The discussion of the Downs contract at Tuesday’s State Board of Finance meeting lasted more than three hours, but not once was itmentioned that the bid winners gave Gov. Susana Martinez money after her election and before the contract had been awarded.
There were a lot of jokes about Robert Aragon’s red jacket (“It’s a Christmas jacket, not a holiday jacket,” he said more than once) and Aragon was ready with statements like “The integrity of this process
was, in fact, beyond reproach,” as well as softball questions for EXPO New Mexico manager Dan Mourning: “Are you satisfied with the due
diligence that allayed concerns of constituents?”
The board approved the 25-year lease with the owners of the Downs to operate a racino and build a casino, expected to cost $20 million, on the state fairgrounds. The contract has been opposed by some
neighborhood groups in that section of Albuquerque.
The matter of pay-for-play was not touched. After the meeting, a lawyer representing Louisiana-based Downs co-owners William C. Windham and John Turner said he didn’t know about their contributions to
Susana PAC earlier this year.
When Mourning was asked whether the matter should have been discussed during the commission’s meeting, he said “That’s nothing I can address.”
Martinez made a big show of addressing the Down’s third owner, Paul Blanchard, who could be interviewed as part of a grand jury investigation of former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Blanchard’s Downs shares are being placed in escrow until he’s cleared of any wrongdoing.
While nary a critical word was leveled by any of the commissioners as they set to unanimously approve the contract, state fair commissioner Charlotte Rode had harsh words about the deal afterward.
Rode was appointed by Martinez, and she is not the only Republican to voice objections over the opaque process of awarding this contract; earlier this year, long-time State Fair Commissioner Tom Tinnin (also
appointed by Martinez) resigned from the Board of Finance because of the deal.
“This was not good government,” Rode said Tuesday. “From the beginning, this was not done properly. It’s the furthest thing from transparent.”
Rode said the contract was crafted by Downs lawyers, and represents “a team effort between the Governor’s office, (EXPO New Mexico) management and the Downs.”
There has been no fiscal impact study, Rode said. Worst of all, everyone who’s had their hands on the contract has been working for the Governor.
“It doesn’t get vetted by the legislature, where there’s
representation of the people,” she said. Rode said she asked repeatedly to meet with Martinez about the deal, but was refused. A critical voice, it appears, had no place in this deal.