May 31 - Jun 6, 2012 
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Election News

What’s in the Mud?

By Marisa Demarco
Al Park
Al Park

Public Regulation Commission candidate Al Park is a member of a three-lawyer firm that contracts with the state to handle risk management cases.

Q: Does it matter?

Well, it does to his opponent, Karen Montoya, who sent record of the state's payments to the firm to blogger Joe Monahan.

It caught our attention here at the Alibi. We asked Park during our endorsement interview about a potential conflict of interest in working for the state if he does get elected to the quasi-judicial regulatory body [“Primary Election Guide,” May 17-23, 2012].

That day in early May, he told the editorial panel, "Over 50 law firms in the state have risk management contracts, and we've got a really small one." He failed to mention his firm Park & Anderson, LLChas made more than $600,000 from that contract in the last 10 months.

It's a big, complex job, and decisions affect New Mexicans greatly.

He also told us that since the beginning of January 2011, the state only referred to Park & Anderson one case, and it was resolved in six weeks. He later told usafter the financial revelationthat there were several other cases, begun well before 2011, still pending. No single case, he says, brought in $600,000.

"The governor or her cabinet secretaries don't ordinarily show up here.”

Commissioner Jason Marks

Then he stopped answering his phone. I've called a lot. I’m waiting on a list from the state regarding how many open cases Park's firm is handling.

That still doesn't answer the all important question up at the top. But we’re circling in on a conclusion, so hang in there.

The PRC oversees utilities in New Mexico (water, gas and electric), as well as the telecommunication, insurance and transportation industries. It's a big, complex job, and decisions affect New Mexicans greatly.

That's part of why it was such a disaster when Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. admitted to a pharmy addiction and was indicted on felony charges of misusing public campaign money and abusing his government-funded gas card.

Primary election day is Tuesday, June 5.

It's time to clean up the PRC, so the 2012 race is focused on ethics.

Park says his ethical obligations on the PRC would have nothing to do with his ethical obligations as an attorney. "They're totally separate," he says.

His opponent, Montoya, sent the documents to the blogger to hint that his government contract is tied to his voting record as a legislator. That’s what she told us in an interview. Park, a Democrat, did indeed vote in favor of the guv's initiative to make driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants illegal. Montoya accuses Park of voting with the state's Republicans to appease Gov. Susana Martinez and land his firm's state contract. Montoya adds this could also become a problem when he's on the PRC.

Here’s the catch: The governor doesn't have much to do with PRC decisions, says Jason Marks. He's the commissioner vacating the seat that Montoya, Parkand Alibi top choice Cynthia Hallare fighting for. "The governor or her cabinet secretaries don't ordinarily show up here," Marks says. "I never consulted with or heard anything from the executive on our adjudicated cases here."

A financial relationship with the state is not as meaningful a conflict as, say, one with a private entity that has cases in front of the PRC, he concludes.

In other states, governors hand-select utility commissioners and regularly call them in to talk about cases, Marks says. But that's not how things are here. Marks isn't endorsing any of his potential successors, he says. He thinks they can each bring something different to the position.

So, after talking to Marks ...

A: There's no proof that Park would allow Republicans in government to affect his decisions if he were elected to the PRC. But we find his avoidance of questionsand his misleading statementsoff-putting to say the least.

Park says he hasn't decided whether he will continue to practice as an attorney if he wins the race and becomes a commissioner. And he's not sure it would be fair for his partners to have to forego risk management cases just because he's taken political office.

Primary election day is Tuesday, June 5.

 
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