It’s difficult to lay all the blame on Jerome Block Jr. for his recent behavior at the Public Regulation Commission. After all, the dude had almost 99,250 voting enablers.
As a former SFR staff writer, I exposed the first cracks in Block’s story back in 2008. Now—three years later and 800 miles away—I suppose it’s easy for me to be harsh. But come on, New Mexico. You really didn’t see this coming?
Covering Block for the Reporter, I was in constant awe. It wasn’t just that there was something wrong with him—there was nothing right.
With the sole qualification that he shared the name of his father, who also served as a Public Regulation Commissioner, Block squeezed out of the Democratic primary with less than 23 percent of the vote. Then his biography began to fall apart. We caught him lying about previous criminal charges, including allegations that he’d drunkenly peed on police property. Court records revealed a pattern of dodged hearings and child-support meetings. Even his education claims were seriously misleading [news, June 25, 2008: “Failure to Appear”].
As a candidate, he claimed endorsements he never had. He ditched an important public forum to address a conference of telecommunications providers. Then, in a scheme involving a San Miguel County elections official, Block made a few thousand dollars disappear from the public campaign money provided to him by the state. He was fined for it [news, Aug. 20, 2008: “Audit Right There”]. Just as Attorney General Gary King initiated a criminal investigation, Block reported a robbery at his house in which, conveniently, his campaign records were stolen.
Voters elected him anyway. Block and his father now face a slew of felony charges, including embezzlement and tampering with evidence.
This summer, Block’s life began to unravel again with another series of absurd, but completely plausible, allegations of malfeasance. Of them, the most disgusting is evidence indicating Block may have improperly charged thousands of dollars to government credit cards.
In 2008, a handful of Democrats—Santa Fe’s Charlotte Roybal, Bernie Logue Y Perea and Leslie Lakind—predicted this would happen. They openly campaigned for Green Party candidate Rick Lass, a government reform activist, but, between Block’s name, Barack Obama’s momentum and the option to check a box to vote a straight party ticket, Block cruised to victory.
Meanwhile, those with the most sway kept quiet. Gov. Bill Richardson conceded that Block had “trust issues,” but declined to endorse either candidate. Ben Ray Luján, then a Congressional candidate whose seat on the PRC Block would inherit, also declined to endorse. Democratic scenesters, who have long moved on, now say they kept waiting for the trickle of bad news to stop, but by the time the drips added up to a lake of problems, it was too late to act. The issue was toxic. There was also a patch of Block loyalists in Española who no one wanted to alienate, plus the Democratic Party rules that forbade its leadership from supporting outside candidates.
I still wonder:
What if Luján—who had political capital to burn—had called for Block to drop out? What if he’d said, “We would be betraying our citizens if we stood by and let this guy near public money,” and led the charge?
The Block saga’s impact on 2012 will depend largely on whether the Legislature impeaches Block and how far the criminal case will have progressed by election season. My guess is Block will fade into a joke that insiders toss around as proof of how much crap a politician can get away with before it catches up with him.
Here’s what I predict: Somewhere in New Mexico, right now, a new candidate is emerging who is as bad as Block or worse. The question is whether, this time, his party will publicly call him out. If it doesn’t, the party can’t say no one saw it coming.
Dave Maass covered the 2008 election for the Santa Fe Reporter. He is now a staff writer for San Diego CityBeat.