A Long Letter From A Good Citizen

Aubrey Dunn is a straight shooter

Aubrey Dunn called the other day from Alamogordo to get my e-mail address for something he was sending to newspapers — a rambling polemic against Bill Richardson’s “school reform” amendments to the New Mexico Constitution. I covered Aubrey in the 1970’s when he was powerful. He’s 75 now and, as he said on the phone, “trying to live long enough to die of something besides cancer.”

When the e-mail came through I saw it was far too long for any editor’s op-ed space — seeming to meander but subtle in purpose, like one of his impromptu speeches when he was the indomitable State Senate Finance chairman. Surely, I thought, he knew this thing was unpublishable: he used to be part owner of the Alamogordo Daily News. Then I realized this remarkable document was a memoir.
And it was peppered with some damning hints of corruption — no names or dates, but deliberate:

— An appointed state highway commissioner once threatened that “Alamogordo would not get another dollar’s worth of highway built” if the city didn’t back off an action that was clearly harmful to the commissioner’s personal business interests. Dunn said he reported the threat and a State Police detective took a statement, but nothing ever came of it.

— A utility regulator was discovered to own some gas leases. When he was up for Senate reconfirmation, a gas company president approached Dunn to drop his opposition. (Dunn refused, and took the fight to the floor, but the Senate reconfirmed any way.)

— A governor’s appointee in a position to see all confidential state computer data was discovered to have a criminal record involving murder in Nevada. When the governor shrugged it off, Dunn had to go to the press, and the pressure eventually got the administrator dismissed.
— When Dunn opposed a bill to repeal the usury law, which limited interest rates to 10 per cent, he was approached by directors of a bank that was lobbying for the bill. They invited him to join them on the bank board at perhaps $1,000 expenses a month. Dunn said he kicked them out of his Roundhouse office, saying, “I don’t take bribes.”

I wrote up Dunn’s arguments against the Richardson amendments and freelanced them. But the memoir part was more interesting — or would be, if an enterprising fulltime journalist ever pursued it. Dunn was always a straight shooter. I trusted him. But he also was discrete, probably because he understood the press and how in the business of sausage making, talking out of school can get a lot of good bills killed.

The “old apple picker,” as he used to be known because he had an orchard in Cloucroft, ended his long letter in character. He urged the news media to watch the money. “All big contributions wind up somewhere with people looking for favors from government or some voice to be heard. Sometimes it’s good and many times it’s bad. Our problem as a nation, and especially in New Mexico, is big companies, big unions and big government. And misinformed voters mean a hard time for us in the future.”

If this sounds half Democrat and half Republican, so is Dunn, in a way. In 1994, fed up with the party of Bill Clinton even before the Monica scandal, Dunn changed his lifelong registration from Democrat to “decline to state.”