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By Cap'n O

SEPTEMBER 20, 1999:  The sad truth about government and politics is that much of it is a charade. Slogans are dreamed up for their ability to move people, not for sound policy reasons, committees are appointed for show -- even hairstyles are selected for their image-producing effect.

I learned the ugly truth about task forces and committees one day in a different state when I caught up with the chairman of a governor's task force that was meeting to figure out what to do about a prison overcrowding situation. As we walked down a busy Downtown street I gushed to the chairman about the task force and what important work it was engaged in and said I was eagerly awaiting the group's recommendation on what to do about the prison overcrowding. I chirped about the novel ideas that were being talked about at the time to relieve prison overcrowding, and expressed an enthusiastic and genuine belief that new and grand ideas would come out of the meetings.

To my amazement, the greater my enthusiasm about the process became, the more intense became the look of horror on the chairman's face. The man was no slouch or political newcomer. He had been a county sheriff and had been appointed to several high-level federal jobs in Washington, D.C., before having returned to the local political scene. He had been appointed task force chairman by the governor.

The more I chirped on, the more the man cringed. Finally, this kind soul took pity on me, stopped, took hold of my shoulder and said something like: "Don't you know how this stuff works? It's all rigged. It's all for show. The job of the chairman is to make sure that everyone on the committee comes around to the solution that the governor wants. You pretend to let people have their say and then you just do what the governor wants. We'll appoint these small study groups to tackle certain issues. But you put in someone who knows what the governor wants as the head of each group, and they steer the discussion to that. Just watch."

When I asked what the task force would recommend, the chairman said: "The only thing we can do. Let the inmates out the back door. An early release program."

Sure enough, several months and dozens of boring task force meetings later, the group recommended to the governor an inmate early release program to relieve overcrowding. The governor then solemnly thanked task force members for their tireless efforts and bold ideas. The early release program was put into effect.

This is a long way of saying that Mayor Jim Baca's recently appointed committee to study whether Albuquerque needs a new arena and where it should be put is a farce and that none of you out there should be fooled.

The committee is going to recommend that the stadium be built, that it be built to the size that Baca says he wants, and that it be built where Baca says he wants it, which is on the eastern edge of Downtown.

The committee is comprised of decent people by most accounts. The members are City Councilors Tim Kline and Tim Cummins, UNM Athletic Director Rudy Davalos, car dealership owner Sheila Garcia, businesswoman Colleen Maloof, Public Service Company of New Mexico CEO Ben Montoya, banker Larry Willard and Alex Romero. And because of who they are and because they were appointed by the mayor, their recommendation will have the stamp of authority. But again, it will be a farce because they will have been directed to go for what the guy who appointed them to the committee wants.

That's bad because there is a genuine debate going on over how big the arena should be and whether it should be built Downtown or at the 230-acre State Fair Grounds.

State Fair officials are pushing for a 13,000- to 15,000-seat arena that would cost $50 million. Baca wants a bigger one that could cost $100 million or more. Taxpayers will be asked -- make that most likely told -- to pay for the arena. We deserve an honest, objective study as to where it should be built, not a charade.

Meanwhile, though, since that sidewalk chat with the task force chairman, I have shed my naiveté about politics. Now, when I hear politicians promise us good times, I wonder if they're talking about cigars.


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