Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sin: Manny Aragon and Crony Capitalism

Wow! I leave town and economic reality hits the state, Mannie Aragon cops a plea and, for comic relief, Rebecca Vigil-Giron is back on the state payroll.
Readers know I'm a big fan of our citizen legislature. The structure keeps the elected folks, mostly, closer to the people. In Wisconsin this week, a friend mentioned yet another problem with the so-called "professional," full time legislatures. It took the Wisconsin legislature six months to pass a budget this year. My friend figures there was less incentive to act because the legislators got paid whatever happened. In New Mexico, legislators lose money, so they have reasons to get it done.
"Professional" legislatures also do not eliminate sin. Nor does public financing financing. (Think Jerome Black Jr.)
One situation that invites sin is a small, lucrative, tightly controlled operation. Before Manny Aragon and Robert Vigil, the University of New Mexico's Lobogate basketball scandal was the handiest example. Without going through the whole tale, just understand it was small, in terms of the number of people involved, and very profitable, both the basketball operation itself and for the people around it, what might be called "crony capitalism," a term used more recently to describe the Putin regime in Russia. In such situation, crossing the ethical line is a big temptation and, for the weaker folks, the legal line offers temptation.
Our legislature is a small operation that financially is not especially lucrative. Power, though, is a principal currency. So is information. Access to the two can be turned into money. "Crony capitalism" is the term of art. Though crony capitalism was around long before Bill Richardson, his administration does seem to have raised it to a higher art,at least if there is any substance to the many news reports.
As senate leader, Manny Aragon was king or co-king of the legislative hill of a long time. But like that fallen basketball king, Norm Ellenberger, Aragon couldn't just be king on his singular merits as a force of nature. Aragon's plea this week to three felony counts will take him to jail. While Aragon's jail probably will be nicer than others, it will still be a jail. Aragon will not be free. That's as it should be.

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