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Monday, December 21, 2015

The Masquerade Is Over: Carefully Crafted Image Of Martinez Collapses Amid Holiday Party Debacle; A Governorship Redefined; Fallout Across The Board; Complete Analysis, Context And Commentary, Plus: Fed Grand Jury Probe Appears To Eye Possible Illegal License Plate Checks By Martinez Campaign 

The New Mexican governorship was irrevocably redefined for the final three years of Governor Susana Martinez's second term as a cheerful holiday staff party she threw at Santa Fe's elegant Eldorado Hotel descended into a political nightmare of the highest order.

The 911 audio tapes revealing the dark side of her personality (we would argue her dominant side) which has been concealed from most of the public for five long years--set off an astonishing wave of condemnation on social media. It was so expansive that a television news reporter covering the story confessed that as hard as he looked, he could not find any supportive comments for the freshly embattled chief executive.

The damaging story also exploded nationally, appearing to put an end to any national ambitions the 56 year old two term governor may harbor.

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

The Governor started her evening at a staff holiday party for several hundred in a ballroom at the Eldorado and at 1 a.m. headed to a staffer's private room to continue the party.

The low point for Martinez (and this governorship) came when she was repeatedly asked in media interviews whether she was drunk when she interfered with a noise complaint call to police that centered on the room she was partying in with members of her staff and family. The humiliation was palpable as was the chaos the event rained down on the administration.

In one interview her spokesperson is quoted as saying she had "about one cocktail" and in another interview she had "one and half cocktails." She says it was snowballs that were being thrown from the fourth floor of the hotel room where she partied but the complaint relayed by the desk clerk and clearly heard on the 911 tapes is that "bottles" were being thrown. Her sometimes slurred speech on the tapes belied her contention that alcohol had nothing to do with her bullying and coercive behavior toward the police dispatchers as she tried in vain to cancel the police call to her room.

In a memorable portion of the tapes Martinez says her group was not making any noise and was simply eating "pizza." She stretched the word so much it sounded something like "Peetzaah." That was not normal governor speak and became the object of widespread ridicule with brutal commentary on Facebook and elsewhere calling her a drunk and worse.

Then there was that tongue-tied response on the tapes to the complaint that bottles had been thrown off the balcony of the Eldorado party room. Martinez said:

I’m sorry. There’s no one on the balcony and there’s no one throwing bottles off the balcony. “And if there were, it was about six hours ago.

Say what, Guv? Bottles were indeed thrown? The cops said they found no evidence of any bottles being thrown but hotel staff could have cleaned up any mess before the cops checked it out.

THE WORST PART

Worst of all for Martinez was her reminder on the tapes to police officials that she is "the sitting governor of New Mexico" and her repeated insistence that she be given the name of the person who complained about noise coming from the partying room. Police dispatchers and the Eldorado desk clerk held their ground in the several minute exchange, refusing to violate protocol.

That the Governor put herself above the common person in demanding how she be dealt with by law enforcement is what ignites the rage of everyday people who struggle to pay the bills while their elected leaders seem ever more distant from their reality. With those words it was as if she had taken a spear and stabbed her own political heart.

Therein also lies the deconstruction of the Martinez political personality so carefully crafted by her controversial political strategist Jay McCleksey who is the subject of a federal criminal investigation for his handling of Martinez's campaign money.

Rather than the compassionate but tough middle-aged lady who relishes reading to third graders and who reminds you of your favorite aunt, you have this dark, vindictive, petty personality seeking out whoever dared challenge her authority with the clear implication that they will suffer retaliation.

That's the real Susana Martinez that has been revealed through the years in the pages of the National Journal, Mother Jones Magazine and NM Politics with Joe Monahan but one that the public and other media chose mostly to ignore.

Her political machine has mercilessly thrashed her foes--including numerous fellow Republicans--with a Nixonian fervor that the state has rarely seen. That ugly fervor is hidden no more, captured on audio tapes that ripped away a five year facade in five minutes.

HEARD ON THE STREET

Folks, there's so much scandal in New Mexico right now you need an air traffic controller to track it all.

A GRAND JURY PAUSE

Let's pause here to pick up on some past Martinez vindictiveness that could possibly lead to federal grand jury indictments. . .

It's already  been confirmed that the grand jury is investigating "Shadow Governor" Jay McCleskey over his handing of millions in Martinez's campaign money. It's also confirmed that it is probing possible politically motivated tax audits by the state that includes many of Martinez's Republican rivals. Now we get confirmation that the grand jury is also looking at a charge that has appeared here many times over the years--that during her 2010 campaign and while she was still Dona Ana County District Attorney, the NCIC law enforcement database may have been illegally accessed to check on the license plates of Martinez opponents. The news:

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed a variety of . . .records relating to Gov. Martinez and two employees who worked under her at the Doña Ana County District Attorney’s Office in 2010. The Sept. 22 subpoena directed the 3rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. . . to produce the records for a federal grand jury convened in Albuquerque on Oct. 6  “in connection with a criminal investigation being conducted in this District,” according to a copy of the subpoena obtained by The New Mexican....The federal grand jury also sought information on records checks made. . . through state and federal criminal databases, including the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, or NCIC. . . Use of databases such as the NCIC is restricted to approved personnel who are gathering information for law enforcement purposes. Such personnel are trained in the proper use of the database, which they access through unique usernames and passwords.

The Governor's office immediately freaked out and said:

The Governor has not received a target letter, and she is not the target of an investigation, She has not testified before a grand jury, and has not hired a lawyer. The subpoena frankly underscores our previous statements that any investigation is based on the same old tired allegations made by opponents with an ax to grind, apparently Anissa Ford in this instance.

Hey, hold your horses Fourth Floor. The Feds have only had that info for a couple of months. That doesn't mean Martinez is off the hook because she has not yet been sent a target letter or asked to testify. Let's see how this plays out before we rule anything out.

The bottom line is the scope of this federal criminal investigation that involves Governor Martinez now appears quite wide, including three specific areas and maybe more.

The Santa Fe New Mexican has been the sole major news source in the state to catalogue the wide federal investigation. The ABQ Journal has done one story on McCleskey being investigated for his handling of funds for the governor's inauguration, but none on the shell companies that he set up and fed campaign money into nor on the latest revelation dealing with potential NCIC abuse.

The ABQ TV news departments also tilt favorably toward Martinez and have only done one story on the federal investigation. Maybe it's disinterest and not bias, but it has kept below the public radar what could develop into one of the biggest political stories here in recent history.

THE FALLOUT FOR HER

As a result of the vindictiveness and apparent drunkenness disclosed in the tapes Martinez has lost respect and moral authority. Her likability is severely damaged and that should impact her favorability ratings, further eroding her gubernatorial power and prestige.

Her foes will grow less fearful and intimidated by her political machine and will launch more aggressive attacks. The diminution of the Governor will echo in the legislative chambers as well with even Republicans being careful not to embrace too warmly their now severely dented leader.

Questions about Martinez's political future will quiet. The talk of the vice-presidency--always a chimera to most discerning analysts--is now finished. A 2018 challenge against Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich is also off the table. National Democratic power would eviscerate her.

The Republican Governors Association was warned of possible problems if they made Martinez their new chair because her right arm Jay McCleskey faces FBI scrutiny and a possible federal indictment. They chose to ignore it and now her effectiveness as a Hispanic symbol for the GOP takes a big hit.

UNDER THE BUS

Martinez said it was she, her husband Chuck Franco, her security detail and her developmentally disabled sister in the pizza party room at 1 in the morning, along with some staffers who she did not name. She also did not reveal what staffer had rented the room. She may have set herself up for more problems when she laid blame on her staff for the rowdiness. While the wheels were coming off her bus, the governor was busy throwing her unnamed staff under the bus:

I want to apologize for the conduct of my staff on the night of our holiday party. There apparently was a party in a hotel room earlier in the night that was disruptive. None of that should have happened, and I was not aware of the extent of the ruckus and the behavior until just recently.

Martinez also said she is looking into possible discipline of staffers but did not say what. That means the story stays alive while we await any disciplinary action as well as the names of those being disciplined. You wonder if some of the staff is just a wee bit upset about having to shoulder the burden that clearly lies on the shoulders of their boss--and her husband who failed to restrain her when she marched down to the front desk at the El Dorado and engaged in her fateful phone call.

The state Dem Party put the needle in:

Gov. Martinez is apologizing for her staff’s behavior? She is the person who abused her power, tried to bully police officers and berated hotel staff and 911 dispatchers. Apologizing for her staff’s behavior is a desperate attempt to shift attention away from her own reprehensible behavior.

THOSE SECOND TERMS

Veteran NM politico Bruce Donisthorpe is no fan of second terms for governors or presidents. He points out that every governor who has won a second term since it was permitted has fallen on their sword.

Republican Gary Johnson imploded over his drug legalization scheming and refusal to work with the Legislature. Bill Richardson faded in his second term over pay-to-play allegations and now Martinez follows in their path, disgraced by her own hand.

Three long years are left in this Governor's term. The news of the pizza party gone bad broke on the same day it was announced that the state's unemployment rate was the worst in the nation in November. It also came on the day that fallen Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran reported to jail to serve a 30 day sentence. And it came on the day more NM public schools received a performance grade of F than A.

Against that backdrop, Martinez partying at a posh hotel furthered the scorn shown over her imperious treatment of law enforcement.

POLL WATCH

Martinez's poll numbers have always been strong but we've argued they are a mile wide and an inch deep, built in the absence of any intense media scrutiny or a strong Democratic opposition. Both let her have her way. Many did so because of the threat of retaliation which the tapes show to one and all is a very real danger when tangling with this Governor.

The fear and intimidation is now melting away and could accelerate the '18 Governor's race as people start looking past Martinez. Lt. Governor John Sanchez could very well go the way of Diane Denish under Democrat Richardson, winning his party's gubernatorial nomination but finding it worth less than a bucket of spit as voters turn away from yet another corrupt administration and turn to the party out of power. Everyone is now waiting to see how close Sanchez stays to the Governor's skirts. Will he start to break away? Taking that risk could be his only chance. The Democratic list of possible candidates will only grow as the value of that party's nomination jumps in the wake of the 911 scandal.

DRUNK DIALING

For several years anecdotes have circulated in the political community about Martinez often giving speeches in which she slurred her words, indulging in too much booze at social events and engaging in the sport of "drunk dialing."

Former ABQ GOP State Representative Janice Arnold Jones went public with those rumors in a national media interview and again in a conversation we had with her Friday. She ran against Martinez for the GOP Guv nomination in 2010 and said Martinez has called to berate her in what Arnold-Jones considered an inebriated state. She says many other Republicans have also been drunk dialed by Martinez but have stayed quiet.

THOSE TOXIC TWINS

The hallmark of the Martinez administration has been its lack of purpose. The image of a governor whiling away her time getting high on adult beverages fits perfectly with her lack of interest in governing. Martinez's agenda was always to win the governorship, punish her political opponents and advance her national political ambitions. Two of those three goals were accomplished and the third (the national ambition) is now impossible.

The toxic combination of Martinez/McCleskey was a potent political brew. It had an impressive but ultimately damaging run on public policy, largely because it was inconsequential. For example, they won the state House and did nothing with it.

The duo, however, did gleefully inflict damage on many opponents and infused the state with drift as a social and economic decline took hold. That's because it was all about them and their narcissistic goals--not the positive power that is accumulated pursuing progress in public policy.

Their central governing tenet has been as juvenile as the Governor's holiday party where bottles were said to be flung from the balcony--that bullying could and would prevail. But now the bully has been exposed and just as in elementary school the bully will begin to fade away (even apologize) with their tail between their legs.

STANDING FIRM

These kind of stories are ready made for today's world of social media and this one went viral. One aspect that stood out to us and many others was the poise and professionalism of the Santa Fe police and the desk clerk at the Eldorado in handling a high ranking politician trying to pressure (bully) them into violating their ethics and reveal information that could not be made public at that moment. In response an account has been set up to solicit donations to reward the dispatchers and desk clerk and it's doing pretty well:

So many everyday New Mexicans have been bullied by Governor Martinez and her administration over the years, but last night that bullying of a few good folks just doing their jobs was on full display. Help us send a heartfelt Christmas Thank You to Eldorado Hotel front desk clerk Shelly Garcia and the Santa Fe emergency dispatchers for enduring what they did and for not backing down against that grinch of a Governor. We'll make the drive to Santa Fe and deliver 100% of the proceeds to them directly.

While the dispatchers and desk clerk did their jobs, you have to question the Santa Fe police department dismissing the need for a written report on the gubernatorial mishap. The fact that the interim Santa Fe police chief attended the Guv's ballroom bash does not help the department's credibility.

GUV ON VIDEO?

We're getting reports from our Alligators that there may be video of Gov. Martinez talking with police dispatchers from the front desk phone at the Eldorado. That video would add to her misery, but if there is indeed video, will it be released? The owner of the hotel is a financial backer of the Governor's.

PILING ON

Gov. Martinez has spewed much venom at her foes and predictably they reveled in her political pain. Dem Diane Denish, who Martinez defeated for the governorship in 2010, was among those piling on with this Twitter post:

Diane Denish: #partylikesusana She's drunk a lot (in a state that is) "in the basement" in unemployment, but she sold the jet!

State Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla reacted:

The governor parties like a rock star and abuses her power by repeatedly badgering a hotel clerk, 911 operator, and police commander, while New Mexico once again leads the nation in unemployment, is ranked 49th in the nation in child well-being, and is ranked as the worst managed state.

Former ABQ City Councilor Pete Dinelli who ran against Republican ABQ Mayor Richard Berry in 2013 and was bashed mightily by the Guv's political machine (Jay McCleskey engineered Berry's campaign) pounced on Martinez's misery:

Listening to the 911 calls reveals what an arrogant, vindictive bully Governor Martinez really is and how she is always on the offensive. Immediately she identifies herself as the Governor of New Mexico, demands to know who filed the complaint, and totally denies any wrongdoing by her group, saying she has been in the room for two hours. Martinez telling the cops to back off and that they were not needed was a clear abuse of power.  I was surprised that she did not blame Bill Richardson for spiking her drink! 

Blog reader Kevin Bersell quipped:

Maybe the Governor could announce an initiative to enact tougher penalties for Drunk Dialing. I'll bet she could get that through the legislature...

Former GOP BernCo County Commissioner Michael Wiener writes:

No wonder everyone is leaving New Mexico in droves! Our state is a failure. This story has abuse of power, extreme arrogance, defiance, vindictiveness and bullying! Where was her security detail and how did they let this happen? This is the most vindictive administration in New Mexico history...the only thing they've excelled at is meting out punishment to anyone who has dared to cross them. Time for her (and Jay McCleskey) to resign.

And some more anger from this reader:

The Honorable Gov was so hell bent on getting the name of whoever dared to complain about her out-of-control booze bash at the Eldorado, one wonders why. Another excuse to run illegal NCIC checks in order to harass and intimidate perceived enemies? Here's hoping the FBI hits paydirt while investigating McCleskey-Gate and turns up the heat on the Honorable Lush/Gov. Drunk-dialing from the Eldorado dropped the curtain on the gov's real but usually well-hidden stripes.

Richard Flores writes:

How will the national GOP look on this incident by the chairman of the Republican Governors Association? Moreover, this is a Governor who has openly and emphatically called upon the public to respect and support law enforcement. The recordings show that the Governor was neither supportive nor respectful to Santa Fe police. It was not her place to interfere with police response to a complaint that police were required to investigate. Another embarrassment for New Mexico!


Thanks to our readers and Alligators for helping put together today's special report.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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