ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I spent the past week enjoying 70-degree weather, a view from the deck of one of those picturesque midwestern lakes and endless doses of that interpersonal communication style known as “Minnesota nice.” Even the famous mosquitoes were minding their manners.
Then it was back to Albuquerque’s 90-degree weather, pictures in the newspaper of the puddle that used to be picturesque Heron Lake and a healthy dose of “New Mexico not-so-nice.”
On the morning after the primary election, which was really only two weeks ago although it seems like a lifetime, political pollster Brian Sanderoff told KOAT-TV, “I think the governor’s race is going to get really nasty.”
We all might consider asking Sanderoff to pick our Powerball numbers, because his prediction was unerring.
Within these first two weeks of the campaign that pits Democrat New Mexico Attorney General Gary King against incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, there have already been six TV ads.
The fastest out of the chute, paid for by the national Republican Governors Association, summed up King’s eight years in office with a damning quote: “The worst attorney general ever.”
More damning, the quote was attributed to Sam Bregman, the chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party.
As we say in middle school, awk-ward.
I’ve also seen the quote repeated elsewhere as “worst attorney general” or “worst attorney general in New Mexico.”
The RGA ad cited a KKOB-AM radio broadcast on Nov. 15, 2013, as its source. Martinez’s campaign put the quote in its own ad a few days later with no attribution. A printed ad from the Martinez campaign repeated the quote without a citation but said Bregman “recently said” it.
Another RGA ad released last week and running nonstop on my TV set repeats the quote “worst attorney general ever” and attributes it to the Albuquerque Journal, citing a story published just after the primary election that quoted the state Republican Party chairman, who was quoting Bregman.
But since “worst attorney general” in all its permutations seems like it could be the belle of this political ball, let’s track down its provenance.
The KKOB citation of 2013 is from a Bob Clark morning show with Bregman as a guest after Bregman was elected Democratic Party chairman. If you listen to the clip, Bregman doesn’t say “worst attorney general,” Clark does. Clark is quoting Bregman from an earlier broadcast. What Bregman says on the November broadcast is, “In hindsight, that probably was not the most eloquent thing to say.”
The context of the “worst ever” quote Clark was referencing came in a court fight from two years ago. Bregman, an attorney, was representing Alfred Lovato, a New Mexico State Police sergeant who was part of Gov. Bill Richardson’s security detail. Lovato was the passenger in Carlos Fierro’s BMW when Fierro hit and killed William Tenorio in downtown Santa Fe in 2008. Fierro and Lovato had both been drinking and Fierro went to prison for vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident. In an unusual move, prosecutors also went after Lovato.
It was actually the Santa Fe district attorney, not King, who appointed a special prosecutor to look into whether Lovato could be charged. The prosecutor, Donna Bevacqua-Young of the Attorney General’s Office, decided Lovato could be tried on the same charges Fierro faced on the theory of accomplice liability and she tried the case.
The judge threw out the vehicular homicide charge and a jury found Lovato not guilty of leaving the scene of an accident, so it was a big loss for the AG’s Office and a big win for Bregman. Before, during and after the trial, Bregman – a well-known quote factory – railed against the prosecutor, the district attorney and the attorney general for overreaching.
Looking for the actual quote, I went to Clark at KKOB. Clark said Bregman made the comment on his show in February 2012 after Lovato was acquitted.
“I did not keep the audio long term from that show,” he said in an email, “because I never imagined at that point Sam would someday end up the Dem Chair with Gary King as his nominee for Gov.”
None of us could have, probably most of all Bregman.
So, the tape is gone, but Clark said he remembers the quote (not surprising because it’s a memorable one) as “Gary King is the worst attorney general ever in New Mexico.”
Bregman, who’s supporting King for governor, isn’t disputing it, but he told me he can’t remember saying it.
“To be completely frank,” he told me, “I can’t remember what the specific comment was. I remember my feelings, which were the case never should have been prosecuted.”
When you hear it – again and again – from now until November, you’ll know where it came from.