9/28/07

Union political donations backfire, spell AFSCME defeat

Labor union campaign funds did not result in wins for three candidates who sought seats on a New Mexico board that oversees billions of dollars in public-employee retirement funds. Balloting by thousands of government workers and retirees came amid controversy over potential union influence over how the Public Employees Retirement Association board manages a nearly $13 billion pension fund for state and local government employees.

PERA has roughly 72,000 active and retired members. The state chapter of the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees had backed Alan Ruckel to represent state employees, Olinda Reneau to represent county employees and John Lucero to represent retirees.

None of those candidates won their races, PERA officials said at the group’s annual meeting Thursday in Santa Fe. Fabian Chavez, a former PERA board member and former legislator, had expressed concerns the union might inject a “social agenda” into how pension funds are invested. He said news coverage concerning the union’s campaign contributions helped spell defeat for the three candidates. “What it proves is that you can organize,” Chavez said.

Carter Bundy, AFSCME’s political and legislative director for New Mexico, blamed news stories and editorials questioning the union’s contributions for the defeat of the candidates. “AFSCME is outgunned by people like Fabian Chavez with his connections,” Bundy said.

Bundy said he was not sure of the total amount of money AFSCME spent on the three races, but he said it would be less than the $52,000 it spent in three PERA races in 2004.

On a 5-3 vote, the PERA board approved a resolution to name the board room in the association’s new building, scheduled for completion by May 2009, The Senator Fabian Chavez Board Room.

Board member Loretta Naranjo-Lopez, who received AFSCME backing in the 2004 race, suggested the board consider other names for the board room or not name it after anyone. Naranjo-Lopez upbraided Chavez for making negative comments about the board in recent news stories. “I hope that we can continue to be a professional board and not have to be in a hostile environment,” she said.

PERA board members Victor Montoya and David Baca, who have served on the board for eight years, were re-elected in the mail-in election. Francis Page, who is chief of the Corrections Department’s budget bureau, won election to the state-employee seat held by Jeff Riggs, who did not seek re-election. The three winners will begin their four-year terms Jan. 8.

The PERA board has 12 members, including four state employees, four local-government workers, two retired members, the secretary of state and the state treasurer.

Montoya narrowly won re-election to his retiree seat with 2,127 votes, edging out Lucero, who received 2,107 votes. Gloria A. Stone received 970 votes and Aldolfo Alarid got 826 votes in the race. Vote totals for Montoya and Lucero were close enough that officials recounted the vote tallies.

Baca received 916 votes for the county-employee seat, while Reneau got 351 votes. In the state-employee race, Page received 1,631 votes, while Ruckel got 1,331 votes and Sandra Y. Martin garnered 585 votes.

The board Thursday also appointed Oscar Arevalo, the chief financial officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, to fill Danny Sandoval’s position on the board. Sandoval, who was first elected to PERA’s board in 1998, stepped down from his state-employee seat because he is retiring from his job as deputy secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department.

(freenewmexican.com)

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