Behind The Scenes Of A Recent News Story
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson
teed off at the Albuquerque Journal Thursday, claiming that the
paper ran a "false" and "untrue" story that reported statements by
several levels of state transportation bureaucracy, to the effect
that students at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually
Impaired lost their ride home when the Governor got his long-sought
upgrade from an elderly turboprop to a new $5.5 million CItation
Bravo. Six to nine kids from all around the large southwestern
state have depended on the state's transportation department for
rides home on weekends from the boarding school in Alamogordo.
New Mexico is generally poorly served by airlines, as any
airline pilot who has tried to deadhead to Artesia for Federal
Flight Deck Officer training has discovered, and the large
distances make cars and buses impractical for a weekend trip. So
the report that Richardson's new jet was off-limits to the blind
students was disappointing, shocking -- and politically damaging to
the governor, who has a reputation as a somewhat imperial figure
who's very attached to the perks of office (like, say, a jet).
Falling into line with the Governor's jeremiad, numerous
Richardson underlings, including School for the Blind
Superintendent Dianna Jennings, retracted earlier statements.
Jennings, for instance, said, "the Journal report that General
Services Department can no longer commit state aircraft for student
travel was simply untrue."
One source of that report, though,
was Jennings's own earlier statement on record to the Journal --
the Journal has the tape. Another source was an email from Porfirio
Perez, Jr., director of the state's transportation services:
"...unfortunately, ASB (Aviation Services Bureau) cannot make that
commitment. It has been a great honor for ASB to serve the NMSBVI
for the last 10 years. Thank you." That sure sounds like "Don't let
the door hit you on the way out." But now Jennings is contradicting
her own recorded statement, and Perez's boss is saying Perez didn't
mean it, and if he did mean it, he didn't have the authority to say
it, and anyway, he's new at his job, so he doesn't know what he's
doing. Perez himself isn't saying anything.
Did somebody incur the wrath of the Governor?
Cynics say that the real reason Richardson wants the fast,
long-range jet is that he intends to use it in a primary campaign
for President in 2008. Richardson may not be a first-tier candidate
for the office, but he might well earn a vice-presidential
nomination. Either way, he'll be speaking and raising money in
places far from New Mexico -- which a jet would make easier.
Richardson's supporters, on the other hand, point out that the
great benefit of the Citation Bravo is that it brings everywhere in
the state -- everywhere with an airport, anyway -- within 35
Richardson has long sought a jet, though, despite resistance
from the legislature. The state had an ancient Aero Commander jet
(forerunner of the first Westwind) but it was crudely modified for
aerial photography without an STC. For public use aircraft, the STC
isn't necessary; indeed, many FAA rules don't apply, but that means
the machine can no longer be used as an ordinary transport.
Purchase of the new jet is contingent on disposal of one of a
fleet of three turboprops, so the net number of aircraft does not
Whether the Albuquerque Journal got it wrong and slandered
Governor Richardson, or whether the paper had it right and the
Governor reacted to the political hits he was taking, the outcome
is the same either way: the kids from the school for the blind and
vision-impaired still have a ride.