ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Behind all the furor around U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, one of eight federal prosecutors who were fired by the Bush administration, was an effort by the Republican Party to suppress massive voter registration in New Mexico during the 2004 election.
According to reporter Michael Coleman of the Albuquerque Journal Washington Bureau, Mickey Barnett, a former Albuquerque Republican national committeeman, sent an e-mail message to Iglesias in September 2004 chastising him for “appointing a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects.”
During the 2004 election campaign, New Mexico ACORN engaged in a huge voter registration drive in which individuals were paid to bring in valid voter registrations. It only took one informant to come forth and “confess” to obtaining registrations fraudulently for the whole New Mexican Republican machinery, along with its daily mouthpiece the Albuquerque Journal, to proclaim that this mass voter registration was illegal.
It should be noted that the trumped up “voter fraud” claims have racist and anti-working class aspects. The first to be challenged on voter eligibility are usually Latino, Black, immigrant or low-income – or a combination of any of these.
The end result was that the state Democrats became so frightened of being tarred with a smear charge that, in the 2005 legislative session, they altered the state voter registration law to such a point that before a person could be registered to vote, they had to swear on a double affidavit that they were not committing any fraud. This cut out the street-level voter registration drives. As a result, despite union and community efforts for rank-and-file people to increase voter registration, the number of newly registered voters decreased from the previous year.
It seems Iglesias had not done enough on behalf of his bosses. He followed the traditional legal process of appointing an investigating task force to check out the GOP claims of voter fraud, rather than making flaming accusations that would become grist for the local media, confuse the public, turn down the Democratic edge, and then later be retracted on page 24 of the Journal in small print. In pursuing this process of investigating charges to determine their merits, he was following normal textbook procedure. As did former state Attorney General Patricia Madrid — a Democrat — during the statewide corruption scandal involving former State Treasurer Robert Vigil — a Democrat — who was found to be taking bribes on various state projects.
Apparently, neither Republican Sen. Pete Domenici nor Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson was satisfied with Iglesias’ methods, because they constantly complained to the Justice Department about the slowness of his work, despite the fact that in regular merit reviews he was given high marks.
According to the Journal, a number of state Republicans were unhappy with Iglesias because he did not use the Vigil bribery case as a platform for making scattershot charges against state Democrats. In last fall’s U.S. House race between Wilson and Madrid, GOP officials were hoping that it would be a perfect fit to smear Madrid with complicity in this corruption.
Instead, what happened was that, despite refusals by Iglesias or Madrid to make inflammatory charges about Vigil until the jury had decided his guilt or innocence, the case finally came to a sorrowful conclusion. A number of Vigil associates, under FBI pressure, turned state’s evidence against him, but out of some 23 counts against him, after a protracted mistrial and a second trial, Vigil was found guilty of only a minor charge, resulting in a few years in jail. And despite these smear efforts, Madrid lost by only 868 votes.
In story after story, it seems that all the way up to the top of the Republican hierarchy, Iglesias and the other federal prosecutors, appointed in the early days of the Bush regime, were supposed to be proactive in fostering the Bush agenda rather than doing normal legal work to protect the democratic rights of citizens of this country. One can deduce from this that, had Iglesias and the seven other prosecutors throughout the country engaged in inflammatory rhetoric attacking anyone not agreeing with the Bush agenda, they would not have been fired. Instead, they chose to follow their oath of office and are paying the price for it now.
Emil Shaw is a labor and peace activist and the New Mexico state chair of the Communist Party USA.