I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Allen Weh: Governor must be ‘role model for integrity’
LAS CRUCES — Potential 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Weh says his campaign centers on a “common sense” approach to growing the economy and rooting out public corruption.
“It ain’t a Republican thing. It ain’t a Democrat thing. It’s common sense,” Weh, who is traveling the state this month to talk with business leaders about the economy, said Thursday during an interview in Las Cruces.
Weh, a businessman and former chairman of the state GOP, said he views the job of governor as being primarily about administration of the executive branch. Government should be led by people who care about providing good customer service, are transparent and have the ability to discern and act on what’s practical, he said.
“The chief executive has to be the role model for integrity,” Weh said.
Traveling around New Mexico, Weh said, he’s found that people are frustrated and angry with state government, which is dogged by scandals related to allegations of pay-to-play and marked by convictions of high-ranking Democratic officials on corruption charges.
He said state government has become about the enrichment of politicians and their friends and associates. In that context, he mentioned what’s often called “double dipping” — a policy that allows state retirees to return to work for the state and continue to earn retirement while also drawing a salary — as a policy that needs to end.
Weh said his personal experience has shown him a better option. As a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, he had to give up his retirement benefits when he was called to return to active duty in 2003, but when he retired for a second time, the benefits started up again.
The incentive in the military system is that an employee extends his years of service and increases his or her retirement benefits by returning to work.
In speaking about restoring integrity to government, Weh also said he believes many so-called “exempt” employees at the state level have jobs only because they gave to Gov. Bill Richardson’s campaigns. That has to end, he said.
‘The waiting game’
It’s too early to predict whether Weh’s candidacy will gain traction, said New Mexico pollster and analyst Brian Sanderoff. GOP heavyweights Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson, former members of the U.S. House, are both considering entering the race. Until they decide whether they’re running, the chances for less-known Weh, who has formed an exploratory committee, and others aren’t clear.
Two other Republicans have taken steps to run for governor. Albuquerque financial adviser and Army National Guard brigadier general Greg Zanetti has formally announced his candidacy, and state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones of Albuquerque said Thursday that she’s forming an exploratory committee.
“Weh and Zanetti would have as good a chance as anyone of winning a primary if Wilson and Pearce don’t get in,” Sanderoff said in an interview before Arnold-Jones’ announcement. “If they do get in, that’s a different story. So the big story here is the waiting game.”
Pearce has said he’ll make an announcement on his plans by the end of the month. Wilson has given no time line for a decision.
The only declared Democratic candidate is Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez says he’s formed an exploratory committee as he considers challenging Denish for the nomination.
More than a party operative
Instead of talking about his potential primary opponents, Weh said he wants to talk about himself.
Weh said he is known primarily for his service as the former chairman of the state GOP, for which he earned a reputation as a strong fundraiser, but he’s more than a party operative.
He’s 66, left home at 17 to enlist in the Marines and entered college at the University of New Mexico when he was 20. After three years, he earned a bachelor’s degree in education, and he later completed a master’s degree in counseling.
Weh did two tours of duty in Vietnam and has also served in Malaysia, Somalia and Iraq. He’s married and has three children and four grandchildren.
He’s the chief executive officer of CSI Aviation Services, a company he founded in 1979 that currently employs 25 people. Weh said he didn’t earn a paycheck during the business’s first three years while he worked at covering his payroll expenses. He was already married and had his children at the time.
“These are the lessons you apply to government,” Weh said. “You cannot spend more money than you have in your bank account. You cannot go into debt when you have three kids.”
An opportunity for change
Weh said he insists on good service and honesty in his business. Many state agencies, by contrast, have an “indifference to customer service” and impose “irrational regulations” on businesses, he said.
One example Weh cited: The process for a business to apply for a liquor license currently takes 6-12 months in New Mexico. While on his trip around the state, he spoke with someone whose restaurant failed because that process didn’t move more quickly.
Weh said he doesn’t understand why the process takes more than 30 days and wants to reform the system to speed it up.
He said he would start to change state government’s focus by recruiting people with integrity who work in the private sector for top jobs in his administration.
Many who work in the private sector don’t want government jobs, Weh said, but he plans to convince them “to help us change things” by selling it as their patriotic duty. Putting together such a team, Weh said, will help him reform state government.
“There’s an opportunity,” Weh said. “I can’t do it alone.”