Peña and Martinez are friends with Gil Coronado, an appointee to the board, who apparently is uncertain about facing Rice for an elected seat — or even for lunch.

No, really, Coronado wants to protect the aquifer — the EAA board's mission — but well, money might get in the way. "Coronado opposes the PGA," Peña said, according to Rice. "But because of politics, he can't take a stand on it. But he intends to represent your interests."

Yet Peña allegedly threatened that if Rice insists on opposing Coronado, "he'll have to raise money from people who don't care about the aquifer. And if he takes the money, then he'll have to bend."

Bend? Should we take this to mean Coronado will protect his campaign contributors' interests over the quality and quantity of our drinking water?

"Since you're a technical expert, you can be on the outside, getting jobs," Peña said, trying to massage the situation, "and Gil can be on the inside."

"If Gil is on my side and doesn't want to take money," Rice replied, "then he should drop out and support me."

In a dizzying effort at spin control, Coronado has since denied that he sent Peña to do the dirty work. "I gathered from Nick that he was going to set up a LULAC forum between Rice and me."

But according to Rice, Peña never mentioned that was the purpose of the meeting, which Peña insisted be face-to-face and not over the phone. "LULAC never crossed his `Peña's` lips," Rice said.

Peña denied mentioning anything to Rice about Coronado losing his spine to campaign donors, but said he got distracted and never got around to talking about LULAC.

With egg on their faces, Peña and Coronado have shifted the blame to EAA Board member Carol Patterson: "Nick called a board member, and I'm not going to name her, but she's a very close personal friend and supporter of Rice," Coronado told the Current. "She said to Nick, 'I've had an opportunity to work with Gil and please ask George to consider dropping out of the race."

Peña, who is friendly with Patterson, said he called her to get Rice's phone number, which is listed in the phone book. "She said, 'You ought to talk to him and see if he can reconsider," he claimed.

Patterson, who voted for Rice when he was up for the board appointment earlier this year — the seat that went to Coronado — acknowledged that Peña called her, but emphatically denied giving him those instructions. "I had already said that as a board member I would stay out of the race, and not participate in the fray. Nick Peña called me to find out if I was true to my word; he wanted to know where I was. I said George is a quality human being and that both George and Gil seemed to bring different strengths to the board. I did not tell anybody to go ask George to drop out of the race. I would never suggest to him not to run."

"Why make Gil go out and spend money? They're the same person," Peña asked, after mentioning that, "we live in a democracy."

But in a democracy, then shouldn't voters have a choice between candidates? Moreover, they're not the same person: Rice is a hydrologist and Coronado a government bureaucrat and perennial politician.

Coronado hasn't dropped out, nor has he returned the campaign contributions from Earl & Brown, lobbyists for the development community ($3,000), but he emphasized that, "I would never sell my vote."


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