Sunday, September 28, 2008
Las Cruces Senator Under Fire
By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
LAS CRUCES — Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson has come under criticism from local Democrats for securing $111,000 in state capital outlay funds in 2003 to pave a road that lies outside of his legislative district.
The road, 14th Street in Las Cruces, provides the primary access to a commercial development built by Rawson's late father and now largely owned by the state senator.
Rawson, the Republican minority whip and a senator since 1987, is seeking re-election against Democrat Steve Fischmann, an East Mesa resident and founder of a local group called the Quality Growth Alliance.
Fischmann contends Rawson's efforts to secure capital outlay funds for the project appear to represent a conflict of interest "because putting in that road does enhance the value of his (Rawson's) property.''
Rawson told the Journal he has not "directly benefited" from the 14th Street paving project. "It's not like it enhanced the value of the property," he said.
Rawson was unopposed in his 2004 re-election campaign, the year after he won the paving money from the Legislature. Fischmann hasn't yet raised the capital outlay issue in campaign literature, but he and his supporters are talking about it publicly.
Fischmann said Rawson should have focused on needs within his own district. "There are many unpaved roads within Mr. Rawson's district ... and it seems to me that's where Mr. Rawson's capital outlay funds should have been spent," he said.
Sen. Mary Kay Papen, a Democrat whose state Senate District 38 includes 14th Street, said no constituents sought her help in securing capital outlay funds for the project. But, if Rawson had sought her help, she "probably" would have obtained the funds because the road is in an industrial area that needed paving, she said.
"Whether he (Rawson) should have done it because his business is there is, I suppose, debatable,'' Papen also said.
Rawson said he obtained the capital outlay funds to pave 14th Street between Picacho Avenue and Hadley Avenue so that the city of Las Cruces could complete the street project and fulfill a 1994 commitment made to his late father, Barney Rawson. The senior Rawson received approval in 1994 to develop Buildtek Court, a commercial subdivision with access from Fourteenth Street.
Rawson said the Buildtek Court development's value was enhanced by the 1994 agreement with the city, not by the Legislature-funded 2004 paving project itself.
"The city didn't fulfill its responsibility,'' said Rawson, who is president of Rawson Inc. Builders Supply. "The entity that benefited was the city because the city didn't hold up its end of the commitment. That's the entity that received value.''
The city of Las Cruces used the funds to pay for the $159,000 project, which included paving a previously dirt road, new sidewalks, drainage improvements, and the installation of five street lights and new eight-inch water mains. The project was finished in May 2005.
Rawson's company, Las Cruces Door LLC, owns a commercial property at the corner of Hadley and Fourteenth, with access to the back from Fourteenth.
A separate company facing Fourteenth Street appears to have benefited from the paving of the street, a mechanic's garage called R&W Auto Center.
"It was a dirt road, it was like an alley,'' said R&W Auto Center owner Rudy Colorbio, who added he was pleased the project was completed.