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          Front Page

Take the Politics Ride at State Fair

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
          Just weeks after Gov. Bill Richardson took office in January 2003, the administration canceled the contract of a Michigan company to provide amusement rides, games, food and merchandise at the State Fair.
        The administration said it wanted to make its own hire for the carnival concession.
        Now, let's fast-forward to today.
        Richardson leaves office at the end of the year, and the State Fair to be held this September is the last one on the contract for Spectacular Attractions — an Oklahoma company that does business as Murphy Bros. Exposition — to run the midway.
        Expo New Mexico, the state agency that runs the fair, could put off entering into a new carnival contract until the next governor is in place.
        Instead, it is preparing to sign Spectacular Attractions for another four years, with an optional renewal for an additional four years.
        As with much in government, politics and political donations are likely at play.
        Expo New Mexico issued a request for proposals, or RFP, for the new carnival contract in May.
        Spectacular Attractions, teaming with Reed Exposition Midways of Texas, submitted the only bid before the RFP deadline, according to Expo New Mexico.
        Given the lack of competition in response to its carnival RFP, Expo New Mexico could have canceled the RFP and reissued it after making changes to try to attract additional bidders.
        Another option would have been to can the whole process for now, leaving it to the next governor to issue another RFP.
        But the administration probably got just what it wanted in having Spectacular Attractions as the only bidder.
        Richardson, as you all know, is a Democrat. It so happens that Gerald Murphy, who heads Spectacular Attractions, is a major financial backer of the Democratic Party and its candidates.
        Murphy has contributed $21,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the past few years, and he and his companies have dropped nearly $36,000 on the Democratic National Committee since the early 1990s.
        Murphy's donations to Democratic candidates include $2,300 for Richardson's failed presidential bid in 2008. Spectacular Attractions also gave $2,000 to the governor's re-election campaign in 2006.
        Murphy has contributed $5,500 to Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's campaign to succeed Richardson. I guess he just has a keen interest in good government in New Mexico. Probably the kind of good government that keeps him in business here.
        The next governor will be able to cancel the contract of Spectacular Attractions, but I'm liking its odds of hanging onto the contract if Democrat Denish is elected. If Republican gubernatorial nominee Susana Martinez is elected, of course, the contractor will likely get the boot.
        The next governor will have ample time between taking office in January and the fair of September 2011 to issue a new RFP for the midway operation and award a contract.
        An Expo New Mexico spokesman said the agency decided to put the carnival contract out to bid before a new governor was in place, because the agency wanted "to see what the carnival market had to offer."
        Well, the market certainly didn't offer much in the way of competition. Maybe other carnival providers didn't think they had a chance.
        There is big money at stake.
        The State Fair had more than 600,000 attendees in 2009, and sales for amusement rides totaled $1.9 million. Of that amount, Spectacular Attractions kept two-thirds, or more than $1.2 million, and the fair got one-third.
        Spectacular Attractions also operated about 60 to 65 games, nine food concessions and other booths. It paid the fair a flat rate of $215,000 for the space to have those operations and kept the revenue they generated.
        Richardson's play to have a carnival provider under contract when the next governor takes office isn't unprecedented.
        W.G. Wade Shows Inc. ran the midway for the last three years of the administration of Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, and Johnson's State Fair Commission extended the contract for five more fairs during his final months in office.
        After the Richardson administration canceled its contract, W.G. Wade Shows teamed with Spectacular Attractions to bid on and win the carnival concession in early 2003.
        W.G. Wade Shows pulled out of the deal after the 2006 fair, leaving Spectacular Attractions as the sole contractor.
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Thom Cole can be reached in Santa Fe at (505) 992-6280 or at tcole@abqjournal.com.

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