Over the last 100 years, voters in New Mexico have experienced a number of efforts to steal an election: everything from the range wars of the 1870s, the denial of the Indian vote and the terrorizing of Chicanos to modern-day thievery such as malfunctioning voting machines in working-class precincts, machines registering Republican when the voter wanted Democrat, and extra machines found in warehouses.
Corruption as vote suppression
However, what has come to light in the case of fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias for New Mexico was that apparently Iglesias was supposed to use a number of corruption scandals and charges of voter fraud as a way of smearing the Democratic candidate for Congress. That candidate, Patricia Madrid, was also the attorney general of New Mexico. She was giving the incumbent Congresswoman, Republican Heather Wilson, the run of her life.
Since the Bush appointment of Iglesias, neither Wilson nor her mentor, Sen. Peter Domenici (R-N.M.), were happy with the way Iglesias conducted business. This was revealed when, in the recent congressional hearings, Iglesias stated that both Domenici and Wilson had repeatedly inquired at the Justice Department why Iglesias was moving so slow, and then finally called Iglesias directly to ask him how his work was coming along. Such inquiries, apparently, are a breach of legal ethics.
Peter Simonson, executive secretary of the New Mexico Civil Liberties Union, sees “far right” Republican tinkering with the impartiality of the legal system, through unethically “pressuring” attorneys to “time” their public prosecutions to fit a certain political agenda, threatening the checks and balances of the Constitution. Simonson said his impression of Iglesias, a stout defender of the Patriot Act, is that he’s an honest and sincere person.
Why New Mexico?
Why was this attempted smear campaign so important for New Mexico? In a state of 1.6 million people, with 36 percent Latinos, 15 percent Native Americans, 2 percent African Americans, 1 percent Asian and 46 percent white, the voting population is divided into three parts: one-third Democrat, one-third Republican, and one-third independent. In any election, it just takes a small shift of the independent voters to swing the election in either direction. Under such conditions, one can easily see that in a period of mass revolt against the Bush administration, something else had to be found to divert voters’ attention and keep the congressional seat in the Republican column.
Even though Wilson won the 2006 election by 868 votes, this Republican attempt to change the election climate failed, in no small measure due to the voting population’s drive for clean elections, and also due to the personal decency of Iglesias, who refused to let politics interfere with his job.
Other dirty deeds
Some examples of how the Republicans worked these last few years:
• In the 2004 election, community groups engaged in massive voter registration drives. The Republicans immediately began to charge “voter fraud,” because one of the groups paid people to collect registrations. A lone informant came forward to announce that this group had falsely registered people. The Republicans wanted this to become a major smear case, but Iglesias let it run its course, which turned out to be more allegation than substance.
• Then another scandal hit New Mexico. Robert Vigil, prominent Democrat and at that time state treasurer, was found to be engaging in bribery schemes to produce contracts for the state. The FBI was involved in the case, and got some lesser partners in the scheme to turn state’s evidence. All that happened was that after a mistrial and a second trial, Vigil was found guilty of one minor charge and acquitted of all the rest. Once more, the Republican machine had hopes of turning this into a slander case against Attorney General Patricia Madrid for not moving fast enough on the charges against Vigil.
• The use of racism to smear and undermine Latino and Black elected officials continues. In the construction of a new state courthouse in Albuquerque, a number of prominent Democratic officials were federally indicted for having allegedly skimmed almost $4.3 million from the project. Among the accused was Manny Aragon, former president pro tem of the state Senate. His share of the skim was minor in comparison to what the rest of the robbers took, according to the indictment. Yet, the Albuquerque Journal printed thousands of words about Aragon, reciting allegedly crooked deals going back for the last 20 years. Aragon, like others charged, is entitled to the presumption of innocence, but that is not so easy in the court of public opinion when such a coordinated campaign occurs.
Unhealthy for democracy
Trumpeting charges of corruption before a case is allowed to make its way through the system is another form of voter suppression. As one local voter told The Associated Press: “It’s getting to the point where I’ve lost faith in the political and judicial system.”
And that’s not healthy for democracy.
Emil Shaw is a labor and peace activist and the New Mexico state chair of the Communist Party USA.