Showing posts with label Susana Martinez. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Susana Martinez. Show all posts

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Fellow Republicans Point to Martinez-McLeskey Corruption

Has anyone noticed how strongly the sweet scent of corruption permeates the New Mexico Governor's Office these days?

Maybe not. Newspapers, barely surviving economically, often don't report the facts in much detail; and as our politics grow more polarized, folks no longer bother to read critically. If there's an unpleasant fact about someone in the opposing party, it's probably true. If it concerns someone in your party, it's been fabricated or exaggerated by the other side.

But many of the most troubling accusations against Ms. Martinez and Governor Jay McLeskey come from credible Republicans appointed by Mart-lesky.

The recently unsealed whistleblower complaint against the Martinez Administration should be the final straw for anyone who still believed Martinez was some sort of antidote to corruption in Santa Fe.
She's right in the middle of it. She and her people aren't even subtle. But they're consistent: if you're a generous friend, they'll pay you back with our money or softened regulations; but if you speak up, they'll try to bury you.

The 33-page complaint filed in February alleges that a company co-founded by Jon Barela, Mart-leskey's secretary of the New Mexico Economic Development Department, secretly benefited from a state tax credit program. It also claims: aides to Martinez instructed a state employee to use his personal email for sensitive government work to evade public records requests; Barela and his deputy, Barbara Brazil, ignored waste and management at the state's Spaceport project; and that Brazil ran several Dairy Queen franchises she had an interest in “while simultaneously being paid by the State of New Mexico.” When other officials questioned the apparent misconduct, they were demoted, then fired.

Interestingly, the lawsuit echoes earlier complaints about evasion of IPRA requirements, and involves the same private lawyer who was right in the middle of the Albuquerque Downs mess.

There, Martinez stacked a board with folks who would ignore the facts and give a lucrative contract to a company owned by Martinez campaign contributors, despite that company's poor record.
The whistleblower plaintiffs are two Republicans, appointed to office by Martinez. The wife of one had worked as a scheduler during the 2010 election campaign.

Two of the most consistent voices discussing the Albuquerque Downs misconduct were Republicans Tom Tinnin, and Charlotte Rode. Both were Martinez appointees. Ms. Rode, a reform Republican and political neophyte, is a true soccer mom (and long-time basketball coach) and life-long Republican. Caught letting campaign contributions override prudent government, Mart-leskey immediately attacked the messengers. (Martinez even tried to threaten Tinnin, he says.)

To be fair: Mart-leskey's Albuquerque Downs misconduct resembles Governor Richardson's; and I can't prove in either case that laws were broken. Ethics were sure scarce.

Partial releases of the “audit” Mart-lesky used to destroy mental health outfits in southern New Mexico keep adding more evidence that supports charges that the disruption was purely political. It looked that way initially: with no semblance of due-process, small companies were “suspended” and effectively destroyed, supposedly based on an audit by an out-of-state firm that found massive alleged fraud. Previously, in another state, the same audit firm had found massive that state auditors reviewing the allegations found were only minimal amounts of problem bills. Nevertheless, Mart-leskey declined to let the companies keep operating pending an investigation – and lied to the public by claiming the Administration had no choice.

It quickly became public that Mart-leskey had actually signed up the Arizona replacement mental-health firm before the audit that allegedly sparked the concern. This was done without bidding. Mart-leskey doesn't care for public bidding, as demonstrated in the Albuquerque Downs case, where the bidding was open only a token length of time. Public bidding can be so inconvenient when you have a paying pal eager to do the job.

Then Mart-leskey's people allegedly gave the State Auditor a version of the report that omitted the conclusion that there was no “credible evidence of fraud.”

As the AG's Office looks into the alleged mental-health scandal, the “fraud” diminishes with each closer look. The audit work on two or three of the mental-health firms has now been checked, and the fraud seems as illusory as the “widespread voter fraud” Mart-leskey used to push for a Voter ID law that conveniently would tend to decrease turnout among poor folks and non-native-English speakers.
A week ago the AG reported some overbillings but “no actionable evidence of fraud” by one of the companies. The State is trying to recover $340,000 in alleged overpayments to another, while the company denies any overbilling and the AG found $19,000 in overbillings.

Meanwhile, we keep hearing that significant Republican donors with a taste for good government are finding Mart-leskey unpalatably arrogant.

Will any of this make much difference in November? New Mexico voters are traditionally a little slow in responding to corruption. And the Koch Brothers, oil and gas interests, and other deep pockets are sending Mart-leskey plenty of loot to flood the airwaves with misleading commercials.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 18 May, 2014.]

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Downs Deal - A Window into our Present State Government?

This week three past and present State Fair Commissioners, Republicans appointed by Republican Governors including Susana Martinez, gave testimony suggesting Martinez (or Jay McCleskey) improperly pushed through a contract to help one of her campaign contributors.

One, Tom Tinnin testified that Martinez had tried to intimidate him, in a way no other governor ever had. Martinez appointee Charlotte Rode, testified “They wanted to keep the process secret . . . everyone involved was somehow connected to Jay McCleskey.”

The Downs at Albuquerque “racino” deal, which may exemplify how the Martinez Administration conducts state business, was worth a billion dollars. Martinez let it go through like a petty cash purchase of paper clips.

I talked with Tinnin, who served on the State Board of Finance and Administration for 16 years, under four governors. He quit when Martinez tried to intimidate him. His Committee had the final word on the deal. The proposal looked far too favorable to the Downs and unfavorable to the State. It was a very long lease, and the Downs had proved a very bad manager.

The RFP process for the new lease was a joke. Tinnin had chaired the State Fair Commission for 6 ½ years. The Commission put out such an RFP for at least 90 days to garner national attention and maximize competitive bidding, and advertise it nationally. “We had interest from New Jersey to California.”

When Martinez came in, things changed. The controversial RFP was for 30-days, making the current lessee a prohibitive favorite, since there'd be no national advertising and few competitors would manage to bid.

At the time, the deal looked questionable, as former State Senator Steve Fischmann remarked recently on radio. It generated many allegations and calls for investigations.

I wonder how much potential this case has for awakening centrist voters who've never looked closely at our Governor.

For one thing, it seems to symbolize a lot of the problems in her Administration: an air of secrecy, disappearing emails, intimidation, dubious-looking assistance to a campaign contributor, and McCleskey's central role.

Secondly, the key witnesses weren't progressives, but Republicans with an old-fashioned taste for good government. Tinnin is a rich Republican. Charlotte Rode is a reform-minded Republican with seven kids and a record working as a legislative assistant for Republican State Sen. Mark Boitano, who calls her “a straight shooter.”

Third, the whole thing was painfully obvious: the deal would benefit a campaign contributor; therefore Martinez created an extraordinarily favorable process for that contributor, and tried to intimidate folks who realized that. It was a backroom deal in RFP clothing.

When the eventual RFP came before the Board of Finance and Administration, Tinnin was still on the Board and had expressed concerns about the deal. Martinez invited her to visit him. “She tried to tell me that it was all kosher, how wonderful it was,” but he reiterated his concerns, which she couldn't really answer. “Then she looked at me and said, 'If you disparage any of my people in a public platform, I'm going to take it personally.' Later she said it again. The third time she said it I said, 'Governor, why don't we just agree to disagree.' I'm not going to be intimidated or have my integrity undermined.'” He resigned that day.

The irregularities in this deal are too numerous to list fully here. State Sen. Tim Keller has asked the AG to investigate whether Martinez handpicked the RFP selection committee, in violation of the procurement code; intimidated Commissioners to approve the lease; had staff communicate improperly with Downs during the process; let non-state employees conduct state business; and other issues, including why the Downs, which hadn't made all its payments under the previous lease and had let barns and stables deteriorate badly, was scored as an excellent manager. (Omitted are possible open records act violations.)

Keller was one of the few senators to voice serious concerns about the deal at the time. Asked by Keller during the recent hearing whether the problem was mismanagement or “money and politics?” Tinnin replied, “I think this was planned and they got what they wanted.

On Martinez's behalf, it's fair to ask two questions. Didn't her Democratic predecessor also try to help the same people in some ways that didn't smell too good? (Richardson was pushing Downs, despite its allegedly sloppy management and breaches of contract; and he tried to offer the Downs not just 25 years but 40.) And why the furor now? (Some of the same people have been saying the same things and seeking an investigation since 2011.)

But it's also fair to suggest answers: The widespread sense that Richardson was corrupt was a major reason Martinez was elected. People sought exactly the kind of change she hasn't delivered. And it's fair to wonder if the Downs's critics have been right since 2011.

Whether or not the deal broke the law, it's a pretty clear example of governing for political and financial gain rather than for New Mexico.

[The column above appeared today, Sunday, 16 February in the Las Cruces Sun-News.]

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Politicians Can Trip When they Look Vindictively Backward

Why do some politicians, once crossed, maintain a personal vindictiveness that doesn't fade as they move up the political ladder?

I'm thinking of N.J. Governor Chris Christie, N.M. Governor Susana Martinez, and the Clintons. Hillary, at least.

Yes, Don Corleone (hero of Christie's favorite movie) felt the need to avenge even the smallest slight in a public way to set an example. Probably a reasonable idea in his business. But politicians who feel a comparable impulse should stifle it.

Christie's sad story is headline material. Needing to portray himself as especially bipartisan, or atnd capable of dialogue with the nasty old Democrats, he put out the word that Democratic mayors in New Jersey should endorse him. When the Mayor of Fort Lee declined to do so, Christie's minions got back at him in a stupid and probably illegal way. They closed the local entries to and exits from the George Washington Bridge, snarling traffic and interfering with emergency responders, schoolbuses, and just plain citizens. Brilliant.

Christie either knew exactly what was going on or had set a clear example of petty vengefulness. (When the King Henry II asks “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome Priest?” his courtiers don't need written instructions concerning Thomas Becket.) Additional mayors have since come forward with accounts of reprisals by Christie's people.

What Christie's aides did was potentially dangerous and just plain dumb.

Just when Christie had a decent shot at the Presidential nomination, he shoots himself in the foot trying to settle a score. Reminds me of a football player on the point of scoring a touchdown to take his team to the Super Bowl who turns around to kick a defender in the crotch instead – and gets tackled.

A more local example is our former District Attorney. She's now Governor Martinez. Rumors have her as a possible candidate for the Vice-Presidency. You'd think she'd be busy enough with state issues and possibly national ambitions that she'd ignore the impulse to interfere with matters down here in Las Cruces.

Yet she and her favorite aide can't forgive or forget perceived slights. For just one example, Mark D'Antonio's presence in her old office is like an itch she can't keep from scratching. Several people could tell interesting pieces of this story if they chose to. When I asked a non-partisan observer about it recently, thinking he might not have heard anything of it, he just shook his head and said, “It's just something personal.” We shook our heads. With all she has going on in her professional life, why would she bother? I can't say she's done anything illegal; but underhanded and unpleasant, yes.
But neither political party holds a patent on petty vengefulness.

If widespread reports are at all accurate, Hillary Clinton kept a personal hit-list in 2008, listing fellow Democrats whose sins included endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.
Look out, John Kerry, Jay Rockefeller, Patrick Leahy, and (above all) Claire McCaskill. Our own Bill Richardson was also on the list, and Clinton staffers reportedly watched with delight when Richardson started getting investigated.

What we're reading about the Clintonian “enemies list” is both tasteless and stupid. Sure, most campaigns keep a list of friends and enemies; and an early critical endorsement is a political gamble, with significant consequences if the underdog you endorse becomes President or the favorite at whom you thumbed your nose moves into the White House.

But few campaigns (Nixon's, perhaps) keep lists as detailed as Clinton's.

I don't see the list-keeping as helpful. Does it really help Clinton in 2016 to have magnified her differences with folks who endorsed Barack eight years ago as the superior of two good choices?
I'm not seeing the wisdom in it. I'm not seeing anything sensible about unnecessarily avenging perceived insults, turning potential friends into enemies, and enemies into raging lions.
I don't think Chris would have been nominated for President this year anyway. Look what the extremist-dominated primary process did to Romney, who hadn't hobnobbed with the Democratic Devil the way Christie did after Hurricane Sandy.

I don't think Susana will get the nod as VP: her ethnicity and gender are politically convenient, but choosing an obscure governor from a small state might be unappealing to a party still dreaming that McCain could have won in 2008 without the soccer mom.

Hillary, of course, has the 2016 nomination wrapped up, just as she had the 2008 nomination wrapped up in 2006.

Me, with a few exceptions, I can't be bothered remembering things people do to hurt me. Carrying those memories pollutes my mind and heart, not theirs.

But Jacqueline Bisset said it best. Asked at the Golden Globes how she managed to look so great at 69, she said, “If you want to look good, forgive everyone. That's the best beauty aid I know.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A New Political Fashion Here: Musical Chairs

Local Democrats may look closely at some “Democratic” judicial candidates this year.

In December I was told that four past and/or present judicial candidates appointed by Republican Governor Susana Martinez had just become Democrats or were about to switch.

The four are Beverly Singleman; Richard Wellborn, Jacinto Palomino, and Nelson Goodin. Martinez has appointed each to a judicial position here, and has appointed Goodin twice. All but Singleman worked with Martinez in the District Attorney's Office; and three lost judicial elections in 2010 or 2012.

Magistrate Judge Singleman, once a Democrat, then briefly an Independent, is now a Democrat. In April 2012, Martinez appointed Singleman, an Independent. In November 2012, Singleman won an election to retain her seat. (She ran unopposed: two Democrats were disqualified because of the new requirement that a magistrate judge be a lawyer.) She says her switch back to the Democratic Party is unrelated to what others were doing. “I missed some aspects of the Democratic Party, particularly the women’s group,” she said, adding that an Independent must gather many more signatures in a short time to get on the ballot. That's problematic for someone who’s in court all day.

Martinez appointed former Assistant District Attorneys Palomino and Goodin as District Court Judges, and voters rejected both in November 2012. She then appointed Goodin to Magistrate Court in 2013.

Palomino's switch made some sense. I talked with him during the 2012 race. He seemed moderate. I thought he might be fair and impartial. Some lawyers who’d observed him in court confirmed that.

He says he changed parties months ago, fairly soon after going to work for District Attorney Mark D'Antonio last January. D'Antonio, who he said “welcomed me with open arms,” didn't ask him to change parties. Rather, former friends in the Republican Party, angered by his taking a job with D'Antonio, made him feel distinctly unwelcome. Since he could be comfortable as a Democrat, he changed parties.

Palomino declined to discuss just what Republicans said or did after D'Antonio hired him. Goodin remains a Republican and says he has no plan to switch. He denies that he seriously considered switching. Wellborn says that when he told Goodin he was going to meet with County Democratic Chairperson Christy French, Goodin said “You can tell her I'm thinking about it as well.” Goodin declined to confirm that he'd discussed the matter with Wellborn.

Wellborn's case is the most interesting.

Wellborn, an ADA under Martinez, ran and lost as a Republican for a district court judgeship in 2010. Hoping for an appointment to District Court, he failed to get past the Judicial Nominating Committee. The Martinez administration appointed him General Counsel to the Department of Transportation. Then Martinez appointed him Magistrate Judge in October, 2013. By early December he'd become a Democrat.

Wellborn insists his change of parties reflects his beliefs. He says his beliefs have always been more in line with Democrats than with Republicans. He says he became a Republican when he went to work with Martinez in the District Attorney's Office.

When I spoke to him in December, he said all the right things in a pretty convincing manner. He mentioned (not in any way as platform planks) that he'd never voted for a Republican for President, had always supported same-sex marriage and economic equality, and was pro-choice. He also denied discussing the switch with Martinez, and said he hadn't actually spoken to her for years.

Others say Wellborn has always appeared very conservative. They doubt he'd have switched parties without approval from Martinez, who's hired or appointed him to several public positions. They believe he changed parties solely to enhance his chances to win.

Before Wellborn switched, District Court Clerk Norman Osborne was known to be planning to run for the magistrate judgeship. Osborne anticipated that his Republican opponent in the General Election would be Wellborn.

Then Wellborn came to see him at the Clerk's Office and, as an incumbent who was now also a Democratic, suggested Osborne withdraw. Osborne said the incident “took me by surprise” but was “very cordial.”

In December, Wellborn's account of the conversation omitted that he'd suggested Osborne withdraw.

Thereafter, Wellborn reportedly returned with a carrot. Osborne says Wellborn noted the probability that the State would add another Magistrate Judgeship here, and suggested that if Osborne withdrew, “he would put in a good word for me with the Governor.” Osborne found this “a rather strange proposal, for several reasons” – among them that “he's a Democrat and last time I looked, she's a Republican.” Osborne “politely declined,” partly because he was “pretty far along” in gathering signatures and had supporters eager to help with the race.

This week Wellborn confirmed that he'd encouraged Osborne to withdraw, but denied that Osborne's account was accurate. “That's not what I said. I did say, and this is all speculation, that there may be a position opening up. I don't think Norm would disagree that I'm doing a good job. If his first priority is the best interest of the court, it would be a selfless act on his part to withdraw [and seek the next vacancy] and that if he did that, which would show he put the court's interest above his own, then I would likely make a recommendation of him [if/when a vacancy occurred].”

[This is the 12 January 2014 installment of my Sunday columns that appear in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  It's important to note that nothing in the column is, or should be taken as, an endorsement of any judicial candidate.]
[This was a tough one to edit down to something close to my allotted space in the newspaper.  Wanted to include all pertinent facts, positive and negative, but couldn't -- and wonder now if a lot of that was better left unsaid anyway. 
It's also an example of a column that changed greatly as I looked into the facts.  Initially it seemed a pattern.  And it seemed a distasteful one.   Three former Martinez ADA's, each appointed by her to a judgeship then defeated by the voters in favor of a Democrat, then appointed by her again.  Sounded like some English King appointing a series of Sheriffs of Nottingham, ignoring his subjects' preferences.  And there might be a little truth in that picture.  But Singleman was neither a Martinez ADA nor a Republican, and has never been rejected by the voters; Palomino is no longer a Republican, no longer a pal of Susana's, and not running for anything -- and is a fellow 49ers fan; Wellborn and Goodin are Martinez appointees running for re-election; but Goodin hasn't changed his registration and claims not to have given the idea serious consideration.  All say there was no conversation with Governor Martinez about changing parties to facilitate getting elected.]

[I do want to cover this year's judicial elections fully.   They get short shrift sometimes in news media, partly because judicial ethics don't let the candidates say much that would capture a head-line.  These elections are not about whether or not to wage war or legalize marijuana, they're about who'll run a court fairly, wisely, impartially, efficiently, humanely, courteously, and with some judgment and legal knowledge.  Each candidate says s/he'll do that very, very well, so we naturally agree with both of them.  If either has an opinion on an issue s/he might have to decide, s/he can't say anything about it. 
Too, judicial elections are tricky.  Sure, I'd rather see a judge who's political opinions make at least a little sense to me; but a judge with reasonable political opinions may conduct himself or herself as a complete autocrat in the courtroom, proud to be on the bench and wholly intolerant of legal arguments s/he doesn't approve of, while someone whose political opinions differ from mine can be a humane, careful, courteous, neutral arbiter in the courtroom.   A judge needs to check his or her political opinions at the door treat each case with the same impartiality a good reporter treats stories.  The capacity to do that should be independent of party affiliation.

Several factors complicate assessing judges.  Few see how good or bad a judge is.  First of all, although the law constrains the judge, s/he has rare power, exercised largely out of the public eye -- and a particular decision that incenses us when we read about it in the newspaper may be exactly right when you consider only the facts in evidence and apply the law too it as fairly as possible.  A decision may also be so filled with arcane points of law that most folks won't quite understand the judge's rationale, let alone be able to assess fairly whether or not it was required by rules or judicial precedent.  The judge acts mostly in private.  Few cases are highly newsworthy; when one is, budgets no longer permit a reported to sit through the entire trial; and the newspaper reader, a non-lawyer not present in the courtroom will not always understand why the judge acts as s/he does.   A mayor who was rude, intolerant, and autocratic would be so in public: either s/he'd show those qualities in the council meetings or city employees who experience or observed it would quietly inform a reporter they could trust.  Judges' work is viewed by a small crew of spectators, mostly those interested in the particular case for personal reasons; and lawyers who observe a particular judge won't speak publicly of that judge's conduct.   Speaking up about a bad judge could elicit retaliation against one's client in the next case, and praising one publicly sounds and feels like currying favor.

At the same time, these elections matter.  Once elected, District Court Judges (but not Magistrate Judges) don't have to run again in a regular election.  If we voters make a mistake, it's harder than usual to undo.

I will write further columns on the judicial races -- and invite all the judicial candidates to appear with Keith and me (and each other) on "Speak Up, Las Cruces!" -- which airs at 8-10 each weekday morning on KOBE-AM 1450.]

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Our Lawless Governments

New Mexico governments are on a rampage recently, trampling on laws and constitutional rights and causing sometimes unnecessary lawsuits.

Our Governor abruptly deep-sixed mental health providers; and now the City of Las Cruces is suing the State over the Gross Receipts Tax.

A bad bill rushed through the legislature at the 11th hour, unread by most legislators, cut cities' incomes but let them hike the GRT very slightly. Martinez allegedly warned cities not to exercise that right. Las Cruces did so. The State called the increase illegal because it didn't specify certain points – but the City doesn't see that requirement in writing.

Earlier, the State closed more than a dozen mental health providers, replacing them with an Arizona concern.

The State said an audit showed “credible allegations of fraud,” so that federal law required the State to impose the death penalty on all those companies, sans trial.

Actually, that law permitted the State to ignore the “requirement” in the public interest. Avoiding a disruptive change for patients, and keeping several New Mexico companies alive until proven guilty, would seem to qualify.

The State refused to show us the documents, in probable violation of state law, and got sued. Recently it released a little more of the audit. The auditors say they “did not find what we would consider to be credible allegations of fraud.”

No findings of fraud. No findings of “credible allegations of fraud.”

That the State had contacted the Arizona company months before the fatal audit even began adds to questions about whether Governor Martinez simply did what she wanted, for political reasons, without regard to law or fairness.

Maybe there was fraud. The State's behavior suggests not. While some Republican group paid a bunch of bucks for slick radio ads supporting the Governor's action, state officeholders refused opportunities to appear on the radio to articulate their defense, if any – and face questions. One agreed to participate in our radio program – then never answered further phone calls or participated

In July a jury found Dona Ana County had violated the law in firing Jorge Granados. The County was ordered to pay damages and attorney fees.

Now the County opposes Granados's lawyers request for fees. By statute, they get the fees – doubled. They took a gamble, working long unpaid hours for months or years to right a wrong, as they saw it; and the doubling could also deter further such wrongdoing.

The County objects that there were two lawyers – though we saw two in court for the County, and Raul Carrillo didn't do all the legal research and drafting for the defense.

Granados was turned down by all the Las Cruces lawyers he talked to. Then his El Paso lawyers won a case that the County lawyers thought had little chance. Questionably County motions that failed caused some of the legal fees; and the lawyers had to do all their trial preparation twice, because the County won a last-minute postponement from September 2012 to late June 2013.

The County's lawyers (and/or insurers) don't know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. (Ask Mr. Slevin.) They're appealing, against long odds. We or the insurers will likely end up paying two sets of lawyers to discuss these issues in the appellate courts.

One county attorney recently denied me a public record the NM Public Records Act clearly required him to show me. He claimed that a certain case supported him. I wasted time reading the case, discovering he was dead wrong, and writing a letter threatening suit. Then he backed down. In February, he startled everyone at a very long hearing by announcing in an odd, rambling way that he suddenly saw the case in a new way – at 3 a.m., after about nine hours.

More recently the same lawyer advised the Extraterritorial Zoning Authority (ETA) to deny two members of the public the right to speak during “Public Input.” We had a basic Constitutional right to do so. Generally, when a government opens an area to public speech, it can't outlaw speech based on content. The lawyer claimed that although we were going to discuss general issues, our statements might somehow be taken as improper ex parte communications about a zoning-change request that might be made at some future date.

But when public officials aren't too confident in their abilities, and suspect they'll screw up, they try to err in what seems the safest direction.

NMSU also doesn't respect free speech or the Constitution. It brought three criminal charges against a some-time student who attended a job fair open to the public and stood quietly out of anyone's path beside the NSA table with a sign suggesting “If you want to work for Big Brother, apply here.” The next day, another student lightly tossed a copy of George Orwell's 1984 onto the NSA table. That's a succinct political statement, but it ain't a crime.

More lawsuits waiting to happen, because of official arrogance, incompetence, or testosterone.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 27 October.]

[One difficulty at 845 Motel Boulevard is that the place seems to be run by the lawyers.  More than once this year they've put the commissioners in a tough spot, because none of the commissioners are lawyers themselves and thus can't fully judge the advice they get -- or, if they suspect something's off-kilter, understandably have a tough time disobeying their lawyers.  Further, I have a strong feeling that as to a couple of commissioners the lawyers have either been involved in questionable action against them or have threatened them.  There are also rules -- put in place to keep commissioners from meddling in matters left to the county manager's discretion and judgment -- that hamstring those commissioners who might like to take action regarding the lawyers.   We can only hope that one retires soon and a new city manager doesn't promote from within to replace him.
With regard to the ETA incident: I'd like for it not to end up in court.  However, the initial response by the county offered no legal support for the county's position, but merely asserted that the county lawyer was right and we were wrong.  That's unfortunate, but further discussion might lead to a resolution.]

Sunday, November 11, 2012

some thoughts from tuesday morning

I drafted this column before the polls closed, not knowing how things would play out Tuesday; but naturally I can’t resist updating it to acknowledge the results.

What I saw most clearly, thinking Tuesday morning about the future, was that whichever party won the Presidency shouldn’t get comfortable. The U.S. still faces some very real problems, some of which may not have widely acceptable solutions.

Our economy has not fully recovered, the deficit remains dangerously high, and we’re rapidly approaching a deficit-related "cliff." Longer-term problems include: past inattention to education and infrastructure; the aging of our population combined with rising health-care costs; climate change; energy costs and dependence on foreign oil; and the fact that we spend vast sums to protect military bases and interests around the globe.

If Republicans won, they’d lose in 2016.

The party has moved too far to the right to stay relevant in the 21st Century. That point was clear before the election; but Election Night illustrated it neatly, as networks intercut between the largely young and ethnically varied supporters waiting for Obama and the older, mostly white group supporting Romney.

A Romney victory would have given us several more far-right U.S. Supreme Court justices. With their help, President Romney could have delighted the Tea Party and angered many women by making abortions illegal, and could pursue the fight against gay marriage, which is laughable to the young and loses support among older folks every year. Election Night illustrated this too: in two states, voters for the first time voted their approval of gay marriage, while two other states voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Romney’s economic promises were wholly inconsistent with each other. Four years would have revealed that unmistakably to the voters who believed in 2012 that maybe he could work magic; and after four years President Romney could no longer blame Obama for not getting us out of the Bush recession fast enough.

Meanwhile, just as Hurricane Sandy pushed climate change back into the electoral conversation, other extreme weather events are likely to make Republican denials sound even hollower.

Republican extremists, emboldened by success, would have pushed Romney to extremes unpalatable to the rest of us – forgetting that Romney narrowed the 2012 race only by denying at the last minute everything he’d said for two years. No etch-a-sketch would have been big enough to wipe four full years from the collective memory.

But the Democrats also have reason to worry about 2016.

Four short years after Bush left office, as we’re still struggling to dig our way out of the mess, the Republicans nearly won. They nearly won with a candidate whom even Republicans couldn’t make themselves like, advocating the policies that helped create our financial problems. Fair or unfair, by 2016 Democrats will own those problems in the public mind.

This was also the first presidential election since Citizens United. Nationally and locally, PACs used abundant, untraceable funds to say increasingly outrageous things without fear of liability. The 2016 elections may become even more determined by money and Madison Avenue’s creativity.

Republicans, controlling many state governments, will continue their carefully planned effort to restrict voting among the folks most likely to vote Democratic. Fewer early-voting opportunities, more photo-I.D. requirements, and other "minor reforms" will subtract from the Democratic vote totals in 2016.

On the national level, Tea Party Republicans (and party leaders who fear them) greeted Obama’s initial election by deciding that destroying him was more important than doing the best they could for the country. Will they greet his re-election as a warning to work with him toward solving problems? One hopes so; and one hopes that if they continue their obstreperous course their constituents will see them for what they are; but it’s more likely that Republican House members will automatically call the sky red if Obama says it’s blue, and then try to blame him for not getting a consensus on the sky’s color.

Republicans will again play "chicken" with the nation’s economy the way teenagers do with cars. They’ll gamble that Obama will drive off the road to avoid disaster – or that if he doesn’t the public won’t be able to see whose fault the disaster is.

Civility and compromise are at a pretty low ebb in the political world. That’s partly because of the Republican flight to the right, but also because we live in a time when every political sneeze is analyzed ad nauseum in cyberspace, and on talk radio and TV, before anyone can say "God Bless You." Gridlock will leave voters even more disgusted with both parties in 2016 than it did this year.

I didn’t have to know who won Tuesday to know that politicians in both parties need to relearn some manners, and be more flexible and creative in seeking practical solutions to very serious problems.

Part of that change needs to start with each of us. As I wrote Tuesday morning: "Wrongheaded as some of us will think he is, the next President is neither a traitor nor a devil. At some level he believes his policies are good for the country, although his view of the country may differ sharply from ours. We owe him frank but fair criticism and more respect publically than some of us will think he deserves."

"Could you do that?" someone asked. Had Romney won, I’d have tried.

[The foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, 11 November, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, under heading "Either Side Would Have a Tough Four Years Ahead."]

Beyond the barebone facts -- that Obama won more comfortably than expected, despite the bad economy, and that Democrats picked up a few seats in House and Senate -- there are some grounds for hope.
One of those is the resistance voters showed to the heavy-handed tactics and generous financing of the "super PACs."   For example, casino billionnaire Sheldon Adelson, the largest single political donor in history, invested heavily in backing eight candidates, including Mitt Romney.  He gave tens of millions of dollars to super PACs supporting them.  None of the eight won.   All Karl Rove could say to the fat cats who invested $300 million in his two pro-Romney super PACs was that "Without us the race wouldn't have been this close."
In fact, Rove was beside himself.    He'd talked a lot of rich folks into parting with a lot of cash, making big talk about turning his Crossroads PACs into a "permanent presence in U.S. politics," working alongside the Republican Party.  His American Crossroads super PAC spent at least $1 million in each of ten Senate races, and saw its candidates lose in nine of the ten; or, as someone else calculated, when you counted its support for Romney and various others, just one per cent of the money the PAC spent accomplished its desired result.  No wonder Rove screamed at his Fox pals not to call Ohio for Obama!  Wednesday another conservative activist called Rove's PACs "ineffective" and  wrote that "in any logical universe he would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again."
In New Mexico, the super PAC run by a Martinez lieutenant and funded largely by Oil & Gas backed quite a few candidates, but in many instances voters seemed able to see through the misleading fliers and ads.  Martinez actively sought to retire several long-time Democratic legislators, and actually got rid of only one, despite heavy spending by the super PAC.
Unfortunately, we haven't seen the end of the super PACs.  With all that money, the Republicans will be able to buy a few brains capable of identifying better and more persuasive ways to spend.  (I won't offer any specifics!)  I'd like to think that folks will still shake off that shit like the proverbial water off a duck's back. 

One slight correction, or amplification, too:
I wrote that two states voted to legalize same-sex marriage.  A third, initially too close to call, also turned out to have done so; and Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.
During the campaign, her sexual preference apparently was the non-issue it should have been.

The other night at a political meeting, a white-haired gentleman got up to speak about the election; and after praising a progressive candidate who'd lost, he added that it was also wonderful that three states had approved gay marriage, Minnesota had rejected a DOMA, etc., and at that point it was clear that he was tearing up with emotion.   When he sat down, his white-haired companion put his arm around him, affectionately, and complimented him on his brief talk.  It was moving.  There was a certain sweetness to them.
I thought of a friend I'd known here in the early 1970's.  We'd been in the initially small minority strongly questioning the wisdom of the war in Viet Nam.  At some point in the 1980's, visiting NMSU, I ran into him in Corbett Center and we talked awhile.  He told me then that he was gay, and had been gay back then, but had feared letting even his fellow progressives know about it.  He spoke a little bitterly about watching me sit on the lawn at a meeting with a girlfriend, maybe holding hands or whatever, when he knew very well that if he did that with his lover someone would have stomped them.  It was sad that he had thought even we would reject him -- and sadder that some might have.   I thought also of a retired English professor I met again recently, a fellow I'd vaguely understood was gay back in the early 1970's, and whose long-time companion was and is a professor from a more conservative department.  I've never had to hide for decades a major part of my life, and undoubtedly can't fully appreciate the pain it would cause if I couldn't reveal my love for Dael to even many of my closest friends -- and if just turning on the TV or reading a newspaper, or getting a drink at the water fountain at work, could at any moment provide some zinging reminder that much of society thought we were somehow disgusting.

By the way, I heard that as of Satuday morning the race between incumbent Terry McMillan and challenger Joanne Ferrary is a tie.  It'll be certified that way, I'm told, but subject to a mandatory recount anyway because it was so close.  Should be interesting. 

Finally, congratulations again to Evelyn Madrid Erhard for running hard and well against a highly-favored opponent.  She carried the County, and made the final tally a lot closer than I'd have guessed when she started the race.   I called her this morning, just to thank her again for trying and congratulate her on running so well, with no initial name-recognition and not much money against the darling of New Mexico's oil and gas industry.  A reader called her "Don Quixote" in this morning's "Sound-Off" column in the Sun-News.  She deserves our thanks.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Morning after Election

Jeez, it feels good to be home.

Of course I'm pleased by President Obama's victory.  I felt fairly strongly that he would win, but thought it would be closer.   I did not expect him to win almost all the "battleground" states, and to do so by margins that were almost comfortable. 

I'm also pleased that New Mexico, and particularly Doña Ana County, as expected, gave the national ticket and Martin Heinrich very comfortable margins.

Obama won for three reasons, not including his significant advantage in the "ground game."  I saw a little of that firsthand.  I happened to be at Democratic Headquarters, and past 5 p.m., with the polls closing at 7, people were still doggedly calling voters, urging them to vote, thanking them for voting, or trying to arrange a ride if one was needed.  Not many people; but they were volunteers, not a call center.  They were neighbors and committed advocates, not folks making an hourly wage.  You could hear it in their voices, too.

Obama won, despite a difficult economy, because:
1. People could just not bring themselves to like or trust Mitt Romney;
2. The Republican Party has moved too far to the Right for a changing United States; and
3. People apparently did recall, as the Republicans urged them to forget, which party had contributed mightily to the economy's downfall.

A recent Doonesbury mocked the fact that the Republicans, just four years after Wall Street played a huge role in our financial crash, nominated a Wall Street guy, and at least one analyst on TV emphasized this; but more crucial, though related, was the fact that folks just can't warm up to the guy for more visceral reasons.  All during the Republican Primary Season, when the Republicans played "Anybody But Romney," it was not merely because his record as a governor had been somewhat moderate, but also because people just couldn't warm up to the guy for visceral reasons.  That was related to, but distinguishable from, their distaste for Wall Street guys.  George Bush was a rich guy who never had to work with his hands to make a buck, but people liked him and wanted to believe him.  With Romney as the obvious eventual nominee, Republicans in 2012 went through an almost weekly enthusiasm for an embarrassingly unlikely cast of characters such as Cain, Gingrich, Perry, and Bachmann.   Romney appeared wooden.  His lack of familiarity with the average person's life made for some howlers when he tried to cozy up to working-class folks; and although his handlers had urged him to smile more, he lacked a solid instinct about when to apply that principle, and sometimes smiled like a monkey as he spoke of the suffering of an unemployed single mother with cancer or something.  He didn't have what George Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton had.  With Reagan or Clinton, people felt better listening to him, even if he was uttering something idiotic; with Romney, people felt his brittleness and absence of commitment to anything other than trying to gain the office his revered father had failed to reach.

The Republican lurch to the Right and the changing nature of the country were well-covered in the election  night TV stuff.  It was wonderfully on display in Senate races such as Indiana's and Missouri's, which by all rights Republicans should have won: they chose a Tea Party buffoon in each state, tossing out a respected long-time Senator in Indiana, and each buffoon behaved like one but still figured he could win.  It was also on display in the vast differences in age and ethnicity between the crowds at each party's Presidential Headquarters: Obama's supporters were young, lively, and multi-ethnic; Romney's were almost universally white, mostly middle-aged, and probably included a hgiher percentage of males.  Meanwhile, Maine and Maryland became the first states ever to vote their approval of same-sex marriage, which is anathema to the Republican stalwarts and Romney, Minnesota rejected a constiutional amendment banning gay marriage, and Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use.    (Sadly, physician-assisted suicide appears to have been defeated in a fairly close election in Massachusetts.  Particularly since my parents' deaths I've had strong feelings that terminally ill folks ought to be able to end their suffering if they choose to do so, as my father did.)

Finally, exit polls confirmed that folks said by wide margins that Bush, not Obama, bore primary responsibility for our poor economy.  To me, the Republican arguments against Obama always sounded like a guy who'd run up $100,000 in credit-card debt while he and his wife had a combined annual income of $80,000, then, after she confiscated his credit cards and insisted on keeping the checkbook, screamed six months later that she hadn't gotten them out of debt.  The Bush Administration was incredibly irresponsible.  Disaster followed.  Obama has made some of the right moves.  That he has not made more of them is partially Republican opposition and partially his own appointment of some "financial experts" of the wrong stripe, and probably also partially a failure of political will.  However, for the most part he's tried reasonable steps and probably saved us from a worse economy than we currently have.  Romney offered nothing except more of the Bush-Cheney policies -- and a mythical "Plan" he couldn't quite define.

Waiting for Romney to concede was tedious but interesting.  It became increasingly obvious not only that he was clinging to unrealistic hopes but that he and his folks had really drunk their own Kool-Aid and believed that his momentum and the poor economy were carrying him to victory.  That happens in campaigns (or in trials, theatre productions, feature film-making, and sports): you're so surrounded by your co-workers / well-wishers / supporters and your "kind of people" that the messages from outside that circle pale by comparison with the palpable enthusiasm your people are bestowing on you.  That Romney didn't understand he was still an underdog these past weeks may also have symbolized his major problem: that the America he sees is an extemely limited one, restricted by his privileged life and narrow world-view.

I'm pleased, but concerned: election night euphoria fades quickly, and the financial cliff hasn't moved.  We're still rushing toward a dangerous place with regard to the deficit, and the Republicans aren't sounding like folks who understand that survival will require compromise by everyone.

A few weeks ago I analyzed in my notebook why I was going to feel a good deal more depressed by a Romney win than I'd been by other presidential elections that had gone the wrong way.  I concluded that one factor was the extremely vicious nature of some contemporary Republican positions and another was Romney's conscienceless ambition.  To me, his combination of passionate ambition and whorish willingness to reinvent himself whenever it might garner a vote or two was a dangerous mix.  Meanwhile Obama was a genuinely competent President who'd started as a community organizer.  Finally, the prospect of spending the rest of my life watching an irretrievably right-wing Supreme Court stifle progress was uninviting. 

For the first time in years, having moved back to Las Cruces, I was also deeply interested in the local races.  I know some of the candidates, I know plenty about almost all of them, and as a columnist I took strong positions on some of the races.  Almost all the races went as I hoped.  In particular, the ones I'd spoken out about went well.   I don't assume or suggest there was any causal connection there, but mention it to explain how I feel.  When I lived in Las Cruces before, a lot of my beliefs weren't too popular.  With changes in the times and the town, Las Cruces has a quite progressive local government and voted quite strongly for Obama and Senator-elect Heinrich -- and even gave Evelyn Madrid Erhard a respectable majority against the incumbent U.S. Congressman.

I had felt particularly strongly about the three judicial races.  Governor Martinez (the former long-time District Attorney here, in case you're reading this outside New Mexico) appointed three cronies as judges here.  One in particular seems a somewhat spiteful sort, and a Tea Party darling; two of the three had lied to or about me; and their three opponents all seemed decent people who had good reputations as lawyers.  Further, the close alliance of Governor-Judges-District Attorney seemed unhealthy.  (A fourth Martinez crony was the District Attorney.)  We were surrounded by "Keep Judge So-and-So" signs, as if to suggest we had elected and expressed affection for the three (of whom one, by the way, seems a very decent sort of fellow).   I wrote a strong column on these races, but was not optimistic.  I didn't have recent experience with elections here, and knew Martinez was extremely popular.  The judicial candidates -- Marci Beyer, Mary Rosner, and Darren Kugler -- all defeated the Martinez "incombents" by several percentage points.

Similarly what I'd heard and seen of Amy Orlando and Mark D'Antonio convinced me that the county would be a lot better off with Mark as D.A.  Still, I feared his optimism might be a product of hearing so much from well-wishers and having far less contact with opponents.  I'd kind of expected to spend some time during the next two years writing columns trying to expose certain problems within the D.A.'s office.  Without getting into details, there was a certain nastiness and heavy-handedness to the Martinez-Orlando campaign to keep Ms. Orlando in office.  Mark is a capable lawyer with a great background for a prosecutor, and will bring a much-needed "breath of fresh air" to the D.A.'s office here. 

Most of the other local races went as I hoped they would too.  In one there's currently a twelve-vote margin, which may or may not survive provisional ballot counting and perhaps a recount.  Particularly because progressive or moderate candidates had been subjected to a barrage of ugly and misleading attacks by a PAC funded by Oil & Gas and run by a Martinez lieutenant, I'm heartened.  I hoped people would see through that garbage and make choices based on candidates and their actual positions; but I had no basis for predicting how these races would come out.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, one key race turned out badly.  Our Congressional District includes Las Cruces but is weirdly cut to be primarily a Republican one.   Republican U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce is the darling of NMOGA and the Tea Party, but pays little attention to the needs or desires of the rest of his constituency, particularly progressives, environmentalists, and the like.  He doesn't have to.  Thus he's already voting to toss out the Affordable Health Care Act, and has consistently taken many extreme positions.  He'll likely be one of those unreasonable Republicans declining to compromise even to save the country's credit rating and possibility of financial recovery, and he snorts at the very idea that we might be contributing to climate change.

His challenger this time was a lady named Evelyn Madrid Erhard.  She had little political experience and less funding.  It was the classic David-and-Goliath battle, and Goliath was going to win; but Evelyn gave him a tough fight.  She dedicated her life to this race for the better part of a year, spoke energetically and well, and performed well in debates.  A newspaper poll a while back claimed she would win about 35 per cent of the vote.   She carried Doña Ana County and got about 41 per cent of the vote overall.  A fair way to put it would be that she lost in a landslide, but less of a landslide than most people predicted.  She ran heroically.  She deserves our thanks. 

I feel at home in Las Cruces; but it's still a little unsettling to a muckraking journalist to look around and notice that a high percentage of local office-holders are progressive, open-minded, and even environmentally-conscious individuals who also seem not to be motivated primarily by greed or political ambition.  Whom am I going to write about?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Doña Ana County's Judicial Elections

Judicial elections, low on the ballot and little publicized, will make a difference to many of our lives during the next decade or so.

Electing the three prosecutors appointed by Governor Martinez would short-change the court with regard to Family Law -- and could result in unfair criminal trials, the appearance of unfairness, and/or costly administrative headaches when these judges get disqualified. Or extra expenses on appeals.

Martinez, who came into office deriding the alleged "cronyism" of her predecessor, has appointed three cronies. Each had worked a long time with her and with District Attorney Amy Orlando, and each has experience solely or mostly in criminal cases.

A civil or criminal judge should have no close connection with (or bias toward or against) anyone in a case s/he’s hearing. A judge who has worked closely with a lawyer for many years, and still socializes with the lawyer, might be required to recuse herself from a case involving that lawyer. All three appointed judges have such a relationship with District Attorney Amy Orlando.

Watching Orlando and the three Republican judicial candidates at a recent Tea Party meeting strengthened my concern. Each judge stressed experience working with Martinez and Orlando. Body language, camaraderie, and remarks like, "We’re all concealed carry" underlined their closeness. As one of the judges said, "You’ve heard a little about everyone working for Susana Martinez."

Governor Martinez could have and should have appointed judges with more varied expertise. Her judicial appointees around the state are all, with one exception, prosecutors – and she also fired some public defenders. (Could a defendant be prosecuted by a prosecutor, judged by a prosecutor, and defended by someone appointed by a prosecutor? I think I’ll buy shares in a private prison company.)

In addition, Martinez made these appointments without regard to the court’s needs. Of the Third Judicial District’s eight judges, theoretically two each focus primarily on the Civil, Criminal, Family Law, and Juvenile Court, although it’s never quite that neat in practice. Martinez might logically have appointed judges with diverse backgrounds, to make sure someone had expertise in each area. By appointing three prosecutor pals, she gave us an overload of criminal law experts -- but no one with background in family law, complex civil litigation, or juvenile court.

Family Law requires sensitivity and insight. Experience with family law cases would surely help. Divorce and custody hearings are among the ways the court is most likely to impact the average citizen’s life. Most of us get through life without being charged with a non-traffic offense or being party to a civil case that actually goes to trial, and the majority of us are no longer juveniles. Sadly, a lot of folks get divorced – or, having been divorced, need a sensitive and experienced judge to handle emotionally charged custody disputes with a former spouse.

The Martinez trio lack family law experience.

In appointing Susan Riedel, for example, Martinez knew that the court’s need was for a family law specialist. Other applicants, including Marci Beyer (who is running against Riedel now) were more qualified. Riedel’s experience was solely in criminal law. A bipartisan nominating commission reviewed the applicants and reported. Martinez nevertheless chose her former assistant.

Despite its importance to us average citizens, Family Court usually gets the most junior judges, the ones with no choice. Applicants for judgeships often claim an interest in or commitment to whatever the court needs at that moment, but then, as they get seniority, move to the area that really interests them. I’d rather see a judge stay in family law and get good at it, not switch to criminal or civil cases the moment s/he starts learning a little about family law.

Beyer says that if elected she’ll stay in family court. Unlike her opponent, Susan Riedel, she actually knows a good deal about family law. (Riedel told the Nominating Commission that she intended to stick with family law, but it hasn’t worked out that way.) When I looked in the phone book under "Attorneys" for Mary Rosner’s name, the listing said "Rosner Family Law Center." Rosner told me she too intended to stay in family court, although she had substantial experience in other areas before specializing in family law for the past 17 years. (Her opponent, Jacinto Palomino, practiced only criminal law, almost solely as a prosecutor.) Gee, we could elect two judges, Beyer and Rosner, to do that important work who actually know something about it, care about it, and would stick with it.

In practice, each judge will sometimes have to handle all sorts of cases. Beyer, Rosner, and Darren Kugler each has a wider range of experience than the three Martinez appointees they’re running against.

If we screw up electing a state legislator, we can correct the error in two years. Screw up on the judges, and we’ll be saddled with our mistakes for a long time.


[The foregoing column appeared this morning, 16 September, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, entitled "Court Needs Better Balance, More Family Law Judges."]

There's more to say on this subject.

Notably, there's something one Martinez appointee said to the Tea Party, where perhaps she assumed she was among only committed partisans.   The Tea Party event was billed as a "candidate forum"; but to avoid confusion, Tea Party leaders invited only the candidates they agreed with, the Republicans: Amy Orlando and the three Martinez-appointed judges.

The Hon. Susan Riedel volunteered at one point that there was something more she'd like to say:.  She continued:
"My opponent is Marci Byer. You’ve probably seen a gazillion signs [unintelligble - for?] . . . Marci Bayer
I will tell you that those signs are paid for by Judge Murphy.  Her husband represents Judge Murphy in his criminal case.  That’s where the funding is coming from."

There are several things very wrong with that statement by a candidate in a judicial election -- not merely  that it is almost certainly inaccurate and that it's doubtful that Ms. Riedel believed it herself.

First of all, judicial elections are supposed to be a little more seemly.  When I asked one of the Democratic candidates about her opponent, she stated immediately that while she'd be happy to talk about her credentials, it would be inappropriate in a judicial eleciton to make negative comments about her opponent.
Ms. Riedel's comments may have amounted to defamation.  Defamation is communicating to third parties something bad about someone that purports to be factual when you either know it's false or know you haven't got a clue whether or not it's true.

I know only what I've read in the newspaper about the Murphy case.  I've no knowledge as to whether or not he committed any crime.   I've never met him or spoken with him.  But last time I checked, in our country he's innocent until proven guilty.  He is also entitled to representation by a lawyer.

Ms. Riedel does not know (nor does Ms. Beyer) whether or not Murphy has contributed even a nickel to Beyer's campaign -- although word is that he's not exactly rolling in cash these days.  Ms. Riedel knows she doesn't know.  She also knows that campaign contributions are recorded -- even if the judicial candidates don't get to see those records.  Yet she stated as fact that Murphy had supplied the money for Beyer's signage.

I telephoned Ms. Riedel to ask her about what she'd said, and that conversation was interesting too.

When I asked whether she had said that the money for Marci Beyer’s signs came from Judge Murphy, she replied carefully, "I have heard that."
"Have you said that?" I persisted.
"I have heard that," she repeated.
I asked again whether she had not only heard it but said it, to the Tea Party the other night.
"I don’t think that’s how I said that," she stated, adding, "People say" the money came from Murphy, and she indicated that she’d only said that people said it and that she didn’t know.
I asked whether there were individual "people" who had said that to whom she could steer me so that I could investigate further, and she said "No, I’d just heard that Judge Murphy was paying a lot of money for that representation."
So, I asked, such money would go to Ms. Beyer’s husband, not to the campaign?
She said she was not saying Judge Murphy had contributed to the campaign, did not believe he had, could not properly know, and could not even know who was contributing to her own campaign." She also said, then or later, that if she had left the impression she meant as a fact that Judge Murphy’s money had funded the signs, she was wrong.

When I told her I’d been at the Tea Party meeting, she took me to task a little for not having told her that initially.  (As a journalist and as a lawyer, that ain't how I interview someone.  Even if I knew that a witness was having an affair with Greta Garbo, and had videotape of them together, I'd probably start by asking if he knew who she was.  With people you don't know, you can learn a bit from how they handle questions you happen to know the answers to.  You don't start out by proudly announcing how much you actually know already.)  For the record, I'm not saying that Ms. Riedel was lying to me on the telephone.  It may be that she had spoken very carelessly at the Tea Party meeting and in the conversation with me she simply recalled inaccurately what she'd said. 

With regard to my concern that Martinez had appointed only her former co-workers in the DA's Office as judges here, she said: "I can tell you what I tell many people, that Governor Martinez appointed people who she felt could do the job. You expect a governor to appoint as judges people she knows well enough to trust."

As to the relationship with present D.A. Amy Orlando, and whether it might result in disqualifications, she referred to the fact that "Chief Judge Driggers moved me to the cirminal division of his own accord.."

When the conversation returned to the Tea Party event, she said that my quote of her words (that Judge Murphy was the source for all those Beyer signs around town) was "Not what I said." She said that she said "I have heard, and you may hear, that . . ."  I told her that with all due respect I had to disagree, and that her memory might be flawed, and that her statement to the Tea Party had not been as careful as her statement on the phone to me.  She then said something like "What was heard might have been different." Then she said that if she had "given the impression" that Murphy was paying for the signs, "I was wrong to give that impression."

She also said that she had demonstrated her abilities as a judge during her time on the bench so far, and that I should ask counsel who’ve appeared before her about her fairness and about her competence in the family law area. I told her that while that was a good idea, there were some limits on the time I could put into a single column. I reiterated that the column is opinion, not a news report – and that it would make clear I wasn’t discussing their specific records on the bench, because I didn’t know much one way or the other.

She asked what my political views were. I said they depended on the issue but tended to be more toward the progressive than toward the Tea Party end of the spectrum, and that I was probably a registered Democrat at this point but had in the past been registered as an Independent. I also told her that while my column expressed my point of view, and wasn’t a news story, I tried always to be fair, and she said she’d hold me to "fair"and that "I hold myself to fair every day on the bench."

I also asked Jacinto Palomino about Martinez’s appointment of three of her former assistants. He replied, "We worked for Susana 14-15 years, so she knew our work ethic, our work product, and our legal skills and knowledge. Why wouldn’t she appoint people she knew, thinking ‘I know their judicial temperament.’ So it makes sense, as opposed to a stranger."

He also cited specific cases that he felt showed his legal skills and knowledge.  These included one in which he had successfully appealed a decision that 9-1-1 calls were hearsay -- gaining a decision that those could be played as evidence without requiring the caller to appear and verify them. 

He added that "I have one of the lowest recusal/excusal rates" here, which shows one, that I’m fair and impartial and, two, that the defense attorneys feel they’ll get a fair shake from Jacinto Palomino."  He did confirm that his experience was solely in criminal law (as did Ms. Riedel as to hers), but noted that he had represented defendants in some court-martial cases with JAG.

I spoke to some defense attorneys who stated, almost in the same words, that (1) he was a very nice guy and (2) he wasn’t the smartest judge they’d seen here. One also opined that he "tries to be fair." However, I can’t claim to have done an extensive survey.  Not having appeared before him or watched him conduct a trial, I can have no opinion.

Then there's Amy Orlando.  She said several things about her opponent, Mark D'Antonio.  That election, of course, is not a judicial election, so some of the ethical constraints don't apply; and when she said somethinig that seemed highly unlikely (that he'd already offered jobs to 14 local attorneys, 10 of them defense attorneys) she carefully prefaced it (as Ms. Riedel did not) with "I have heard" or "People have told me."   She also tried to frighten the people by describing very unpleasant people she alleged (more or less accurately, I presume) he had represented.   There too she added the disclaimer that criminal defendants had a right to a lawyer; but her obvious hope was that the good folks at the meeting would go home frightened that electing D'Antonioo would put all sorts of horrible people on the streets.

Her main point seemed to be that defense attorneys shouldn't be prosecutors.  Mark D'Antonio has been a U.S. Attorney (a federal prosecutor), and had been an FBI agent before that.  Thus he has prosecutorial experience.  I would imagine that his range of experience would enable him to do a superior job prosecuting criminal cases for us.   Who better to negotiate with a defense lawyer or see through a defendant's claim of innocence than a defense attorney who's seen the proceedings from the opposite chair?  Who better to know which prosecutorial tactics are dead losers than a man who has had to parry them?

Further, if you believe -- as many do -- that the Martinez-Orlando era has been a sad one for the district attorney's office, and you hope to present an inviting alternative, who better than a man who's not only prosecuted and defended but has been an FBI agent as well?   That should enable him to prosecute all the more effectively; and he may have finer judgment about when justice would be better served by compromise and when it requires whole-hearted prosecution seeking a maximum sentence.  A district attorney has a duty not merely to seek the highest possible conviction rate but to serve the public, a duty that may require a more nuanced mind than Ms. Orlando's.

After the candidates spoke, Harvey Anderson got up and introduced himself as the person who'd put the Confederate flag on the float this summer.  Somewhat startlingly, the place erupted in applause.  Orlando appeared to share the enthusiasm.  (Palomino, by contrast, seemed somewhat uncomfortable, as most any normal citizen would be in the 21st Century.)  Maybe she did so sincerely (and lacks a certain sensitivity, even decency, that I would hope for in a public prosecutor).  Maybe just she did so for political reasons.  One might reasonably say, well, she was at their meeting and seeking their help getting elected, so what's a little hypocrisy among friends?  I can't say that.  Racism is something I feel I have to speak up about, even when it might cost me a friend or a beating.  

Maybe it's not fair to expect Ms. Orlando to speak up on a subject like that.  However, it is fair to think Ms. Orlando ought at least to have sat there stone-faced, with her hands in her lap, nonverbally declining to join the fun.

The confederate flag issue is interesting.  After Anderson's appearance at the NAACP to discuss it, I called both an NAACP leader and Anderson the next morning.  Since my columns appear fortnightly, I haven't had space to publish one on that; but I'll post one on this blog on Saturday.  Basically, I disagree with the lady who told me at a Progressive Voter Alliance meeting that the flag was intended as a coded notice to racists that they had a place in the Tea Party.   She might be right, but after talking with Anderson I believe the initial intention was more mischievous and generally defiant than specifically racist, although it was highly tasteless and insensitive.    The way the Tea Party handled the reaction did clearly demonstrate racism as that term is commonly used today -- although not as that term would have been used 50 years ago.