Sunday, September 25, 2016

My Takes on the 2016 Races for County Clerk and County Treasurer

The Doña Ana County Clerk and Treasurer races each present an obvious choice – the Democrat and the Republican, respectively. 

Deputy County Clerk Scott Krahling faces Maria Rodriguez. Deputy County Treasurer Eric Rodriguez faces former treasurer's office employee Jill Johnson. 

In each race the deputy's history is adequate grounds for decision. 

Mr. Krahling is a competent and enthusiastic deputy to Clerk Lynn Ellins. He's worked to ensure honest and relatively smooth elections. He also personally initiated a non-partisan task force to audit office procedures and make recommendations to the NM Secretary of State to enhance protection of personal data in the state system. Then he initiated a non-partisan “get out the vote” committee, headed by a noted Republican who had run against Ellins four years ago.

Eric Rodriguez was appointed deputy in January, after Treasurer David Gutierrez fired Deputy Clerk Rene Barba for refusing to promise that, if elected, he would appoint Gutierrez his deputy. That cost the County $$ to settle Barba's lawsuit. Barba had also refused to cover up Gutierrez's sexual misconduct: Gutierrez sexually harassed an employee, and the County shelled out, again, to settle her lawsuit.

Gutierrez's conduct would be a crime in most states. His refusal to resign insults all of us. Appointing Rodriguez suggests maybe Rodriguez made the promise Barba refused to make. No way you and I should keep paying Gutierrez. Rodriguez has not denied with sufficient certainty that he'd hire Gutierrez. That removes him from consideration. Absolutely.

Jill Johnson brings highly pertinent experience to the race for treasurer. She was an internal auditor with the County and worked in the treasurer's office. (Her whistleblower lawsuit was a third settlement Gutierrez cost us!)

Johnson spent 25 years with Caterpillar, in accounting and audit-related positions. At Caterpillar and at the County, she has consistently pushed for common-sense innovations. She improved the efficiency of the Treasurer's Office by working closely with IT to coordinate reports. She also made it possible for citizens to use debit or credit cards to pay. If elected, she'd work to enable monthly payments.

Eric Rodriguez is a charming young man. He was a bank teller and loan officer. If he had sworn never even to consider Gutierrez as a possible deputy, this race might be a tougher call, although Johnson would still have the edge in experience; but he didn't. He and Gutierrez were photographed putting up signs together during the primary. How much more might Gutierrez cost us in attorney fees, settlements, and abused female employees? 

A long-time paralegal, Maria Rodriguez has been appointed magistrate and administrative law judge. She seems a good person. A friend speaks highly of her paralegal work.

But her lack of experience in the clerk's office is troubling. She knows more than most citizens, but lacked real answers to several questions. She said New Mexico has a law requiring everyone to carry ID. I couldn't find it. She seems to favor requiring voters to have picture IDs, even though it might disenfranchise some people and voter fraud is as rare as unicorns. Her main campaign point is that an employee misused the state voter records system to copy personal information to commit a crime. That happened – facilitated by state records containing full social security numbers. I've seen no evidence the Clerk was careless. Krahling's response has been exemplary.

The next clerk takes office January 1, with a school board election February 7. Why trade Krahling's extensive experience and good ideas for someone who'd have to learn on the job?

Krahling sets a high standard that Ms. Rodriguez can't meet. Rodriguez (with Gutierrez looming behind him) sets a low bar Johnson clears easily.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 25 September 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website and on the KRWG-TV website.]

[Couple of further notes from right after I sent the column in to the newspaper.  First, at Thursday's PVA session Eric Rodriguez said he will not appoint David Gutierrez to any position in the County Clerk's Office.  Second, I took a look at the recent John Birch Society event here, which is worth a column of its own, and found that Maria Rodriguez and her husband were listed among the generous supporters.]  

[Eric Rodriguez didn't mention Gutierrez's sexual misconduct or the three settlements Gutierrez cost us; Gutierrez is, after all, Rodriguez's mentor; but Rodriguez did assert unambiguously that if he became County Treasurer he'd not hire Gutierrez.  He seems a good kid.  I wish him well.  But for this race this year, Johnson -- though I disagree with her on a lot of political issues, vigorously -- still seems the better bet for the office, based on the breadth of her experience.

[The John Birch event was billed as "Support your Local Police" but was a front for the old right-wing hate group.  (Forty years ago, JBS opposed equal rights for blacks, and integration.)
The event had nothing to do with supporting police officers in any meaningful sense.  Rather, it concerned the JBS's paranoid fantasy that the feds are trying to do away with local and state police and have a federal police force.  (JBS asserts that a current program to fund further training of police is a sly step toward absolute federal control.)  The group also said Communists were behind the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations -- just as the group used to say the civil rights movement, aimed at integration and voting rights in the U.S. in the '60's, was Communist.   I was in that one.  It was a mostly bunch of good-hearted young people appropriately pissed off at racism and segregation and hoping to change things.  Communism was irrelevant.  It's even more irrelevant now, when it's been pretty much discredited everywhere.  But this hate group still wants to put everyone who disagrees with it in the "Communist" box so as to avoid actually confronting sometimes difficult questions.
Invitations to the event here a couple of weeks ago listed "sponsors" and "supporters" of whom some had no clue the thing was a JBS event.  (My friend and former client Earl Nissen says he has contacted several of these folks, and that so far two of the six "sponsors have said they had no intention of supporting JBS.  So have several "generous supporters."]  
[Naturally I asked Maria Rodriguez about her support of JBS.  She responded that she had no idea who John Birch was.  I told her, and told her a little about the group.  She said she just sought to get her name out there, since she's running for office.  I urged her to take a look at the JBS and let me know whether it's a group she supports or would disclaim any interest in.  She called back, still not knowing much about JBS, and said she hadn't intended to endorse any group.  Apparently JBS suckered her, as it did the others. I believe she had no intention of supporting JBS.  
[More generally, I'm curious who among the "sponsors" really supports the group and who doesn't.   I'm betting most of our local businesses and individuals are more decent than that, and were gulled into helping JBS because they felt, as most of just do, that police officers need support right now.  Personally, I think it's possible to support police officers, and try to help them, without being racist -- as it is to support better treatment of blacks without buying the idea that all police officers are racist.  They are not.]

[Ms. Rodriguez also elaborated on her view that people should vote for her because of the identity theft committed by employees in the clerk's office.  It did indeed happen while Mr. Ellins and Mr. Krahling were running the office.  However, the vulnerability and temptation were created by a statewide way of handling such information; no one has pointed me to any evidence of particular laxness by Mr. Krahling, let alone any involvement; and Ellins and Krahling acted definitely and appropriately in responding to the problem.] 

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