Downs hearing splits lawmakers

SANTA FE (KRQE) – Tom Tinnin pounded the table plenty Monday morning.

“I’ve worked for four governors, two Republicans, two Democrats and I’ve never had a governor approach me on that level before,” Tinnin said.

Tinnin was one of a string of former and current state fair commission appointees who testified at a controversial hearing about a controversial racino deal in front of the Senate Rules Committee.

The focus was on a long-term lease approved in 2011 between Expo New Mexico and the Downs Racetrack and Casino.

At the center of the allegations against the Martinez administration are that the governor herself and her associates applied political pressure to appointees to force through a generous deal. The Downs proposal was competing against another one from the Laguna Development Corporation.

Former state fair commissioner Charlotte Rode claims that the Downs deal got preference because the owners donated tens of thousands of dollars to her campaign.

“There was a back and forth between what as a decider, what she could provide to the Downs and what the Downs could provide to her,” Rode said.

It was ultimately a one-sided hearing. Committee chair Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, invited the state auditor, the governor and Expo New Mexico’s general manager to attend the hearing and testify, but nobody showed up. The committee’s four Republican senators were also mostly absent from the hearing, with only Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, staying for even part of it.

In a statement, governor’s spokesperson Enrique Knell slammed Lopez, a gubernatorial hopeful.

“That was nothing more than a taxpayer-funded political circus orchestrated by a desperate candidate for governor where not a single new piece of information was revealed,” Knell wrote. “What you saw were people with incredible axes to grind, all of whom have had their wild-eyed accusations repeatedly discredited.”

Knell says the deal was put out for a competitive bid and that the Downs’ winning proposal was in the best interest of the state.

“The best bid was selected and the new lease the administration negotiated is better for the state than the old one,” Knell wrote.

Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, and other senators are calling for state attorney general Gary King to investigate the situation, alleging breach of contract by the Downs. The AG’s office has an open inquiry and has had one for several months. Meanwhile the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting on a related case, against former Martinez campaign manager Jamie Estrada who’s accused of stealing the governor’s personal emails.

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