While generally just a touch checked out this past holiday week, I couldn't help but read with great interest a couple of pieces in the Albuquerque Journal over the past few days.
First, there was this: Gov. Generous With Your Money ... Thomas J. Cole's detailing of an extensive expansion of the cadre--and payscales--of paid political appointees in the state.
As I was reading, know what I was thinking? It went sort of like this...
Whoa!...DANG!!...jeez, holy mackerel...sigh.
Cole pulled no punches: "That growth in the patronage, or spoils, system of state government is one of the legacies of Richardson as he prepares to vacate the Governor's Mansion for a slot in Barack Obama's Cabinet."
Then along comes Bill Hume, formerly with the Journal until he was scooped up by the Guv in 2002. To say that Hume is ticked off in his Journal Op-Ed would be an understatement. He says it's Unfair To Tar Staff With 'Spoils' Brush, and that this piece is obviously an opinion piece--and a smear job at that--which doesn't belong on the front page as "news."
(I think Hume has missed the concept of these "Upfront" pieces on the Journal's front page. It's my understanding that they are opinion pieces.)
Most interesting to me, though, is that he doesn't actually address the question everyone has after reading that piece: what justifies that kind of expansion and increase in pay of state political appointees?
His outrage obscures the fact that we want to know the answer to that. He should give the public more respect, and answer it. It deserves a full airing given the corruption that keeps rearing its very ugly head.
And who knows, we might just agree with his perspective--if he were to share it.
Moving along...there's another op-ed by Gilbert Gallegos, Richardson's Deputy Chief of Staff:
Governor's Appointees Working Hard To Improve New Mexico. Gallegos comes a little closer to explaining why that big expansion is A-Okay: Richardson's tenure has brought great things to New Mexico (Rail Runner, Spaceport, Film Industry), and all of those people on the list provided by Cole are very accomplished, hard working professionals who could make a lot more in the private sector.
Taken together, these two op-eds say that because these are all good people, this expansion of the pool of exempt employees at the top is just fine. That's the argument. But it isn't a structural argument...it instead treads the path so often trod, based in personality and individual merit. It's reminiscent of the odd lack of understanding on the part of many when Jim Noel was given the job of state elections director.
Noel is the son-in-law of Tom Udall, and that position was one that oversaw the elections process in the state--during an election period when Udall was running for Senate. "But Noel's expertise and professionalism, not to mention integrity, are indisputable" was the seeming response to those who pointed out that such a position just wasn't quite right. As though those who pointed it out were impugning Noel's character. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noel rightly withdrew from that job in the end.
I'm sure Gallegos is right--the three examples he cites as evidence of what Richardson has done for the state are good ones. Especially the Rail Runner. But he still doesn't really answer the question...and perhaps there is no answer other than the obvious one that Cole presented: one of Richardson's legacies will also be a huge expansion of the cadre of paid state political appointees at the top--making big salaries in a poor state in which inequality continues to grow.
Sunday, December 28, 2008