Saturday, May 10, 2014

New Mexico's Sad History of Corruption and the Current Race for Governor

One of the biggest barriers to improving New Mexico's quality of life is corruption. The Institute for State Integrity ranks New Mexico as 39th out of 50 states, giving New Mexico a grade of D- for overall integrity based on 14 measurements of state practices and systems to insure integrity in government.  Gwyneth Doland of the State Integrity Investigation Project provides the story behind the low grade for New Mexico.

Thomas Nast cartoon of political corruption in 19th century American politics

In the most recent decade, the Democratic Party had a bunch of grifters and schemers who entrenched themselves into local and state offices, unchallenged for the most part, because of close family ties and no oversight. One of the worst cases to go public was when the State Treasurer and former State Treasurer were arrested in 2005 for corruption. Then-Governor Bill Richardson appointed Doug Brown, a UNM Business School professor, to straighten things out as the acting State Treasurer.  His story about what he found in the State Treasurer's office is horrendous:
An investigation by Deloitte & Touche begun weeks before had determined that the state’s checkbook was out of balance by $160 million, and unreconciled items stretched back over five years. The officer in charge of this department had no banking experience. His previous job was as a baggage handler for America West. Only one of my staff of 42 had any previous investment experience, and we were running a $5 billion portfolio. There were few controls, little disclosure, and no effective oversight. Investment guidelines, purchasing policies, and personnel policies were routinely ignored. All efforts had been directed to overpaying on commissions and purchases to generate the wherewithal for “campaign contributions.” The agency’s outside auditor was a small firm from downstate that had for years given the Treasurer’s Office clean opinions with no material weaknesses. That relationship was so cozy that other CPA firms had stopped bothering to bid. I came to appreciate Warren Buffet’s observation that there is seldom just one cockroach in the kitchen.
Now for the scary part. Document shredders had been working overtime. The alarm contacts on doors and windows had been super-glued together to enable after-hours entry. Video cameras had been redirected and videotapes erased. Staff members who were reluctant to go along with these schemes had their personnel evaluations downgraded retroactively. One had her car vandalized. Alerted to this pattern of criminality, I had a detective agency check the premises for telephone bugs. They found five, including one on my phone.
The most chilling moment came after I immediately had the alarm system repaired. The very next morning, an early-arriving employee went to her desk and realized she had forgotten to turn off the alarm. Her panic turned to puzzlement when there was no police response. The alarm was not working. Later that day, the alarm company revisited and informed us that someone had tampered with the system the night before by inserting a sophisticated lens to divert the electric beam.
James Lewis
The voters elected James Lewis as their Treasurer the following year and he put integrity back into the State Treasurer's office. Lewis was not only competent, but he also had the kind of character that did not allow for the slightest suggestion of corruption.

Bill Richardson
The Governor, however, had his own problems.  Bill Richardson began running for President in 2007 and in 2008 rumors swirled that his administration had its own corruption problems involving political contributions from investment company managers of state investment funds.

Bill Richardson not only dropped out of the Presidential race in 2008, but his announced appointment to be Secretary of Commerce in the new Obama administration was withdrawn in December, 2008, when an investigation into his alleged improper business dealings began.  Although charges were not pursued against the Governor, the Richardson administration became a tainted brand and the Democrats in the 2010 election were target of a vocal Tea Party movement and the Republican Party.  The Republicans ran a non-politician, Susana Martinez, against Richardson's Lt. Governor, Diane Denish, on a platform of clean government and a racial appeal to the majority of New Mexico voters who were Hispanic to elect the state's first female Latina Governor.  Riding on an anti-corruption appeal, Martinez defeated Diane Denish, 53.6% to 46.4%.

NM Governor Susana Martinez
Change comes slowly in New Mexico and, now, the Republican Governor Susana Martinez has her own charges of corruption and lack of transparency in the 2014 gubernatorial election.  Her critics attack Martinez for the selection of her closest advisors who are as dark, manipulative and self-seeking as any hard-bitten politicians. Martinez, like Bill Richardson, has her eye on national office and so the scrutiny of her political life has become intense.  She has become the darling of the American Right, much like Sarah Palin was in 2008.  As a woman and an Hispanic, Martinez has the kind of attributes the national GOP is sorely lacking in its candidates.  However, now that Martinez is finding herself in the limelight of the national press, will she be tarnished by her missteps?

Currently, five Democratic candidates are running to be the nominee of their party for Governor. The largest newspaper in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal, is a political supporter of Governor Martinez, and despite an occasional critical article, treats her with positive media coverage while attacking her Democratic opponents with articles of slander and innuendo.  The press, which should be doing its job to cover politics fairly and with accurate information about the candidates who would be Governor, is too often partisan in its coverage and/or lacks the journalistic investigatory skills needed to dig beyond the smiling faces of political PR.   This is a disservice to our state and is a primary reason why corruption and lack of transparency find fertile ground in New Mexico due to voter ignorance.

Alan Webber and his family
I like several of the Democratic candidates running for office in New Mexico this year and have previously blogged about Alan Webber and why I think he would be a good candidate for Governor against Susana Martinez.  I still run into resistance from narrow-thinking Democrats (almost all of  them Anglos) because he is isn't Hispanic and they think you have to be Hispanic to run for Governor in New Mexico. Well, to that I say: Bullshit!  This is an amazingly diverse state racially and ethnically. Too many times, Democrats in New Mexico have used stereotypical thinking and elected really terrible people. Many of the candidates in 2014 have excellent backgrounds and strong ethical character in the vein of Treasurer James Lewis. I do not believe that a candidate has to be Hispanic to win in New Mexico.  We should elect the best candidates, regardless of their ethnicity.

The key to getting good government is involvement in the political process by the voters.  When we allow so much money in politics to control who gets elected, then the only antidote is transparency and grassroots participation.  I volunteer for the candidates I like and I donate small sums of money. That is what I advise to others to do, especially in mid-term elections when the press and the voters seem to ignore it as less important than a Presidential year.  Who we elect as our local government officials can mean the difference between a lousy or excellent quality of life for us in New Mexico. Working closely with local candidates will tell you a lot about their character.   Please, get involved.

There are several political newcomers running for state-wide office.  The years of political corruption have brought a response from many of our New Mexico citizens who are bravely coming forth to try and put an end to cess-pool politics.  To my Democratic friends, I would like to recommend the following candidates for the Democratic New Mexican Primary scheduled for June 3, 2014:

Governor:   Alan Webber
Lt. Governor: Debra Haaland
Treasurer: Tim Eichenberg
Attorney General: Hector Balderas
Secretary of State: Maggie Toulouse Oliver
State Auditor: Tim Keller
Commissioner of Public Lands: Ray Powell
U.S. Senator: Tom Udall
Congress CD-1: Michelle Lujan Grisham
Congress CD-2: Roxanne "Rocky" Lara
Congress CD-3: Ben Ray Lujan, Jr. 

Congressman (CD-3) Ben Ray Lujan, Jr. 

Deb Haaland, tribal administrator for the Pueblo of San Felipe, running for Lt. Governor

Hector Balderas, State Auditor, and his family.  Hector is seeking the AG office.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Bernalillo County Clerk,
wants to be Secretary of State
CD-1 Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham with a fan

Ray Powell, Land Comissioner

Roxanne "Rocky" Lara is running against
Tea Party favorite, Steve Pearce, for Congress CD-2

Tim Keller, currently a State Senator, with his wife and new baby.  Tim wants to be State Auditor.

Senator Tom Udall 

Tim Eichenberg is a candidate for State Treasurer

With positive candidates like these, I am optimistic that New Mexico can turn the corner on political corruption, but only if we people keep a close eye on our politicians and stay involved!

Update: October 2, 2015

Too bad New Mexican voters returned Republican Dianna Duran to Secretary of State.  Now she stands accused of embezzling campaign funds to fuel an out-of-contral gambling habit.  More bad news for our state's political and economic state of affairs and so it goes.... 


  1. Thanks for the good run down, Vicki. If we work to get people out for the primary, we'll have a great slate of Democrats on the November ballot.

  2. New Jersey, New Mexico, Louisiana etc. There are lots of reasons why I'd never leave the Gopher State and corruption is only one. Political tradition in the Land of Enchantment is truly NOT enchanting.....