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Gov. Appointee Quits Over Racino Lease

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —

As chairman of the State Fair Commission from 1997 through 2002, Albuquerque businessman Tom Tinnin was passionate about the fair.

Tinnin apparently hasn’t lost that fire.

Upset with the Martinez administration’s handling of a new lease for the racetrack and casino at the state fairgrounds, Tinnin resigned his seat on the state Board of Finance.

The resignation is just the latest fallout from the administration’s troubled attempt to award a new lease, and Tinnin’s resignation is further damage to the credibility of the process.

Prominent in business and political circles, the Republican has served intermittently on the Board of Finance since 1985, having been appointed by both GOP and Democratic governors.

Appointees to the Board of Finance aren’t paid, but it’s a prestigious and powerful job. The governor chairs the board, which is responsible for general supervision of the state’s money matters.

Tinnin, appointed to the board most recently in February by Gov. Susana Martinez, quit in a handwritten note on lined paper to Martinez. The note was dated Tuesday, and he had met that day with the governor, her office said.

Tinnin wrote in the note:

“It is with regret that I submit this note as my formal resignation from the State Board of Finance effective immediately. I have enjoyed serving you and your administration. You are doing a great job for the State of New Mexico and I look forward to watching you.”

A Martinez spokesman said Friday that the Republican governor is “deeply appreciative” of Tinnin’s service on the Board of Finance.

Tinnin and a real estate company he heads contributed at least $10,000 to the governor’s campaign last year.

Neither Tinnin nor the Governor’s Office would elaborate Friday about the resignation.

As a member of the Board of Finance, he would have had some say about the new lease for the fairgrounds track and casino. The board must approve any deal reached by the State Fair Commission.

Gov. Gary Johnson appointed Tinnin to the State Fair Commission in 1997, and Tinnin served until being replaced by Gov. Bill Richardson in 2003. Tinnin was a critic of how the Richardson administration had run the fair, noting the payroll had been bloated with political appointees. The administration renamed the fairgrounds and the agency that runs it as Expo New Mexico.

In late July, Expo New Mexico requested proposals from parties interested in leasing 93 acres that include the track and casino, but the agency gave responders just 30 days to submit proposals.

Two companies responded: The Downs at Albuquerque, which has held the lease since 1985, and Laguna Development Corp., which operates the Route 66 and Dancing Eagle Casinos on Laguna Pueblo west of Albuquerque.

Both The Downs and Laguna Development proposed a new casino; the existing one is a dump.

A three-member team appointed by Martinez selected The Downs as the winner of the competition and began negotiations. Meanwhile, members of the State Fair Commission complained about their lack of involvement in the development of the request for lease proposals and the review of The Downs and Laguna submittals.

The State Fair Commission refused at a four-hour meeting last week to approve the administration’s negotiated deal with The Downs, instead deciding to hold a workshop to discuss their concerns, then vote in December.

Tinnin was chairman of the State Fair Commission when it voted in 2002 to put the lease for the track and casino out to bid, but Richardson nixed that plan after taking office. Instead, the Richardson administration extended The Downs lease.

Paul Blanchard, part-owner of The Downs, was a major contributor and fundraiser for Richardson. He and his wife gave Richardson $25,000 for his first run for governor, and The Downs kicked in more than $100,000.

But The Downs plays both sides of the political fence, a reflection of the huge stake it has in continuing to run the track and casino.

A company and individuals connected to The Downs donated at least $70,000 to Martinez’s campaign last year. Downs-related companies also gave at least $54,000 to Martinez’s opponent, Democrat Diane Denish, then lieutenant governor.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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