With more inside information coming to light concerning the hurried awarding of the lucrative racing and casino lease at Expo New Mexico, Senator Linda M. Lopez (D- 11- Bernalillo), chairperson of the state Senate Rules Committee, believes the current and former State Fair commissioners who oversaw the process should be publicly questioned by the Legislature.
Sen. Lopez said that the Senate Rules Committee, which has statutory authority to evaluate and approve the Governor’s appointments to the State Fair Commission, will convene a hearing in the upcoming 2014 legislative session to question board members of their knowledge and actions pertaining to the multi-million-dollar contract award to the Downs at Albuquerque.
The move comes at the heels of two critical articles that delved into the background of the 25-year lease, which mostly focused on Governor Susana Martinez’s political advisor Jay McCleskey and his questionable involvement in the bidding process. An article last month in the National Journal and a more recent account in the Albuquerque Journal focused on McCleskey’s series of text messages regarding the contract to Andrea Goff, a former Martinez fundraiser who is related through marriage to one of the commissioners.
“The time has come for the legislature, which has confirmation authority over appointees to the State Fair Commission, to attempt to get to the bottom of all the mystery surrounding the awarding of the Downs racino contract,” Senator Lopez said. “The administration is claiming that everything in the bidding process was conducted above board, but the new behind-the-scenes information revealed in the media accounts points to the contrary.”
“Fortunately, we have some very brave people who were once close to the governor’s circle coming forward with details about what could potentially be illegal influence peddling related to the Commission. As legislators, we should keep check on the actions of the people we approve to these high-ranking, policy-making boards, and if they are not acting in the best interest of the state we must address that,” Lopez added.
Both articles reveal information brought forward by Goff, the daughter-in-law of former commissioner Buster Goff who drew the ire of McCleskey because he questioned the board’s rush to award the contract. The administration has unfairly attacked the character of Andrea Goff since theNational Journal article was released.
Additionally, Buster Goff was not the only commissioner questioning the process, and others affiliated with Expo New Mexico also had reservations. Nevertheless, on a split vote the lease was awarded to persons who generously gave money to the governor’s campaign and political action committees, which were also briefly examined in the articles. Also, there are still many lingering unanswered questions about a hunting trip the governor’s husband took to Louisiana, the home state of the owners of the Downs, and the appointment of Darren White as head of the Downs without any relevant qualifications.
“Of course, we will also invite Jay McCleskey, who was apparently deeply involved in the awarding of the racing and casino lease, and Governor Martinez to come talk to Senate Rules Committee as well,” Senator Lopez said. “I’m sure that if everything is as above board as they say, they will be more than happy to explain to the public and the Legislature their side of the story.”