A dash of absurd, class

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By Hal Rhodes

The final days of any passing year are traditionally a time to reflect upon the jumble of people and events that shaped the preceding twelve months – the absurd and the laudable.
The dysfunctional U. S. House of Representatives notwithstanding, my own nominee for the “Notably Absurd Award” would be the New Mexico Finance Authority, whose former officials managed to make it a top scandal in 2012.
 It began when news broke that NMFA controller Greg Campbell had submitted a phony (and late) audit on the agency’s 2011 financial affairs to the State Auditor, as required by law.
Let it be noted that connoisseurs of the absurd routinely caution that it is always unwise to promulgate phony audits, but that it is downright dumb to submit phony audits late, if only because tardiness calls attention to itself.
Campbell pled guilty to forgery and securities fraud and was sentenced to five years probation.
In recent days State Auditor Hector Balderas released a PricewaterhouseCoopers investigation into l’affaire NMFA.
That investigation cost New Mexico taxpayers $1 million-plus and prompted Balderas to note that Campbell’s supervisors, including CEO Rick May, bear “significant responsibility” for the environment that allowed Campbell to contrive his phony and belated audit.
Whereupon the now-fired CEO May denied any such responsibility and blamed “various parties” for exaggerating “the extent of the problems.”  
“No major scandal,” May proclaimed.   
 No major scandal?  Let it be Mr. May who picks up the award for notable absurdity, suitably engraved with these words:  “For singular achievement of the top executive of a state agency who failed properly to superintend the official conduct of his underlings.”
On a more reassuring note, year’s end brings word that U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, will become a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee when the 113th Congress convenes on Jan. 3.
Since entering the Senate in 2008, Udall has served on some key committees, including Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works and Indian Affairs, and he will continue on at least some of those panels in the new Congress.
But a berth on the Appropriations Committee is among the most coveted in the nation’s upper house, precisely because it does exactly what its name suggests: It appropriates the money authorized by Congress to be spent on the sundry purposes that constitute the federal budget.
For a senator from New Mexico, with key national laboratories and military installations, membership on Senate Appropriations can be particularly beneficial to constituents back home.
U.S. senators invariably court committee assignments with jurisdiction over matters of economic interest to their states, which is why New Mexico’s senators have historically hankered after place on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
 Jeff Bingaman spent a large chunk of his 30 Senate years on the Energy panel and in recent times, when Democrats have been in the majority, as its chairman.
Given the state’s status as a major energy producer, it is a natural fit for a senator from New Mexico.
So it was another bit of reassuring news when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that Democratic Senator-elect Martin Heinrich will become a member of Energy and Natural Resources when he takes the Senate seat occupied for the past three decades by Bingaman.        
Heinrich drew a plum assignment…and a class act to follow.
Bingaman is a rare political figure, the personification of dignity, incapable of bombast or grandstanding.
The new Energy chairman, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, got it right when looked at Bingaman and said, “These debates will be less thoughtful and less informed because you won’t be a part of them.”
Hal Rhodes
NM News Service