Even good politicians try to gain from corruption of others
Politicians like to say that Watergate poisoned the press corps, making it more interested in scandal than important public policy.
Yet politicians are happy to try to advance their own careers by casting themselves as reformers who stopped government corruption. They do this even when their role was minimal or nonexistent.
The rise and fall of a crook named Jerome Block Jr. is one such case.
Almost two years have passed since Block, right, pleaded guilty to two felonies and then resigned from the state Public Regulation Commission. Block still finds his way into news stories because other politicians keep bringing up his crimes. They want to take credit for his removal from office.
Various members of the state House of Representatives have suggested that they had a hand in ousting Block. They were on a committee created to impeach him. But Block resigned from office before any impeachment proceedings began.
Now Timothy Keller, a candidate for state auditor, is telling the public that he drove out Block.
“As a state senator, Tim has a successful track record of making our government more transparent and accountable, including cleaning up the Public Regulation Commission after years of backroom corruption,” Keller said in a campaign handout.
Asked what cleanup he was talking about, Keller said it was Block’s removal.
What exactly did Keller do to end Block’s corrupt reign at the PRC? In a word, the answer is nothing.
Here’s the story behind Block’s convictions for corruption.
A Democrat from Espanola, Block had no expertise in law, economics or utility regulation. He relied on confusion and voter apathy to win a seat on the PRC in 2010.
His father, Jerome Block Sr., had been a public regulation commissioner. Name recognition propelled the younger Block to victory.
Once in office, Block Jr. drew a salary of $90,000 a year, but he still committed credit card theft and identity theft.
Block had an assigned state vehicle for his use as a regulatory commissioner and a charge card for gasoline. Even so, agency records showed that Block checked out 17 other state vehicles maintained by the regulatory commission.
Johnny Montoya, who was the PRC’s chief of staff at the time, said Block used his power as a commissioner to bully staff members into giving him access to other vehicles.
Two fill-ups were made at the same station in Santa Fe. The other three were at two stations in Espanola. It did not take a detective to realize that Block was involved in some sort of scam.
Members of the finance staff at the PRC flagged Block’s suspicious charges. They told Montoya. In turn, Montoya went to Patrick Lyons, then chairman of the PRC.
Lyons, R-Clovis, and King, a Democrat now running for governor, played direct roles in convicting Block of felonies. Other politicians’ claims are so much smoke.
Keller, D-Albuquerque, has a long and admirable record in working for reforms of the State Investment Council and New Mexico Finance Authority. But the PRC is another matter.
Keller cosponsored enabling legislation this year to increase qualifications for public regulation commissioners. This occurred 17 months after Block pleaded guilty. And the legislation was required by a vote of the people, who in 2012 decided that public regulation commissioners should have better credentials for the highly technical work they are supposed to do.
But until Block’s case made headlines, legislators knew nothing about the investigation. It was Lyons and the PRC staff who threw out the rotten apple that was wrecking their agency.