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By The Santa Fe New Mexican
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Opinion: In gov's world, no disclosure is full disclosure

 

Last updated 10/15/2022 at 12:41pm



At last I’ve seen a political debate where a candidate who swerved to be elusive instead revealed herself with double talk. The dishonor belongs to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Her least favorite topic is the opaque $150,000 settlement she made with a former aide who accused her of sexual harassment.

“We provided absolute disclosure about this issue and provided that information directly to individuals,” Lujan Grisham said during her debate Wednesday night with Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti. That was a mouthful of deception. Lujan Grisham’s settlement with the former aide, James Hallinan, is the antithesis of “absolute disclosure.” It contains a nondisclosure requirement. Hallinan received money from Lujan Grisham’s campaign account contingent on his silence. He is contractually barred from speaking about his complaint or the settlement.

It’s a tawdry case. Hallinan accused Lujan Grisham of pouring water on his crotch during a staff meeting while she was a candidate for governor and he was her spokesman. Hallinan said Lujan Grisham then grabbed his crotch through his clothes and made a disparaging remark about his manliness. Lujan Grisham says Hallinan’s account is false. Her handlers say she paid him what amounts to a nuisance settlement to save money on potential litigation expenses. The governor also said the settlement meant her attention would not be diverted from important issues, such as blunting the coronavirus pandemic.

But if Hallinan lied about what happened, why pay him anything? Presumably there were witnesses, all friendly to the governor, who could demolish any falsehoods. Beyond that, a settlement might induce what defense lawyers call a shark effect — more frivolous lawsuits.

There are other problems with the statement Lujan Grisham made. She said her camp provided information about her troubles with Hallinan “directly to individuals.” Who are these people? And why would the governor, also bound by the nondisclosure agreement, discuss the case with certain, privileged individuals?

If Lujan Grisham’s handlers believe my column shows an affinity for Hallinan, they’re as wrong as can be.

Hallinan and I have never gotten along. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I’ve warred with him. Most of my dealings with Hallinan occurred when he was the spokesman for Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Hallinan once distributed a tease to the media, saying Balderas would soon announce an important development in a high-profile criminal case. The New Mexican did not wait for any news release from Hallinan and Balderas. It tracked down the relevant information from a county sheriff and ran the story.

Hallinan phoned me to complain about using a source he considered less deserving of publicity than his own boss. I told him newspapers are supposed to break stories, not wait for handouts from politicians. The ugly confrontation cemented antipathy between us.

I had less direct communication with Hallinan after that. He and Balderas once arranged a meeting with my then-editor to complain about my columns criticizing the attorney general.

Lujan Grisham hired Hallinan during her first campaign for governor. My reaction, and that of many others in the news business, was Lujan Grisham chose poorly.

With a weak opponent in Amarillo Steve Pearce, Lujan Grisham had an easy run in the 2018 election. Whatever happened between Lujan Grisham and Hallinan didn’t surface until well after she’d won election as governor.

Lujan Grisham’s campaign against Ronchetti has been rougher. Hallinan’s complaint against the governor and her financial settlement with him are two big reasons.

If Lujan Grisham is sincere about providing “full disclosure” of her settlement with Hallinan, no one is stopping her.

— Milan Simonich

Santa Fe New Mexican

 
 

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