Friday, August 16, 2013

Political Narrative For Martinez Underwent Abrupt Change This Week; Veteran Journalist Strikes Back Against Administration Secrecy In "Open Letter" To Gov And NM Congressional Dems Go Rebel; Behavioral Health Mess At Center 

Reporter Jennings
The state political narrative, usually so tightly controlled by the Martinez administration, jumped the track on them this week with two developments--the Dem congressional delegation poking its nose in the behavioral health controversy that has the Guv on the run and a leading state journalist unloading both guns on the administration for stonewalling over that same controversy.

Most of the press has been very favorable toward Martinez, but the penchant for secrecy in Santa Fe is now costing her. The AP is still waiting on records requests and other news groups report difficulty getting requests answered.

The issue is especially touch for Martinez because when she took office she promised to take "transparency" to a new level.

Now comes Trip Jennings. He's a former longtime reporter for the ABQ Journal who also has worked for the Augusta Chronicle and Santa Fe New Mexican. Today he writes for the Kellogg Foundation funded New Mexico In Depth. He has come with a lengthy "open letter to Gov. Martinez" that has set newshounds across the state back on their heels.

The letter focuses on the behavioral health crisis and the administration's refusal to answer reporters questions about the still secret audit that led to the suspension of 15 firms providing services for the developmentally disabled. Arizona firms are being brought in to replace the NM providers. Here's excerpts from the blistering letter Jennings penned to Martinez:

...Tell officials in your administration to start answering the media’s questions. Tell them to turn over requested public documents and not to deflect tough questions with non-responsive talking points...

The public still doesn’t understand how your Human Services Department came to decide to suspend payments against all 15 organizations. Nor does your anti-fraud narrative explain how the state found “credible allegations of fraud” against each of the organizations that were audited.

So far, all the media has heard from your administration is “trust us” about what the audit says and doesn’t say....Between you and me, Madame Governor, journalists don’t do “trust us” really well, especially when it comes from people in power,

When documents aren’t turned over and agency spokespeople stop answering questions, any reporter worth his or her salt begins to suspect that there is a reason nothing is being said, and it’s because either officials are incomprehensibly incompetent or they are hiding something.

Do people in your administration think I’ll go away because they don’t answer my questions? I once made Gov. Bill Richardson’s press people so angry that one spokesman yelled at me in the governor’s office. Seems I had driven the press office crazy because I had followed Richardson to as many public events as I could over several weeks to ask the same question over and over again, which his press office eventually answered....

And remember this: Those of us in the media who are old enough to have covered our share of complicated stories and juicy scandals notice the silence in all those words that add up to so few answers...suddenly, those things you aren’t saying become as significant...as what you are saying...

The Governor's response to critical coverage has often been to unleash her political operatives on social media to defame them. So far, the targets include this blogger, the Santa Fe Reporter, Milan Simonich of the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership and now Jennings.

This is getting to be quite the list. Some might say it's Nixonian in nature.

As for Jennings, his Martinez-backing detractors call him a "leftist" funded by the "leftist" Kellogg Foundation and claim he is involved in "pretend" journalism. Former Las Cruces Sun-News reporter Heath Haussamen is a full-time employee of NM In Depth who works under Jennings. One supposes he is also now a "pretend" journalist, according to the Jennings critics.

When they look back at the history of this era, there are going to be journalists and news organizations who were on the right side and did their jobs and those on the wrong side who looked the other way or succumbed to intimidation. It's not hard to figure out which category Mr. Jennings is going to fall into...


Jennings' reference to following Governor Big Bill on his public trail to make him answer a question he refused to is Old School journalism. Back in the 70's we did the same with our radio microphone. One of the more perplexing developments in modern journalism goes something like this.

Anchor: Governor Martinez today refused to answer questions about the latest child well-being rankings in the state. Her spokesman said she was unavailable for comment.

Fast forward a couple of days later:

Anchor: Governor Martinez today gave reading lessons to third graders at Comanche Elementary School. She talked with us about how this benefits the youngsters....

So what happened to the comment on child-well being? You had her in your camera lens. Or in front of your notebook. In Old School world we would ask her for a direct comment on the subject she previously refused to answer--in this example--child well-being rankings.

But what happens in New School? Well...nothing. The politico--whether a Dem or an R--gets a pass. The reporter doesn't get his or her hair ruffled and the producers, news directors and editors avoid dealing with an irate gubernatorial enforcer haranguing them for asking such "out of line" questions....

Again, when this is all over there's going to be some owning up to do and it's not going to be the Old School students getting the failing grade.


When I heard of the sudden death of 60 year old State Rep.Stephen Easley I could not help but think that the behavioral health crisis that he had been so avidly working on may have played a part in his demise. Just weeks earlier, Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, also deeply involved in the matter, suffered a burst blood vessel while conducting a legislative inquiry.

Easley is said to have died from a prolonged infection. Memorials appear on his Facebook page.

Easley, a Democrat, was just elected in 2012 to take the seat held by retiring Rep. Rhonda King.

He was an avid blog reader (thanks, Stephen) and these past few weeks he called several times to talk about the behavioral health issue and how complicated it was and how concerned he was that New Mexicans in need were getting proper care. He died with the welfare of others on his mind, truly a testament to his character.

Before he moved north to represent the House district covering parts of Santa Fe, Valencia and Torrance counties, Easley was an Alamogordo county commissioner. From Alamogordo, Steve Brockett, a former mayor of that city, writes:

 I first met him during Bill Richardson's 2002 gubernatorial campaign, and we immediately hit it off. While we didn't agree on every issue, he would be the first to tell you how important it was to build bridges, not buttresses. His death was devastating to me personally. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Doc loved nothing better than mentoring others, regardless of age, and he always had time to speak with anybody who loved the political game.

If he could communicate with each of his friends today, he would tell all of us that there will always be a good fight, and that not every fight could be won. He would tell you that he always considered himself a warrior in those good fights, yet he expected to get his nose bloodied from time to time... I believe we Democrats can best honor Stephen's memory by picking up the mantle of progressive ideas he advocated, and continue that good fight. I love ya Doc, and I'm damn sure gonna miss you!


On the Air with GOP Sen. Ryan
A Republican reader in Texas writes of this line on the Thursday blog: 

Any one of them (the Dem members of the NM congressional delegation) could terminate Martinez in a statewide race--it wouldn't even be close.

Joe, I think you crossed the line when you used the word "terminate" to describe the outcome of a political race..."

Well, we clearly meant it in in a political context, but on a second look it seems to be a poor way of phrasing the matter. We changed it.

As for any Dem member of the congressional delegation being able to defeat Martinez in 2014. Yes, they could. This is a very blue state as witnessed by Obama's crushing victories here, no formal opposition yet to Senator Udall's re-election bid and the same for ABQ Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham.

We went too far when we said  "it wouldn't even be close." It probably would be close and northern Congressman Ben Ray Lujan would have the toughest time. But "could" a Dem congressional member do it? 

Yes, each of them would start a campaign with high approval ratings and they don't have the baggage Dems down here on the ground do. And they start with statewide name ID. One misstep by Martinez or a bundle of legal problems that could surface could make such a race wide open.

So here's the deal. Senator Heinrich runs against Martinez and becomes Governor. He then resigns as Governor and has his lieutenant governor appoint him to his own vacant Senate seat. Heinrich's Lt. Governor becomes Governor. How's that for summer fun...?

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