Prevent incompetents from key posts

Ned Cantwell

Katrina caused the country to get off its big butt and stare wide-eyed at our disaster incompetence.

JetBlue glued eyes to the TV screen and reminded us the guy in the cockpit is worth the big bucks he takes home.

Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya made us pay attention, too. They made us realize that if you elect Pond Scum as your state treasurer it will cost you lots of money and destroy public confidence in state government.

Here is the place for the routine qualifier: Vigil, the current state treasurer, and Montoya, his predecessor, have entered not-guilty pleas to federal extortion charges.

Such “innocent until proven guilty” niceties did not get in the way of an outraged Attorney General Patricia Madrid who insisted Vigil resign but settled for his agreement to step aside until the case is resolved. He will receive his $85,000 salary until this thing is wrapped up. How generous of us.

The treasurer’s office is no doubt full of ethical, hardworking staff members, but all the New Mexico public is seeing right now is this giant maggot-infested dung heap. Master editorial cartoonist John Trever was never more brilliant than his Albuquerque Journal panel depicting the New Mexico state tree as the Greased Palm.

Gov. Bill Richardson is angry and embarrassed. He sees the mud splashing on the national reputation he works so hard to polish.

The financial fiasco proves at least one thing: Pure democracy isn’t what it is cracked up to be. Look at our record. If the charges prove to be true, twice in a row voters entrusted the investment of billions of our dollars to a guy whose expertise and investment philosophy boils down to “one for you, three for me.”

Since the people of New Mexico have demonstrated they haven’t the first clue about choosing a state treasurer, change the system.

Let the governor pick the candidate, subject that choice to rigorous legislative review. There are bright, honest people in bank executive offices all over New Mexico who could restore confidence in fiscal ethics.

You know what’s frightening?

This whole sordid plot of a million-dollar kickback scheme might never have come to light if some Rhodes Scholar in the treasurer’s office hadn’t been investigated by the Secret Service for allegedly counterfeiting $100 bills with pictures of sports heroes to distribute as Christmas presents.

No charges were filed, but that led to the dismissal of one Leo P. Sandoval. Apparently Sandoval was using the state office as his own private Kinko’s, and they fired him.

Not long afterward he walked unannounced into the FBI office with spreadsheets he says show kickbacks to Montoya and Vigil dating back to 1999. Since Sandoval is described as the “bag man,” one could draw the inference he knows what he is talking about.

This self-inflicted wound on New Mexico’s reputation won’t go away with a Band-Aid and a hug.

“This is the way we do business in New Mexico,” apparently the motto that inspired the alleged kickback scheme, will live long until Richardson and legislative leaders call in the exterminators and get this messed cleaned up.

Even then, we will be saddled with New Mexico’s double dipping system that allows state employees to retire, then go back to work with full retirement pay. Under that system, Robert Vigil will continue to receive his $49,000 pension even if convicted.

Hand me the noose and toss the rope over that beam, please.

Ned Cantwell is a syndicated New Mexico columnist. Contact him at: ncantwell@charter.net