- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Unpaid tax bills, a barking dog, and even “Breaking Bad” references have made their way into a usually sleepy race for state auditor.

And the winner will have to look out for corruption in New Mexico and monitor the financial affairs of hundreds of government agencies.

State Sen. Tim Keller is going head-to-head against Republican lawyer Robert Aragon to replace State Auditor Hector Balderas, who can’t seek re-election because of term limits and is running for attorney general.

The Harvard Business School-educated Keller, currently the Senate majority whip, is promising to uncover an estimated $900 million of unspent public money and redirect it to state programs. The 36-year-old Albuquerque resident also has vowed to “shine the light” on billions of dollars lost in various tax breaks.

In his first TV ad that went viral on social media, Keller spoke in front of an Albuquerque car wash used in the AMC-TV series “Breaking Bad” and said sometimes New Mexico politics gets dirty. An image of Aragon is then shown in front of the show’s trademark yellow cloud of methamphetamine with allegations that Aragon failed to pay his taxes and was sued by four former clients.

A voiceover calls Keller “the clean choice.”

Aragon, a former Democrat and state lawmaker, denounced the ad and said the lawsuits mentioned were dismissed. Aragon also said he has paid all the tax liens against him.

“Mr. Keller claims to be concerned about transparency, but his claims about me are dishonest,” said Aragon, who is part of a storied New Mexico political family. His father, Bennie Aragon, served in the state House and he is the cousin of former Democratic New Mexico Senate leader Manny Aragon, who was convicted in a kickback scheme in 2008.

In a radio campaign spot with a dog barking in the background, Aragon promised to be the voters’ “pit bull” in looking out for corruption and fraud. The ad said the Albuquerque attorney would “put the people of New Mexico first, not a political party.”

Aragon, 57, drew scrutiny from some Democrats when in 2010 he announced his support for then-GOP gubernatorial nominee, Susana Martinez. Aragon was still a Democrat at the time. Martinez won the governor’s post.

As state auditor, Aragon said the state was locked in a “culture of corruption” and promised to examine various state settlements. He was especially critical of a recent settlement between former Albuquerque Superintendent Winston Brooks and the school district.

According to campaign finance reports earlier this month, Keller had a 16-to-1 edge in campaign cash over Aragon. Keller reported a balance of $151,781, while Aragon had $9,477.


Follow Russell Contreras at https://twitter.com/russcontreras.



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