Last week I offered up some post-election tidbits based on the results of the June 5 primary elections, but I saved this one for a column of its own. Put into context, it’s much bigger than a tidbit.
Two primary elections resulted in the defeat of two Vigils from the Valley. Richard Vigil, a state representative since 1999, was beaten by Tomás Salazar, who received 56 percent of the vote. Rep. Vigil will serve out his term and Salazar is poised to take his place in January 2013.
Meanwhile, Viola Vigil garnered only 19 percent of the vote for county treasurer. She’s married to Richard Vigil’s brother Robert, the one who rose so high and fell so far over the course of 16 years in politics.
But Robert Vigil’s high-profile downfall was only one of many scandals and controversies that have enveloped the Vigil family, dating back to when the family patriarch, Antonio “Posole” Vigil, was first elected to the San Miguel County Commission.
The following is gleaned from three main sources: an Albuquerque Journal story published in 2006 and written by Martín Salazar, who is now the Optic’s managing editor; Optic news accounts; and attorney Jesus Lopez, who once defended Antonio Vigil and his son Luis but has since fallen out with the family.
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The Vigils have been elected into several offices through the years, beginning in 1976, when Antonio Vigil was elected county commissioner. Antonio Vigil had 17 children, and several followed his lead into politics, with varying degrees of success. And pretty much all of them became embroiled, at one time or another, in controversies and scandals along the way.
After four years on the County Commission, while serving as chair in 1980, a grand jury sought to remove Antonio Vigil and his fellow commissioners from office. For his part, Vigil had allegedly been using a county-issued credit card to gas up his school buses. Lopez, his attorney at the time, says he convinced then-District Judge Joe Angel to sit on the indictments since the commissioners had only six months left in office, and eventually the case was rendered moot.
During that same period of time, Antonio Vigil’s son Luis was elected magistrate judge, and in 1980 he was indicted for allegedly soliciting a bribe.
Also, in 1981, he was accused of stealing four tires from a service station in Santa Fe. The getaway car spotted was registered to Luis Vigil, but he claimed he had loaned his car to someone but wouldn’t say who. According to Salazar’s Journal story, which attributed this information to an arrest warrant affidavit, Luis Vigil offered to pay for any damages and at one point told the investigating officer, “Let’s make a deal.”
He was arrested later that day, and in February 1981, about three months before his bribery trial, in which he was acquitted, he resigned as magistrate judge. Seven years later, he died, reportedly of a heart attack, at age 44.
Then came Robert Vigil’s rise to power. In 1990 he was elected state auditor. He served two four-year terms in that position then ran for governor. He lost that race in 1998, then got a job as deputy state treasurer under Michael Montoya. In 2002, Robert Vigil was elected state treasurer.
While in office he was caught on tape accepting thousands in cash from an investment adviser, which led to a conviction and a couple of years in jail.
Meanwhile, his brother, Richard Vigil, continued to serve in the state House, getting elected every two years despite a few troubles of his own. In 2006, the Optic published a story about an invitation-only, adults-only party thrown with West Las Vegas School District bilingual program money. Richard’s wife Roberta, the bilingual program coordinator at the time, was in the thick of the scandal. A state investigation led to indictments over the alleged misuse of school funds. Roberta Vigil was eventually convicted of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, ordered to pay restitution and sentenced to three years probation.
Oh, and during the uncovering of the infamous “bilingual bash,” another Vigil brother, Michael, was serving as chairman of the West Las Vegas school board. He’s the one who filed an ethics complaint against Jesus Lopez, the school district’s attorney at the time. Michael Vigil said Lopez shouldn’t have criticized his brother and sister-in-law without first clearing it with the school board. Lopez, as the district’s attorney, implicated Richard Vigil in the scandal, saying he brought money home from the legislature for his wife.
Lopez was vindicated of the misconduct charge by the state Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board. But none of the accusations against Richard Vigil ever stuck either — he was never indicted for anything, and he continued to win re-election to office.
Until, that is, June 5 of this year, when Tomás Salazar beat him.
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With most of these Vigils, I’ve only met them in passing. I know Richard Vigil a little better, having interviewed and spoken with him professionally a number of times over the years. He’s a likeable man, and I’m certain that’s a big reason why he kept getting re-elected to the House. But there must be other reasons as well, since voters have for years been re-electing him to office.
Those other reasons aside, when I called him for a comment or two for this column, that likability factor came right out:
“It’s just like my father used to say: Today is today and tomorrow is another day,” he said. “I want to thank the people for allowing me to serve them for 14 years in the legislature. It’s been an honor.”
So, I asked, is this the end of the Vigils in politics? Not necessarily, he responded.
“We might be out there again. It depends on the weather and what the years will bring. ... We love to serve.”
He added that he holds no bitterness against Tomás Salazar or the people for voting him in. “No bitterness at all,” he said.
And finally, responding to a more pointed question about the controversies and scandals that have surrounded his family, he said this: “We’ve always respected every office we’ve served in.”
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.