Politics in La Rioja are experiencing troubled times that affect the two main institutions of the community: the Parliament and the Autonomous Government. All the hubbub revolves around Raquel Romero, at the time Minister of Equality, expelled from Podemos, removed from the Mixed Group and disapproved by the Chamber. “She is a textbook turncoat,” the PP and Ciudadanos agree. The Executive chaired by the socialist Concha Andreu, whose continuity depends largely on Romero’s loyalty, denies the majority. She does not consider her a fractious and neither does she see the stability of a government that in 2019 ended 24 years of popular hegemony in La Rioja. Raquel Romero does not want to talk, she endures the downpour, she refuses to resign and guarantees that she will scrupulously comply with what was agreed to govern with the PSOE.
The entire legislature, even before it started in the summer of 2019, has been marked by convulsive episodes, but now the climate of political tension has risen several degrees. Last April, Podemos communicated to Raquel Romero, a 39-year-old journalist, her expulsion from her party for not paying “from the first day” the quotas that she has established for her public office. In a cascade, this decision precipitated the agreement of the Parliament’s Bureau to declare the non-attached deputy and leave her out of the Mixed Group. Days later, the plenary session of the Legislature condemned Councilor Romero’s actions for “her lack of commitment to exemplary behavior and public ethics.” Nothing like it had ever been experienced in this community before.
The right presents a catastrophic picture; the left sends messages of normality. The parliamentary spokesman for the PP, Jesús Ángel Garrido, told this newspaper that the cabinet led by Andreu “is based on a textbook turncoat” and criticizes the “Numancia defense” of a minister whose reputation, he says, “is nil.” Pablo Baena, his counterpart from Ciudadanos, is radical: “It is imperative that the president dismiss Romero if she does not want to embarrass the people of La Rioja. Every day that she remains in office [de consejera]the institution is further devalued”.
Andreu’s entourage defends the continuity of Romero as a counselor: “We do not enter into the internal dynamics of the parties”, affirms a spokesman for the Socialist Executive in reference to the expulsion of Romero from Podemos, “and the stability of the Government is guaranteed” . The regional president recently defended in a plenary session of Parliament that Romero is “an elected regional deputy who, to date, has not changed her voting discipline of the political project in which she was integrated.” And she wanted to emphasize that her team is “decent and exemplary.”
The vote that breaks the tie
Romero has refused to attend this newspaper. He is part of an Executive that has the support of 16 representatives in the Chamber (15 from the PSOE and her), the same as the PP (12 seats) and Ciudadanos (four). The vote that breaks the tie in favor of the Government is that of parliamentarian Henar Moreno, from the United Left (IU), who was number two on the Podemos list headed by Romero, although he broke with it just after the elections and after colliding frontally for the excessive demands that this imposed to vote for Andreu in his investiture. Romero denied her support in the first vote because she was asking for the impossible, managing three ministries. A month later, she accepted a single portfolio (Equality, Participation and Agenda 2030) with a budget of 12.5 million euros (0.8% of Rioja accounts).
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Moreno, from IU, has respected from the opposition the governability agreement that he signed with the government team, although he decided not to enter it, and has established himself as “the support of the Government from the outside”, he affirms. “The counselor’s performance has been unfortunate for all these years,” she says, although she is not in favor of her dismissal. She was precisely the one who, at the indication of Podemos, urged Parliament to remove deputy Romero from the Mixed Group, which opened the political debate around the consideration of the counselor as a “turncoat”, a term that the two right-wing parties.
The Parliament of La Rioja, with the favorable vote of all the parties, adhered at the end of 2020 to the Anti-Transfuguismo Pact, which considers as defectors “those representatives who, betraying the political subject that presented them to the elections, have abandoned it, have been expelled or deviate from the established criteria. In February 2021, before Podemos kicked Romero and five other members of his team out of the party, the Andreu Executive showed in a parliamentary response its “absolute rejection of political turncoating as a practice of political corruption.”
A member of Romero’s team assures that the counselor “works closely with Concha [Andreu] and with loyalty to the Government from minute one”. He believes that they have been expelled due to “a political reprimand from Podemos for having political positions different from those of the leadership” of the purple formation. “No one understands why the Government of La Rioja has to weaken because three people from Madrid [de Podemos] do not control it,” he adds. Casamayor also criticizes that IU has “refused more than four times to enter the regional government” and stands as “the spearhead of Podemos in La Rioja.” This spokesman for the ministry warns that from now on they will “continue working on the coordinates that are useful for the Yolanda Díaz brand. It is no longer the time for Irene Montero, nor for Rafa Mayoral, nor for Monedero or Pablo Iglesias. It’s time for Yolanda Díaz and us [dice en nombre de la consejera Romero] We are going to follow the guidelines of the new left-wing platform led by Díaz.”
Ramón Luque, a close collaborator of the minister and second vice president of the Government, denies that she even knows Raquel Romero: “Yolanda Díaz has no reference in La Rioja. She has not yet started the listening process in that territory. we only know that [Romero] She has had problems with Podemos, but we have no relationship with her”.
Arantxa Carrero, coordinator of Podemos La Rioja, believes that Romero’s “excuse” “is not credible.” “She has not been expelled from Podemos because of her support for the front led by Díaz, but for breaching the internal code of ethics related to salary limits and the donation of excess salaries,” she clarifies. Councilor Romero receives 81,000 euros a year, of which she should have given “between 20% and 50%”, according to a party official. However, this fact, Carrero maintains, “does not alter our support for the stability of the government pact through the IU representative.” “Romero’s future is only in the hands of President Andreu,” she added.
The PP believes that the time has come for Andreu to “correct the course of his government”, which he criticizes as “accumulating total disrepute”. Garrido recalls that President Andreu has changed six of the eight councilors and, in total, 93% of the senior positions that began the legislature. “He only has one option left: remove Romero from the government,” he says.
Baena, from Ciudadanos, draws attention to “the more than 33 million euros that it has cost La Rioja to keep the counselor in office. A deputy expelled from her party, a turncoat rejected by Parliament, does not deserve to continue in politics for another minute. And Andreu is the only one with the power to put an end to this situation”.
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