact is ineligible to hold the office of President of the United States and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces." 

(I asked Duran's chief of staff, Ken Ortiz about that. " ... we would need a court order to remove someone from the ballot" after a candidate is certified.) 

My correspondent wrote a similar email the same day to Gov. Susana Martinez saying, "This disturbing issue literally keeps me up at night ..." 

I believe it. 

Some of the email I get might seem weird to some people, but it's definitely not crazy. A few days before Christmas I got an email from the spokesman for Allen Weh, a former state Republican chairman and unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial candidate. I don't know if Weh is running for anything these days, but he sends occasional emails with his views on issues. 

But this mail wasn't political. It was one of his cooking videos — this one for a delicious looking soup called Caldo Gallego. Weh did a few cooking videos during his campaign. It's one of the few things I miss about that election.

 Here's that video:


Friday, January 6, 2012

New Mexico: 100 Years Young!

Here's the official proclamation from the governor: New Mexico Centennial Day

Viki Harrison is the New Common Cause Director

Common Cause New Mexico has hired Viki Harrison to replace outgoing executive director Steve Allen, who is going to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Normally I don't post announcements like this. But Harrison has an impressive record  at the state Legislature.

The main notches on her belt:

1) As executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty, she spearheaded the successful 2009 effort to end capital punishment in New Mexico.

2) As program manager of Animal Protection New Mexico, she as one of driving forces behind the successful effort to outlaw cockfighting back in 2007.

The question now -- as the head of  Common Cause, will she be successful at ending bad government in New Mexico? That's a pretty tall order, even for Viki.

Some Other Education Issues That Could Spark Session Fights

Yesterday I covered a League of Women Voters lunch at which Santa Fe legislators (and Sen. Carlos Cisneros of Questa) spoke. Much of the discussion centered around a couple of education issues.

No, not Gov. Susana Martinez's "social promotion" bill or other governor proposals. I'm talking about the ongoing battle between Santa Fe Community College and the state Department of Higher Education over a planned $12 million Higher Learning Center as well as proposed constitutional amendments that would make permanent the rate at which the state taps money from a state permanent fund for education.

My story is HERE

Thanks to Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, I learned that there was an attorney general's opinion about the Higher Learning Center issued last week. Basically it says that there's no need to have the Legislature approve the center -- despite what Higher Education Secretary Jose Garcia has said.

You can find that opinion HERE.

I was surprised that Higher Education Secretary apparently hadn't seen the opinion. And I was amazed that  the AG's office didn't send out a press release on this opinion when it came down last week. Of course, they've got more important things to worry about.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Some Recent Political Stories

I've neglected to post links here to a couple of recent articles I've written. Must be post-Holiday blahs.

But anywho, I did a story about the likelihood of the Legislature having to grapple once again with proposals to required voters to present photo ID at the polls. This is a national movement by Republican legislators all over the country. It's not likely to pass the current Legislature, but it certainly will generate some heat. My story is HERE.

Also, I did a story about the net worth of our Congressional representatives. That story is HERE.

I should repeat this disclaimer as stated by The Center for Responsive Politics' website:

"It is difficult to gauge what a lawmaker is worth based on what they file because the disclosure forms do not require exact values. Instead, the lawmaker reports the range of value into which an asset, for example, falls. As the values increase, the ranges get broader." 

 To calculate the net worth of Congress members, the center added together the lawmaker's range of assets and then subtracted their range of liabilities. For its rankings the Center used the median point between the ranges. Thus, Sen. Jeff Bingaman's net worth was estimated at $16.3 million in 2010 and a mere $6.9 million in 2004. The Washington Post and others also use this method to rank Congressional wealth.

More Redistricting

I did a story on how the state House redistricting plan approved by Judge Jim Hall. You can find it HERE.

Two interesting bits of political news here.

1) Rep. Nick Salazar of Rio Arriba County, whose district was crunched into that of fellow Democrat Thomas Garcia, said he's considering not running for re-election.

2) House Speaker Ben Lujan still hasn't decided whether he'll seek re-election. He said he's still digesting the new redistricting map.

My story focused on Lujan's District 46 because the Speaker is expected to get a primary challenge this year. Most of Santa Fe's districts remain fairly similar in that they are extremely safe Democratic districts. The districts currently represented by Lucky Varela, Jim Trujillo and Brian Egolf have better than 60 percent Democratic registration. (Varela's is more than 69 percent Democratic.)

But one big change I overlooked -- as pointed out to me by not one but two local lawmakers -- is that the community of Eldorado southeast of the city no longer is in Egolf's district. Instead, Eldorado has been moved to the district currently represented by Rhonda King of Stanley.

At meetings before and during the special session last fall many residents of Eldorado spoke in favor of being kept in Egolf's district. Instead, they've apparently become eggs broken for the redistricting omelet. (So now if Eldorado residents have a problem with state government, they'll have to say, "Help me, Rhonda.")

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

R.I.P. Mike Cerletti

Former New Mexico Tourism Secretary Mike Cerletti is dead after a long bout with brain cancer. He was 72.

Cerletti, who had managed several Santa Fe hotels. was New Mexico’s first tourism secretary, appointed in 1991 by Gov. Bruce King. Gov. Bill Richardson brought him back to that job during his first term. He served until the end of the Richardson administration in 2010.

Richardson in a written statement said:

Mike Cerletti was a great promoter of New Mexico and the best Tourism Secretary the State ever had. He was also a true friend who never wavered in his loyalty and dedication to the values of honesty and decency that he championed. He leaves a huge void. His wife Helen was always at his side and thousands of Mikes friends throughout the state and country wish her the very best.

 I first got to know Cerletti back in the 1980s when he managed La Posada and became a member of the city's Occupational Tax Advisory Board. He always was friendly and had a good sense of humor even in those rare times he'd call to argue about something I wrote that he didn't like. Cerletti was a true gentleman

Cerletti's funeral mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m on Jan. 13 at the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica.

It's Salazar vs. Garcia in Approved Redistricting Plan

Rep. Nick Salazar
Veteran Rio Arriba lawmaker Nick Salazar will have to face fellow Democrat Thomas Garcia if both decide to run for re-election in the upcoming election. That's thanks to the state House redistricting plan approved yesterday by Judge Jim Hall.

Salazar, who is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, has been a legislator since 1973. Garcia first came to the House in December, 2006, replacing Hector Balderas who resigned his seat after being elected state auditor.

The Salazar/Garcia pairing is one of three in the redistricting plan. In southern New Mexico, Rep. Dennis Kintigh  would have to face Rep. Bob Wooley. Both are Roswell Republicans.

Also, the judge combined two Albuquerque districts currently represented by Republican Jimmie Hall (no relation to the judge) and Democrat Al Park. park is not seeking re-election. He's running for Public Regulation Commissioner instead.
Rep. Thomas Garcia

The consolidations were necessary to create two Albuquerque-area districts and a new one in Rio Rancho.

The plan Judge Hall chose was proposed by Gov. Susana Martinez, whose spokesman told the Associated Press, "This plan does not favor one party over the other and instead ensures competitive districts that will allow New Mexicans to determine who represents them in the House."

Democrats aren't so happy. Rep. Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, who had proposed another plan, said in an email last night:

 "I am distressed that the Judge has ignored the important issue of maintaining Hispanic voting strength while buying into the governor's crass effort to achieve a radical Republican gerrymander under the guise of alleged respect for Native American self-determination.

"The Judge had before him plans that achieve low deviations and showed true respect for Native American wishes; selecting one would have been in the interest of New Mexico's citizens."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Me on TV

Diane Kinderwater
Last month I recorded an episode of the Issues & Answers show with Diane Kinderwater on KCHF (Channel 11).

We talked about what might be in store for New Mexico politics in 2012. Hopefully my psychic powers didn't fail me.

It's been airing on KCHF this week. Next showing is 10 a.m. Friday and later that night at 10:30 p.m.

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: They Took The Prize in 2011

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan. 1, 2012

Looking back on some of the political stories of 2011, I said to myself, "Some of these guys take the prize!" 

So here's those prizes: 

Why Do You Think They Call it Dope Award: 
To former Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr., who blamed an addiction to prescription drugs on the idiotic antics — fraudulent use of state gasoline cards, etc. — that led to criminal charges and to Block being forced to resign from the commission. That alone would have been enough to win this award, but Block put a cherry on this sundae by his multiple arrests for violating his conditions of his Drug Court program, eventually getting booted from the program. 

Law of Unintended Consequences Award: 
To various tea-party organizations around the state for their last-minute drive to sandbag State Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who was making an insurgent challenge to unseat House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Námbe. This opposition to Cervantes scared enough House Republicans away from Cervantes' proposed coalition with conservative Democrats to keep Luján in power for another two years. 

Second prize in this category goes to Speaker Luján for taking revenge on Rep. Andy Nuñez, D-Hatch, who was one of the most vocal supporters of the Cervantes coalition. Luján stripped Nuñez of his chairmanship of the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. Nuñez responded by switching his party registration from Democratic to declined to state, thus making the already shaky Democratic majority in the House even shakier. Now there are 36 Dems and 33 Republicans. 

Party Hopper Award: Until last week Nuñez was the shoe-in for this category. But then last Wednesday former Gov. Gary Johnson officially changed his registration from Republican to Libertarian, so he can seek the Libertarian Party's nomination for president. In announcing the switch, Johnson described himself as a "lifelong" Republican, but said the GOP had snubbed him during his frustrating, tractionless campaign for the Republican presidential nomination this year. 

Supreme Court Piñata Award: To Gov. Susana Martinez, whose actions in various areas have led to numerous challenges before the state's high court, which sided with the governor's challengers. In two separate cases, the Supremes ruled against Martinez's partial vetoes of bills passed by the Legislature. In other cases, the court ruled that Martinez lacked authority to arbitrarily remove two members of the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board and ordered her to reinstate the two members; and that the governor acted improperly when she requested the state's records administrator delay publishing greenhouse-gas emissions rules that the state Environmental Improvement Board approved shortly before she took office. 

Liberal Use of Conservative Award:
 This conservative award goes to the conservative Heather Wilson, who is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate — as a conservative. It seems that every one of her conservative news releases uses the word "conservative" about a dozen times. And that's a conservative estimate. When she ran for Senate in 2008, primary opponent Steve Pearce painted Wilson as a "liberal." Conservative as she is, Wilson, a conservative, is doing her conservative best to ensure that the L-word doesn't stick this time. 

Most Cheerless Holiday Cheer Message Award: To former Gov. Bill Richardson for a recent comment to reporters in the Roundhouse who asked him about his most recent grand jury investigation. That investigation is about allegations that Richardson hit up campaign contributors to raise hush money for a former state employee who claims she and Richardson had an affair. But Richardson's only response to the pesky reporters was growling "Merry Christmas" and walking away.