Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Susana's "Bold Change" Begins With A Broken Promise; What's The Impact?, Plus: NM Governors & The Lure Of The National Stage 

The boldest change Governor-elect Martinez has made so far is breaking her most prominent campaign promise--the one she made not to consider budget cuts for the public schools or the Medicaid program. She officially broke the promise this week and pointed to an increase in the projected state budget shortfall of some $200 million since she made the pledge.

Sceptics frowned. She had no idea that after two years of recession the shortfall was a moving target? Really? Weren't members of her own party shouting from the adobe rooftops that the shortfall could be much higher? They sure were.

The cynics in the political community yawned at Martinez's turnabout, having never believed it. The public at large is also so used to politicians over promising that the political hit she suffers could be minimized. (Look at Obama's reversal on taxes on the wealthy). But she still takes a hit. In the years ahead, her foes will come back to it time and again. And the New Mexicans who voted for her because of her demand for a better education system are not going to be as trusting--and they shouldn't.

To get elected Martinez felt she had to draw lines in the sand to her left and right--no public school cuts and no tax increases--ever. That's fine for a district attorney--which she is--but Governors don't box themselves in. They keep doors open, if only a crack.

In the campaign Martinez could have limited her pledge to not making cuts to the classroom or core Medicaid services, just as she ended up doing this week, and still have won election. After all, she weathered a storm during the campaign when she backtracked on her support for public school vouchers.

It's all about knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them. Martinez has a steep learning curve ahead of her, but she has a generally supportive public and press giving her a push. The boldest change in Santa Fe you may see in the next four years is not in state government, but in the political skills of Susana Martinez.


Maybe we haven't taken seriously enough the speculation about Martinez pursuing national political ambitions. Both the ABQ Journal editorial pages and columnist Jay Miller freaked out at the prospect of yet another state Governor seeking to get out of here. Martinez, the nation's first female Hispanic Governor, has already been mentioned as a possible 2012 GOP VP nominee.

We kind of laughed it off, but we're going to take these other opinions as warning flares for the new Guv that the public has her on a short leash when it comes to playing in the national political playpen.


What is is about this Governor's chair, anyway? Gary Johnson spent his second term becoming a national poster boy for drug legalization and now looks like he is running for President. Big Bill used the Guv's office as his national presidential campaign headquarters and now Martinez, not yet Governor for a day, and said to already be looking across state lines.

Of course, no New Mexico Governor has ever realized any national political ambitions. The Guv's office has been the end of the trail for all of them. If Martinez is determined to reverse that history, it appears she is going to run into a New Mexico public much less patient for such ambitions than her predecessors. Meanwhile, we need to have Homeland Security check that Santa Fe air and its impact on a Guv's brain.


Susana continues to fill out her cabinet. Her latest:

...Martinez is nominating retired Air Force Col. Michael Duvall as secretary of the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Duvall was commander of the 377th Air Base Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque from July 2008 to April 2010.

Duvall's connection to Kirtland, one of the largest economic engines for the state, is a plus.

Martinez's cabinet picks have been generally well-received and there's been no talk of any of them having trouble winning Senate confirmation.

Transition Chairwoman Heather Wilson gets a good part of the credit for the recruiting. She got off to a rocky start by unloading sharply partisan and highly publicized attacks on the Big Bill administration, but has since backed off. That change in course has served her--and the Governor-elect--well.


It's been an eventful eight years for Big Bill. Is he interested enough in looking back to pen a Guv memoir? It's one of many options for the outgoing chief executive who is being mentioned for a variety of positions, but who has not indicated his precise plans. You wonder if cares to recount all of his two terms. The first six years were pleasant enough, but the last two very painful personally and politically.

Bill already wrote much of his life story in "Between Two Worlds," a book timed for release for his 2008 presidential campaign. A couple of former state Governors have put their words down for posterity. Former three term Governor Bruce King came with "Cowboy in the Roundhouse" in 1998. It took former GOP Governor Dave Cargo forty years after he let the Guv's office to pen his autobiography but earlier this year he finally came with "Lonesome Dave." Former Governors Apodaca, Johnson and Carruthers never did write of their terms in office.

The King, Cargo and Richardson books are in print and available for that political junkie on your Christmas list. Just click on the Amazon.com link posted on the right of the blog.


Do you have thoughts on Big Bill's legacy? It might be interesting for your fellow readers. Email them in, anonymously if you wish. Meantime, here's reader Michael Corwin with some positive thinking when it comes to Big Bill--soon going, but not soon forgotten:

Joe, Here is the biggest change that occurred in New Mexico under Governor Richardson. We went from being the "Land of Low Expectations" to a state where people started to think about the future and work towards making it better. That is something that can never be taken away from his legacy despite the efforts by those who see destroying his legacy as their mission.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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