Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Susana Takes Center Lane On Education; Move To Middle On Key Issue Marks New Chapter Of Guv Run, Plus: We're Following The Money And The TV Ads 

Susana Martinez is starting to show some flexibility, moving to the middle on the critical issue of education and signaling that while she is still primarily a conservative candidate, she is not bereft of political pragmatism.

It's been a question all summer: would the Dona Ana County DA stay pinned closely to the right, or would she start throwing bones to the middle where New Mexican gubernatorial elections are traditionally decided?

With her pledge not to cut public school spending and now her switch on the issue of school vouchers (like Diane Denish she is not going to support them) Martinez seems to be recognizing that she is trailing by double-digits among female voters with whom the education issue especially resonates. If she can start cutting that leg out from under Di, she can make an upward move. First the news quotes then the analysis:

The public school budget:

Both candidates said they support higher pay for teachers but only if salaries were linked to student performance. Neither would allow education cuts in the state budget.

Now the vouchers:

Martinez said she would not support school vouchers in the traditional sense, which are promoted in the Florida system, but she would be willing to give tax credits to businesses that donate money to private school scholarship programs.

Denish said there are already plenty of philanthropic organizations that provide scholarships, and the state's money should remain with public schools and charter schools in the system.

To make her move to the middle Martinez has had to abandon the views of the GOP legislative leadership and her own Republican Party.

The Republican legislative leadership is calling for across-the-board cuts in state education spending to bring the budget into balance. But Denish--and now Martinez--wants public schools spared from the budget knife.

In the last session of the Legislature, the schools were nicked with a small cut, but other agencies suffered more as Big Bill and the Dems worked to spare the public schools from the worst pain. But now Richardson appears ready to go for an across-the-board cut in all state agencies, including public education.

Public schools may be subjected as soon as September to a three percent cut, a reduction State Senate GOP leader Ingle says must be done--but not R Martinez. From an Ingle news release earlier this year:

Nobody likes having to do this, but we have to remember there had been very large increases to education and teacher salaries in recent years.

Senator Ingle is proposing an amendment to the House’s budget will that would save the state $300 million in costs by reducing state spending across the board by 5.7%.

Martinez's hands-off approach to the school budget and her newly found opposition to vouchers could temper some of the fiercest criticism of her candidacy and provide her a gateway to moderate, undecided voters she probably needs to win.


Political pros see the move favorably. They think the Martinez camp may have become too much of a one trick pony--all corruption all the time.

University of New Mexico poly sci professor Lonna Atkeson is among the doubting Thomases, saying:

The economy is so much more important than unsubstantiated claims of corruption. I think you need something more specific...

But Martinez has not come with any specific corruption charges on Denish (no, $794 in office Xmas cards don't count and neither does hopping an occasional ride on the state jet). The GOP rant against corruption taps into generalized voter angst and moves Martinez forward with her base voters, but it is in the economy and education--the meat and potatoes issues--where the real gravy awaits.

Martinez's media message is still portraying a right-wing and anger based candidacy. But it would seem only a matter of time before the new Martinez mantras make their way onto the airwaves--if she truly wants to win.


The Denish camp isn't asleep at the switch, and they can see Susana's switcheroo clearly as a red caboose coming down the track. Di came with this statement:

When it comes to funding our public schools, the choice couldn't be clearer. While I have pledged to fully fund our public schools and make them stronger, Susana Martinez wants to take money out of our public schools and give it to wealthy private schools. As much as Susana Martinez would like to abandon this unpopular position less than three months before the election, New Mexico’s parents, teachers and students won’t be fooled.

At an Otero County Republican forum in April, Martinez said: “...School choice is very important--parents having a say in whether or not they’re going to have their child attend the local school that may be failing their child--or if they get to receive a tax credit (or) voucher--whatever it is that child should have in order to select a charter school (or) a Christian school...whatever kind of school that parent decides...

Martinez will have to take that hit, move on and start cultivating votes with her new and more moderate position on education.

Now what about the economy, Susana? Any flips for us there?


Soon we will get to see Susana and Diane go at each other together for the first time. Here's the news:

Albuquerque Public Schools will sponsor (a) debate on public education between gubernatorial candidates Diane Denish and Susana Martinez at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19, in the performing arts center at Eldorado High School. The debate, to be moderated by APS Superintendent Winston Brooks, will be the first between two women seeking the state’s top office.

Questions for the candidates, will be solicited ahead of time from members of the APS Board of Education, its leadership team and the community. Invited guests will include APS students, teachers, administrators and the Board of Education among others.

We imagine that first debate will be broadcast live by KANW 89.1 FM radio which is licensed to APS. Broadcast TV debates will come later in the cycle.


We continue to note the positive news backdrop for Martinez. The news is negative. The latest on state education performance, released Monday, plays into her hands. An excerpt:

Nearly 78 percent of New Mexico schools did not make adequate yearly progress according to a report released Monday by the New Mexico Public Education Department.


Martinez's latest TV ad faulting Denish and in heavy rotation, doesn't stand up to the ad watchers in the neutral corner at FactCheckorg:

What of the ad’s overarching claim that Richardson and Denish "wasted millions" running the state? That claim is unsupported.

Even if every dollar that Denish spent using a state plane could be called wasteful, that still only amounts to $170,000. Add in--for the sake of argument--all $225,000 that Denish’s office received in federal stimulus money, and the total still comes to $395,000. That’s a pretty far cry from "millions."

When we asked the Martinez campaign where its "millions" claim comes from, a spokesman responded, saying:

Martinez spokesman: The Richardson/Denish administration increased spending by over $2 BILLION. The jet itself cost taxpayers $5.5 million. The state used to own a King Air before the Richardson/Denish
administration decided to upgrade to a Jet.

Even if those figures are accurate, the Martinez campaign hasn’t shown that they were "waste." Martinez’s ad, as aired, is a long way from making its case on that score.


The Wall Street Journal takes a look at some of the super-sized campaign donations received by Denish and Martinez.

Denish has received $100,000 from...the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—and $80,000 from the women's political-action committee Emily's List...

Martinez has accepted the largest individual donation in state history—$350,000 from Texas home builder Bob Perry, plus an additional $100,000 from his wife, Doylene...

Perry is one of the Republican Party's top donors and since 2004 has given at least $15 million to the party and to conservative groups, including millions to bankroll the "Swift Boat" ads attacking 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Perry's spokesman...said the developer had no business interests in New Mexico and no plans to expand there. Perry...backed Martinez because he saw her as "a true champion of ethics reform and job creation..."

Martinez said she was "honored and appreciative" of that support—then stressed that she would be beholden to no one. "As governor, you set the tone of what's acceptable," she said. "It's not about political donations."


Fox News takes a look at Santa Fe and likes what it sees. Some ideas for your next visit...


A couple of readers noted we had the wrong payoff for a theoretical bet on Diane Denish Monday. Our oddsmakers made Di a narrow 6 to 5 favorite which means a $5 dollar bet on Denish would pay $9 and come change, not the $10 and change we blogged in our first draft...

From Las Cruces, Garrey Carruthers, former NM Governor ('83-87) and now dean of the College of Business at New Mexico State University, writes:

I noted in one of your recent pieces that you wondered if regulators were aware that FSNM stock (First State Bancorp) had been delisted.

We have been in touch with the regulators on a very regular basis as we work on our recapitalization plan. They have approved the plan and we are working diligently to see if we can make it work.

Thanks for your interest in the bank. As you may know, I was recently elected to serve as the Chairman of the FSNM holding company board. We are working hard to insure a turnaround.

FSNM stock was delisted from the NASDAQ exchange because its price became too low. The bank holding company based in NM lost more than $110 million in 2009 and continues to bleed cash. mostly because of real estate loans gone sour.

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