Summer political excitement for a change

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Summers of non-election years are usually pretty lifeless politically. But not this year. We have gobs of scandals at both the federal and state levels.
At the federal level, we have security vs. safety vs. surveillance vs. snooping vs. privacy vs. terrorists. And no one seems to be able to figure out a consistent position.
Nearly everyone loved the Patriot Act in 2001. We’ll never let those guys sneak up on us again. Top Bush administration officials even briefly considered taking everybody’s guns away.
Gradually, over the years, we decided maybe the Patriot Act infringed on too many individual rights. Then came the Boston Marathon bombing. Where were our guys who were supposed to be catching terrorists before they could act?
So we began looking at more surveillance. Then a private contractor working for the National Security Agency released an avalanche of emails indicating we are being watched much more than we think.
Many members of Congress are very confused.
They want to blame both problems on the administration but the best they have been able to come up with is more snooping on the bad guys and no snooping on the good guys. And it’s the president’s job to figure out how to do that.
The dichotomy is somewhat like the problem with sequestering. Congress cut every department across the board but told the department heads to decide where their cuts should be made. It was an impossible situation because most members of Congress have complained when their favorite programs were cut. Those were political cuts, they say. We wanted you to cut waste, fraud and abuse.
Watch for that soap opera to play out all summer and so will the dramas over military rapes, immigration and the Internal Revenue Service treatment of conservative social service groups.
Congress is so busy, for a change, that it may have to give up some of its August recess.
Even South Dakota School of Mines President Heather Wilson is spicing up the summer. The inspector general of the Department of Energy thinks Wilson collected nearly a half million dollars in questionable payments from four nuclear energy labs, including Sandia and Los Alamos. Wilson was collecting $20,000 a month during the period between her two unsuccessful runs for the U.S. Senate.
At the state level, we are waiting breathlessly to learn whether the FBI is investigating the Albuquerque Downs 25-year lease, which involves members of the Gov. Susana Martinez administration. Meanwhile the State Police are investigating whether an officer was asked to record a meeting with the new Dona Ana County District Attorney Mark D’Antonio. Evidently that is a no-no.
The State Police officer, Raul Robles, says he was asked by former DA Amy Orlando and former deputy district attorney Steven Blankinship to record the meeting. Orlando replaced Susana Martinez when Martinez was electted governor. She then ran against Democrat D’Antonio and lost. Orlando and Blankinship are now part of the Martinez administration.
Gov. Martinez says she knows nothing about the requests. Orlando and Blankinship say they did not ask Robles to make the recording. We haven’t heard the last of this one.
If and when the mid-summer monsoons ever come, we may see an end to New Mexico’s forest fires. Until then, we will be in competition for federal resources.
The problem is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget has seen the same sequestration cuts as everybody else. That means it will run out of money well before the end of its fiscal year. Emergency budget increases are not popular these days.
The tourism community is complaining that the broad ranging coverage of New Mexico’s fires is hurting business badly. I’m not sure I completely agree. The national coverage I see centers on Colorado and California because that is where all the property damage is happening. Maybe it is good being ignored, in this case.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.