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We can do better than Jerome Block Jr.

Heath Haussamen

Voters, and the Democratic and Republican parties and the government they control, all share responsibility for the disastrous election of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr., who was plagued by scandal even before he won the 2008 race

Some New Mexico politicians like to say the only ethics reform we need is an electorate that picks more ethical leaders. While I disagree that it’s all we need, the case of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. proves that the electorate needs to do a better job.

But it also proves that the two major political parties and the government they control need to do a better job.

Block has been in the news the last few days because his government-funded gas card was used more than once in a day on a number of occasions, sometimes minutes apart at multiple gas stations around Santa Fe and Española. He was also driving a state vehicle while his license was suspended.

He says he isn’t responsible for the multiple gas charges and gave his card to others, but the situation has led to calls for Block’s resignation from his own Democratic Party and from Republicans.

Welcome to the club. I wrote in 2008, before Block was elected, that he had no business being a PRC member:

“Let me get this straight: Jerome Block Jr., the Democratic candidate for the seat on the Public Regulation Commission being vacated by Ben R. Luján, has been less than honest about his criminal history and education and lied about his abuse of the state’s public financing system and taxpayer dollars, and now he wants voters to believe he’s under attack because the media is out to get him with ‘not only wrong information, but outright lies?’

“Outrageous. But, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican, that’s exactly the stunt he’s trying to pull in advertisements designed to combat the negative press he has earned.

“…The PRC is one of the most powerful regulatory boards in any state in the nation, and commissioners are paid $90,000 per year in taxpayer dollars. Block has proven he should not be entrusted with such a job.”

Four months after taking office, Block and his father were indicted on felony and misdemeanor charges related to misusing the state’s public financing system during Block’s 2008 election. Though a judge initially dropped some of the charges on a technicality, they were reinstated last week.

Now the situations with the gas card and the suspended license. It’s been one scandal after another for Block, and in spite of what he claimed in 2008, the media reported exactly what needed to be reported. In other words, Block was violating the public trust even before he was elected, and he’s been doing it ever since.

Elected anyway

But Block’s actions aren’t the point of this column. They’re just the example. While there are lots of hard-working elected officials with integrity from both major political parties, there are Democratic and Republican elected officials who have no business holding those positions.


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The case of Block is especially egregious because the media did its job, reporting widely before his election that he hadn’t been honest about his criminal history and education and had lied about his abuse of the state’s public financing system and taxpayer dollars. Anyone paying attention would have known before the election that Block may have broken the law.

But PRC District 3 voters elected him anyway.

Though some Democrats worked against Block’s election once problems with his candidacy surfaced, most of the party’s top leaders stayed silent. For that, the Democratic Party shares some of the blame for Block’s election.

The Republican Party shares some of the blame as well. It didn’t bother to run a candidate against Block. So as scandal consumed Block’s campaign, his only opponent was registered Green Party member Rick Lass.

It’s not a surprise, given a choice between a scandal-plagued Democrat and a little-known Green, that voters picked Block. Democrats and Republicans work together to keep minor parties from seriously challenging their dichotomous stranglehold on the American political system.

If you’re going to ensure that voters only have, at most, two viable choices, you need to give them those two choices.

Illustrating the need for reform

This is a perfect example of why we need reform. Republicans and Democrats shut out minor-party candidates but often don’t give us choices in elections – sometimes because they don’t run candidates, and other times because they make deals during redistricting to protect incumbent Democrats and Republicans, making it pointless to even bother to challenge some.

Our Democratic and Republican elected officials shouldn’t make deals that eliminate competition and keep them in safe districts. And our Democratic and Republican government shouldn’t implement rules that make it unlikely that candidates like Lass will get elected even when they’re running against people who are about to be indicted on felony charges.

And when voters do elect people like Block, we can’t just throw our hands in the air and say, oh well, we’ll try again in four years. We need rules and laws in place do keep those people in check. Block was apparently able to drive a state vehicle on a suspended license for a year before anyone noticed. Why? What checks are in place to ensure something like that doesn’t happen? How can we improve the system?

Many Republicans and even some Democrats in New Mexico say we don’t need ethics reform; we just need to elect better officials.

Were the system not designed to protect the two major parties and their candidates, we’d elect fewer bad apples, and such an argument might be more difficult to shoot down. As things stand, it’s easy to find examples in both parties of officials who need a pink slip but don’t get one. While they’re in office, they must be kept in check.

Those responsible should be ashamed

Voters need to do a better job of choosing candidates who have integrity. Those who voted for Block in 2008 in spite of the media’s efforts to educate them about his problems should be ashamed.

Both major political parties had a role in Block’s election. They should also be ashamed.

As a society, we can do better than this.

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14 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. Heath – ain’t that the truth?

  2. Oops, sorry check that, I thought it said Santa Fe High, with St. Michael’s you need money as well as political pull.

  3. Oh, BTW Heath, relative to your high school experience with the local scions of Norteños political royalty, it must have been an interesting class, and very competitive and politically focused as well. I do wonder why they didn’t attend Pojo High, I think you have to have political connections to go out of your district, eh?

  4. I’ve always thought that a culture which has as it’s main religion one that tolerates no questioning of authority, wherein power is wielded by often corrupt or sexually perverted leaders and where the lay person is required to seek help from the church in a relationship with God would naturally produce a political and government system that reflects that culture. I’ve complained to Joseph Cervantes after receiving help from him in a matter concerning a state bureaucracy that I didn’t like a system that required an intercessor and he seemed to think it was the natural way of government. It seems to be a belief among a lot of the legislators that the patron system is natural and desired. It is no surprise to this native New Mexican that we continue to behave in a 13th century manner when it comes to governance.

  5. II’m saying part of the problem is the culture that ignores the media even when the media does its job properly.

    If the media’s job is telling the truth, then when it is not doing it job it is not telling the truth. How many times does the media get to get caught not telling the truth before they forfeit the trust of the people? Once forfeited, they don’t get our trust back simply because sometimes they get it right.

    The media has been a miserable failure in meeting their responsibilities to inform voters. Voters have failed miserably because they are paying close enough attention to get it.

  6. Heath says: “I’m saying part of the problem is the culture that ignores the media even when the media does its job properly.” Totally and completely agreed to Heath. But as so well said by Mr. Estrada, there really are multiple problems here too. The media is not consistent, as you know. For every good, honest, objective one like you, there are a dozen with partisan and special interest agendas, and in my experience many work for the SFNM. When they cry “wolf”, many of us just say, right what else is new. The culture is also one that tends to ignore crime and wrong-doing. Look at the juries in Santa Fe or Rio Arriba or Mora Counties, and their track record of convicting people on everything from multiple DWIs, to vehicluar homicide, to ethics and political corruption. They tend to identify with the accused and ignore the prosecutors and the facts of the cases, many times presented to the public in the media. There are many parts of the culture that are problems. I also suspect, given that culture, that GFA is also totally correct about the outcome here.

  7. Dr. J,

    I’m certainly aware that Santa Fe is not Pojoaque or Peñasco. But it’s also not just an enclave of people you call “intellectuals.” There are large pockets of old-time New Mexicans in Santa Fe. Many of them ignore the media and vote based on familial and other ties.

    I went to high school with Jerome Block Jr. and the son of a state representative who is from near Pojoaque. We all went to St. Michael’s High School in… Santa Fe.

    I know people were out in force in some of these small rural communities telling people to ignore the media and vote for Block. I don’t give the media more power than it actually has. I’m saying part of the problem is the culture that ignores the media even when the media does its job properly.

  8. Unless there’s been a complete about face on ethics for NM politicians, Jerome Jr. will survive the scandals. That’s the problem – NM politics is grounded in shenanigans and scandal; unfortunately, while a lot of New Mexicans don’t like it, it’s just part of the game.

  9. After running for PRC last cycle, I’m more convinced than ever that voters, for whatever reason, simply don’t care – or are not encouraged to care – about the PRC. Some of these factors include a well-intentioned, but very flawed public financing system in NM. For example, I ran against two better-known politicians who had been on the ballot several times over the last 20 years, and the state gave us an equal amount of money. Arizona also has a public financing system, but in addition to the requirements to get not he ballot, they require candidates to participate in a televised debate as a condition of taking the public money. That would help level the playing field.

    It also doesn’t help that the PRC is a “down ballot” race – I don’t understand why the PRC race isn’t placed on the ballot right after the statewide offices.

    Also, little media attention is paid to the PRC – until there’s a crisis or scandal, that is. The New Mexico Independent did a good job covering the PRC and its decisions, but since it’s gone for all intents and purposes, no media outlet has stepped up to take its place.

    It would be great, and indeed preferable, if the electorate took more seriously and held accountable the commissioners who are arguably make some of the most important decisions in this state. However, since the pattern persists of electing people with a background of questionable personal character and business practices, what are we to do? Perhaps it would be better if the commissioners for the PRC – the nation’s most powerful commission of its kind – were vetted for qualifications and appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. It would be better than what we have now.

  10. Martinez will act less than ethically herself and will replace Block with a Republican.

    I really don’t see that as an ethical issue just based on party affiliation. Nice try

  11. Heath, with all due respect, Santa Fe is not Espanola, Pojoaque, Santa Cruz, Arroyo Seco, Velarde, Chimayo, Cundiyo, Tierra Amarilla, Penasco, Cordova, Truchas, Ojo Sarco, and all the other small, rural enclaves where people vote in high percentages when “family” is running. I can tell you for a fact, the local precinct bosses were out in force pushing Block and telling people to ignore the press and remember the father and family ties. These bosses were not ignored. Perhaps you can claim the “intellectuals” of Santa Fe or Los Alamos should have been able to win the day by listening to and believing all the press exclusively and ignoring anyone else, but I guess not. I think you give the media far more power of persuasion than actually exists in many places, perhaps most places.

  12. Dr. J, I grew up in Santa Fe and know how politics work up there. What I’m saying is that “connections” and “a big fan base” should have been overruled in the case of Block by the convincing reporting the media did before the election about problems with his candidacy. Voters should put ethics and integrity above “political pull” and “family connections.”

  13. While I agree that Block should resign, I believe that IF he does Martinez will act less than ethically herself and will replace Block with a Republican. When she chose Republican Bill Bert (a nice guy) instead of the highly qualified Democrat Nate Cote (also a nice guy) for the vacated SD 40 seat, it made sense only because she was replacing a Republican (Dianna Duran) with a Republican.

  14. No one could argue with what you say here Heath. But I will say you seem to be not very familiar with what happens in the land of the Norteños. Block’s Dad was well liked, he had “connections”, a big fan base, and just like Ben Ray, these things have mucho to do with who gets elected in this district. Like it or not, word of mouth, political pull, and family connections are much more important than what is written in the SFNM, which most people in this district usually disregard or don’t read. Just look at the people elected in this district, does it look like the voters are doing a good job of choosing candidates??? One lesson learned here for the Repubs is to have a candidate in every election, no matter how hopeless it seems, as this one did given the family ties.

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