Political anomalies: Nothing new there

By Ned Cantwell: State Columnist

The always reliable “everyone does it” as an excuse for conduct everyone should not be doing has a new cousin. Comes now the cop-out “it’s nothing new.”

“Everyone does it,” coupled with “it’s nothing new,” gives tacit approval to all sorts of nefarious behavior. For example, it would certainly seem to give sex in the Oval Office a leg up, so to speak.

“It’s nothing new” has probably been around for ages, but it first jumped out at me like a Snickers Bar in a jar of red M & Ms when Congresswoman Heather Wilson’s campaign spokeswoman Anne Ekern got it exposure above the fold on page one of the Albuquerque Journal.

The issue Ekern was discussing was political jet travel. New Mexico citizens were already too well aware that, unlike the rest of us who have to take our shoes off, stand in line and feel guilty because we are holding a bottle of Dasani, our leaders want to get to 30,000 feet quickly and they want to get there comfortably, damn the cost.

My guess is Gov. Bill Richardson never waited in a security line, even as a child. Certainly he found a way to talk his way around it. I’ll bet when the neighborhood lads played “airport,” Bill was the only kid on the block whose tiny airport had a tiny tarmac on which set a tiny toy corporate jet with three tiny Lincoln Navigators awaiting his bidding.

Heather’s spokeslady, though, wasn’t talking about Bill Richardson. She was addressing the flap over a visit to Albuquerque by President George Bush to attend a fund-raiser on the congresswoman’s behalf. Heather is being challenged for her congressional seat by Attorney General Patricia Madrid in a race that threatens only a little more bloodshed than Frazier vs. Ali.

President Bush comes swooping into Albuquerque on Air Force One. Here’s the deal. It cost the federal government more than $56,000 an hour to operate the presidential aircraft. You can calculate on your own the total cost of the president’s trip and your proportionate taxpayer share. Perhaps you might ask a tax accountant if your portion might be deducted as a donation to Heather’s campaign.

Under the rules, apparently, the campaign whose cause is promoted by the presidential visit must pay the federal government what the Journal calls “the equivalent of a handful of airline tickets.”

Here, though, is the most important part of the story. The Wilson press rep said the campaign paid what it properly owed “and stressed the travel reimbursement arrangement is nothing new.”

Well, then, OK. “The Bush administration is following the precedent set by previous administrations, including the Clinton administration, in covering a number of costs related to political visits,” she said.
See how it works? Everyone does it. It’s nothing new.

By such logic, one would assume, it is perfectly understandable that some of our state officials have accepted as their role model Republican Albert B. Fall who was New Mexico’s U.S. senator in 1912 and who convinced President Harding in 1921 to appoint him U.S. secretary of the interior. Fall engineered the Teapot Dome Scandal and eventually went to jail.

Not to suggest here politicians should go to jail for flying high at taxpayer expense. One does wonder, however, if it might have been cheaper for the taxpayers to pay directly to Wilson’s campaign the $375,000 the Bush visit raised. That way the president could have stayed home. And worked.

Ned Cantwell can be found in B33 coach trying to get his shoes back on. Contact him at: