Saturday, August 22, 2009

Attorney General Will Appeal Nonprofits Ruling

On Saturday morning, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King told Bernalillo County Democrats, at a monthly pancake breakfast in downtown Albuquerque, that his office is preparing to appeal a recent District Court ruling exempting two nonprofit groups from New Mexico's campaign reporting laws.

During a 15 minute interview Mr. King told 770KKOB that his office is prepared to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.

In the brief interview above, the Attorney General also told us that he does not believe his office has a conflict of interest prosecuting last weeks political corruption indictments against former Secretary of State Rebbecca Vigil-Giron and three others despite allegations being made by defense attorneys.

On Saturdya King's office issued this statement on his decision to appeal the non-profit ruling:
We will ask the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the District Court because we feel the U.S. Supreme Court has raised some important concepts that have a bearing upon States' rights to require organizations to disclose who is paying for political ads that are put forth by these same organizations," says Attorney General King. "This case has never been about the First Amendment, despite misinformation to the contrary. We are not (emphasis added) trying to control the content of political ads. We believe, however, that the case has everything to do with voters' having the right to know who is paying for political advertising.

The District Court ruling involved a lawsuit filed by New Mexico Youth Organized, known as NMYO, and SouthWest Organizing Project, or SWOP.

Earlier this month, Judge Judith C. Herrera that King and New Mexico Secretary of State Mary Herrera's threat to prosecute the non profits violated their constitutional rights.

Herrera wrote that applying state disclosure regulations to the groups falls outside guidelines set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But, King said he disagrees with the legal reasoning used by Herrera; so, he plans to ask the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn her ruling.

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Health Care Town Hall Primer - Obama Debunks Myths

Updated: If you can't attend Rep. Martin Heinrich's town hall meeting with guest panelists answering questions about the proposed health care reforms KNME TV will be live streaming the event here.

President Barack Obama used his Saturday morning message to debunk myths around his health care proposals. It might be a good idea to listen to his ideas before heading out to the Town Hall meeting in Albuquerque this afternoon.

Obama says there is a lot of "outrageous" myth being repeated at some town hall meetings around the country:
Let’s start with the false claim that illegal immigrants will get health insurance under reform. That’s not true. Illegal immigrants would not be covered. That idea has never even been on the table. Some are also saying that coverage for abortions would be mandated under reform. Also false.

When it comes to the current ban on using tax dollars for abortions, nothing will change under reform. And as every credible person who has looked into it has said, there are no so-called “death panels” – an offensive notion to me and to the American people. These are phony claims meant to divide us.

And we’ve all heard the charge that reform will somehow bring about a government takeover of health care. I know that sounds scary to many folks. It sounds scary to me, too. But here’s the thing: it’s not true. I no sooner want government to get between you and your doctor than I want insurance companies to make arbitrary decisions about what medical care is best for you, as they do today. As I’ve said from the beginning, under the reform we seek, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period.

Now, the source of a lot of these fears about government-run health care is confusion over what’s called the public option. This is one idea among many to provide more competition and choice, especially in the many places around the country where just one insurer thoroughly dominates the marketplace. This alternative would have to operate as any other insurer, on the basis of the premiums it collects. And let me repeat – it would be just an option; those who prefer their private insurer would be under no obligation to shift to a public plan.

The insurance companies and their allies don’t like this idea, or any that would promote greater competition. I get that. And I expect there will be a lot of discussion about it when Congress returns.

But this one aspect of the health care debate shouldn’t overshadow the other important steps we can and must take to reduce the increasing burdens families and businesses face.

The President stressed:
If you don’t have insurance, you will finally have access to quality coverage you can afford. If you do have coverage, you will benefit from more security and more stability when it comes to your insurance. If you move, lose your job, or change jobs, you will not have to worry about losing health coverage. And we will set up tough consumer protections that will hold insurance companies accountable and stop them from exploiting you with unfair practices.

We’ll prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history. They will not be able to drop your coverage if you get sick. They will not be able to water down your coverage when you need it most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We’ll place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because no one in America should go broke because they get sick.

And we will require insurance companies to cover routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer on the front end. That makes sense, it saves lives, and it will also save money over the long-run. Taken together, the reforms we’re seeking will help bring down skyrocketing costs, which will mean real savings for families, businesses, and government.

We know what a failure to act would bring: More of the same. More of the same exploding costs. More of the same diminished coverage. If we fail to act, the crisis will grow. More families will go without coverage. More businesses will be forced to drop or water down their plans.

So we can push off the day of reckoning and fail to deal with the flaws in the system, just as Washington has done, year after year, decade after decade. Or we can take steps that will provide every American family and business a measure of security and stability they lack today.

Obama said it's never easy moving a nation forward:
There are always those who oppose it, and those who use fear to block change. But what has always distinguished America is that when all the arguments have been heard, and all the concerns have been voiced, and the time comes to do what must be done, we rise above our differences, grasp each others’ hands, and march forward as one nation and one people, some of us Democrats, some of us Republicans, all of us Americans.
Obama says he can't promise the reforms will be perfect or make a difference overnight:
I can promise you this: if we pass health insurance reform, we will look back many years from now and say, this was the moment we summoned what’s best in each of us to make life better for all of us. This was the moment when we built a health care system worthy of the nation and the people we love. This was the moment we earned our place alongside the greatest generations. And that is what our generation of Americans is called to do right now.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Denish Says Government Has To Earn Back Public Trust

"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Guest Commentary by Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish:

There may be those who believe that New Mexico state government has come close to losing both. There is no doubt that we have seen instances where some elected officials and state employees have valued privileges above principles in the past few years. It must stop. These individuals have weakened the public trust and that is unacceptable. The question is what's to be done?

Photo: MG Bralley
There is no doubt that some New Mexicans have lost faith in their state government and the burden is on all of us in elected office to earn it back. We must create in Santa Fe a culture of duty, a culture of transparency. A culture of responsibility.

First, we must establish a Governmental Standards Commission. This will be an independent commission, similar to the judiciary's Judicial Standards Commission. The Governmental Standards Commission will have the authority to investigate ethics complaints and will be armed with subpoena power to get straight answers from government officials. It will have the authority to impose stiff penalties on those found guilty of wrongdoing.

But in addition to investigating complaints and punishing those who abuse the public's trust, we must also make sure that everyone who works on the taxpayers' dime understands the responsibility they assume as a public servant. New Mexico state employees must agree not only to always obey the law – but to always conduct themselves in an open, honest and transparent manner. In order to earn the trust of the people they serve, public employees must be held to the highest standard.

Second, this Governmental Standards Commission will be responsible for establishing a Uniform Code of Governmental Standards that will apply to all state officials, state employees and appointees. The Commission will develop a mandatory training programs on the Governmental Standards so all state employees understand these ethical standards.

The great majority of people in government want to do the right thing but there may be times when they are unsure of what is the right thing. Education and training can help provide the foundation needed to deal with difficult situations.

The New Mexico Supreme Court will nominate a pool of candidates from which members of the Commission will be selected by the Executive and Legislative branches. This non-partisan pool of candidates, selected by the Court, will help take politics out of the selection process – and eliminate some the problems confronted by establishing such a commission in the past.

The third step in the process is to establish a state Sunshine Portal, an online command center to ensure that state government is open and transparent. The Sunshine Portal will:

* Allow the press and public to see how tax dollars are spent by agencies;
* Track capital outlay projects from appropriation to expenditure;
* List all scheduled open meetings;
* Include an accessible contractor database;
* Allow the press and public to review all state issued contracts;
* Include a Statebook networking site where all state employees with decision making capacity will have a page including their responsibilities and contact information;
* Include a salary database for exempt employee salary database;
* Include a section for constituents to voice opinions.

Justice Lewis Brandeis said Sunshine is the best disinfectant and I believe we need to take that statement to heart and apply it here in the land of enchantment.

Like most New Mexico families, our state government is experiencing challenging economic times, and some may say now is not the time to consider such new initiatives. But in order for the Government to effectively create new jobs, reduce the cost of health care, strengthen our education system – or provide any of the services we count on government to provide – it must have the trust of New Mexicans.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Despite Serious Allegations Vigil-Giron Keeps State Job

After spending most of Thursday chasing down whether of not Rebecca Vigil-Giron would keep her job, despite being indicted on 50 felony counts, we finally heard from the New Mexcio Workforce Solutions agency. We've learned that she will remain employed, and be paid her annual salary of $61,500.

While Governor Bill Richardson says he’s trouble by allegations being made against Vigil-Giron, and believes she deserves her day in court, Vigil-Giron will be report to work daily. She's employed as a constituent liaison for the Labor and Industrial Division at the Workforce Solutions.

Cabinet secretary Ken Ortiz, who was promoted to the position today (replacing Betty Sparrow Doris), says while the allegations are serious they are “unrelated to her work for the agency” that issues unemployment checks.”

Ortiz says Ms. Vigil-Giron is expected to continue to fulfill her work duties and urged reporters not to call her at her workplace.

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Republicans Respond to Corruption Indictments

770KKOB is still trying to determine Rebecca Vigil-Giron's employment status with the state's Workforce Solution's Department following her indictment on 50 Felony counts involving the accounting of $6 million in Help America Voter Act [HAVA] award money.

I spoke to Vigil-Giron on her cell phone just before lunch about her employment status. She told me she had just left her attorney's office and was directed not to talk to the press. She did ask us "to pray" for her.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the state's Republican Party, Harvey Yates Jr., isn't wasting any time responding to a state grand jury's indictment of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron:
Unfortunately, yesterday's indictment of a Richardson-Denish administration political appointee and former elected Democrat official, along with more mainstays of the Democrat political machine, is this month’s reminder that this state is headed in the wrong direction.
Chairman Yates said political corruption in the state needs to be stopped:
The pattern of corrupt behavior and inept management exhibited by prominent Democrat public servants, while becoming routine, has got to stop. I congratulate the attorney general for joining the fight against corruption; it is not easy to take on one’s own party.

Vigil-Giron’s indictment is one of several scandals currently plaguing Democrat politicians. In addition to Manny Aragon’s departure to prison (June) and the indictments of PRC Commissioners Jerome Block Jr. and Jerome Block Sr. (April), other notable scandals including the indictment of Vincent "Smiley" Gallegos, a former lawmaker and regional housing director, and the convictions of former State Senate President Pro-tem Manny Aragon, Joe Ruiz, a Deputy Insurance Superintendent, and State Treasurers Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil.

Of course the state Republicans are running for cover with legal battles of their own. Democrats want to know if former U.S. Senator Pete Domenici and Congresswoman Heather Wilson interfered with or obstructed justice before the White House firing of Assistant U.S. Attorney David Iglesias and eight other prosecutors.

Chairman Yates statement concludes with:
Along with New Mexicans statewide, we look forward to the Democrats’ account of ‘every last nickel that was spent’ of voter education funding entrusted to the former secretary of state.
NM GOP Candidate for Governor, Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez, also responded to the fraud, embezzlement and money laundering indictments:
[This is] a sad reminder that for too long public officials in New Mexico have used elected office to serve themselves as opposed to serving the public who entrusted them to lead our state. Corruption and misuse of taxpayer dollars and public funds are simply inexcusable and those responsible should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. As we move forward in examining the records of candidates seeking our state’s highest-elected office, it is critically important voters match rhetoric with action, and support someone who has a track record of identifying fraud and corruption and rooting it out. New Mexicans deserve to have faith and confidence that elected officials in state government are conducting themselves with integrity and honesty.
Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, who is also running for Governor, has not issued a public statement, although she did talk to our blogging colleague Heath Haussamen.

A Whole Lotta Burritos

Listening to nonstop news about the national health care debate, coupled with hearing about new political corruption indictments, and even more DWI accients in the state is, well, making us hungry.

After 15 morning newscasts maybe it's just time for breakfast. We're definitely thinking about a #9 burrito at Golden Pride Chicken or a breakfast roll at the Frontier Restaurant.

Starving or not, we were excited to hear News Director Pat Allen's story this morning about the International Federation of Competitive Eating's world burrito eating championship at the New Mexico State Fair next month.

The September 18th contest goes beyond just enjoying lots of your favorite burritos, because there's actually a $3,000 dollar prize up for grabs if you eat the most grub.

The burrito eating contest is the 14th contest of the Major League Eating Circuit.

You can register at

Now we just hope that they use El Pinto's green chile sauce.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vigil-Giron, 3 Others Indicted

Updated: 7:30pm [Link to state indictments]

Attorney General Gary King today confirmed the filing of grand jury indictments against former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron and three others, alleging the misuse of public money allocated to voter education from Federal Help America Voter's Act or HAVA grants.

“My government accountability team has been working on this for about two years,” King said. “We have been trying to point out that there was a lot of evidence. We feel that it has been well researched. We feel like we can support the evidence in court.”

Trip Jennings at the New Mexico Independent reports Lobbyists Joseph Kupfer and Elizabeth Kupfer, along with Armando Gutierrez, the president of the company the state hired to implement the federal Help America Vote Act, all face 50 counts, including fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and soliciting or receiving public kickbacks.

Only thirty minutes before the announcement of the indictments we personally spoke with Vigil-Giron at her office. She told us that she could "relate to what former Assistant U.S. Attorney General David Iglesias had went through." Vigil-Giron said, "My own party [Gary King] is attempting to destroy my reputation."

Vigil-Giron knew she was a target of the investigation and testified in front of the Bernalillo Grand jury on Tuesday. On Friday, the State Supreme Court ruled that those jurors must see evidence that defense attorney's say will exonerate their clients.

Vigil-Giron's issued this statement Wednesday morning, after personally testifying before the grand jury the day before:

I pray every day that my Lord and my God will forgive those individuals who so willingly, callously and wrongfully accuse me of unsubstantiated wrongdoing for the purpose of furthering their own personal and political ambitions. This witch-hunt must cease and desist. It has been going on since I left office almost three years ago and no wrong doing on my part has been uncovered.
Earlier in the day Vigil-Giron said that she “can account for every last nickel that was spent” and said all contracts over $200,000 were reviewed by officials in the attorney general’s office. She said she “relied on the Attorney General to always counsel me in the right direction legally.”

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Richardson Has Productive Talks With North Koreans

From governor's office:

Governor Bill Richardson met today with a delegation of North Korean diplomats at the Governor's Mansion in Santa Fe.

The delegation, representing North Korea's Mission to the United Nations in New York, requested the meeting with Governor Richardson. Led by Minister Myong Gil Kim and Counselor Jong Ho Paek, the delegation met with Governor Richardson for three hours this morning. They will resume talks later today. The delegation will meet on Thursday with community and business leaders to discuss New Mexico renewable energy initiatives.

The governor says the talks have been productive.
I got a sense that temperatures have really cooled down since President Clinton's visit. The delegation indicated that North Korea is ready for a new dialogue with the United States regarding the nuclear issue. The question is whether to proceed with face-to-face bilateral talks, as the North Korea prefer, or to utilize the six-party framework that the United States has advocated. The North Koreans clearly want bilateral talks and not the six-party framework.

On Wednesday, the Governor also met with Lodi Gyari, Special Envoy of the Dalai Lama at their request. The two men had a private meeting and then Governor Richardson hosted a small luncheon in honor of the Special Envoy at the mansion, including Greg Kruglak, President of the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture, Stuart Ashman, Secretary for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs and Paljor Thondup, President of Project Tibet. Lodi Gyari is the special envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, DC and currently serves as the Tibetan's lead negotiator with the Chinese Government. Mr. Gyari formerly served as Senior Cabinet Minister for the Department of Information and International Relations.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Richardson Will Greet North Korean Diplomats In New Mexico

Senior diplomats with the North Korean mission to the United Nations are scheduled for a two-day meeting with Gov. Bill Richardson in New Mexico starting Wednesday.

Governor Bill Richardson, who has traveled to North Korea several times in the past, most recently in April 2007 to secure the return of remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War, is expected to greet them at the governor's mansion on Wednesday.

We've learned it was the North Koreans who asked Richardson for the meeting after relationship talks stalled in other diplomatic channels.

Tomorrow's meeting with the North Koreans won't be the first meeting in the state. In January 2003 Richardson met with the North Koreans for extended talks on a nuclear showdown with Kim Il Jong's government, that lasted three days. Richardson called those discussions "positive, frank and candid." That meeting was coordinated with then Secretary of State Colin Powell.

A source said during this visit Richardson will be in a listening mode. He wants to find out what the North Koreans have to say. He is not doing any kind of negotiating.

CNN reports a discussion of renewable energy will be on the agenda because the state is recognized as a leader in the U.S. in exploring renewable energy technologies.

The visit comes on the heels of a trip to North Korea by former President Bill Clinton to gain the release of two American journalists held in Pyongyang.

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Council Candidate Toulouse Exits Race and Endorses Lewis

A letter from Jeremy Toulouse after he withdrew from the Albuquerque City Council District 5 race today:

I entered this race for west side city councilor because I believe our families and community have been in desperate need for a new, collaborative approach to meeting the needs of our neighborhoods and our City. My heart still holds fast to those ideals and aspirations.

Sometimes, however, it becomes clear that our desire to achieve such honorable goals, and our role in that process, can change but yet still contribute to the ongoing effort to achieve great progress for our community.

That is why I have decided to alter my role in this important city council race and withdraw my candidacy for west side councilor.

My family and I have thought long and hard about this decision and after seeking input from many people, we believe the best avenue to successfully bringing the overdue change that our district is in need of will be by working for a candidate who shares with me many of the goals I have been pursuing. That candidate is Dan Lewis.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Mayer Calling it Quits

Albuquerque City Councilor Sally Mayer who was running for a third term in District 7 has decided to call it quits.

770KKOB learned Monday night, just before the city council meeting, that she has removed her name from this Fall's ballot. Around 4pm, Mayer notified City Clerk Randy Autio that she is withdrawing from the race.

Mayer told me she's moving to Chicago in January to help her daughter's family.

Financial advisor Mike Cook, who had served on the police oversight commission will become the districts councilor in October.

Mayer said that she's proud of the work she did on the animal control measure which is better known as the Heart ordinance.

Photo: MG Bralley

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