SANTA FE, N.M. — Bill Richardson, elected chief executive in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, introduced the 24/7 public-relations campaign to the Governor’s Office.
Susana Martinez, who succeeded Richardson and faces re-election next year, is following that model.
As with Richardson, there are near-daily public appearances and news releases by Martinez designed to place in her in a favorable light and get and keep her name in newspapers and on radio and TV.
Last month, for example, the Republican governor made at least 17 official public appearances in several towns and cities, according to the website for her office.
She handed out books to homeless children, attended community celebrations, cut a ribbon on a highway interchange, reminded New Mexicans of the back-to-school tax-free holiday and announced new jobs, new tourism figures, new grades for schools and new efforts to locate missing children and elderly people.
The governor also made appearances to encourage fireworks safety, propose more veterans cemeteries, speak to insurance agents, present an economic development award, announce an unclaimed property auction and attend memorial services for the late Gov. David F. Cargo and Arizona firefighters.
The stream of news releases from the Governor’s Office included announcements on Martinez’s “New Mexico True” story, a reading challenge for school students, a child food program, back-to-school cash for low-income children and children in foster care, appointees to judgeships and other positions, an emergency declaration for storm damage and more.
Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle of Portales says the 24/7 campaigning by governors in New Mexico is part of a larger trend.
In general, he says, elected officials – from the White House to statehouses – have become more concerned about campaigning for the next election and less focused on governing.
“It’s just the way things are done anymore,” Ingle says. “It’s polling and politics.”
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell says Martinez enjoys being on the road and works from her vehicle.
“Frankly, she views it as very valuable to meet New Mexicans throughout the state – in their communities – to hear their thoughts and concerns and engage in important policy discussions,” Knell said.
He said the governor still spends substantial time in her office in Santa Fe.
“But whether it’s when she is in the office or in New Mexico communities, she works hard to ensure that state government is being responsive and focused on improving the lives of New Mexicans.”
As it was with Richardson, news media access to Martinez for private interviews is tightly controlled.
Martinez has given recent interviews to the Journal to talk about the death of four pets and to People magazine to discuss caring for her developmentally disabled sister.
Martinez also has proved to be adept at staying on message and not letting others set her agenda.
The state Supreme Court is considering cases by same-sex couples seeking to marry, but Martinez has limited her remarks, repeating her opposition to same-sex marriage and saying voters should decide the issue.
The governor hasn’t intervened in the cases to defend the state’s marriage laws, and her office says she won’t.
On another front-page controversy, Martinez opposes a planned horse-slaughter plant in Roswell but again has declined to take a leading role.
At one time, Richardson had 24 appointees, many of them former news reporters, in communications and public information jobs throughout government.
Early in her administration, Martinez had 16 appointees in such jobs, but that number stood at 13 with vacancies as of July 1.
The days of Republican Gary Johnson, the governor before Richardson, seem gone forever.
Johnson, somewhat of a loner who had a general distaste for ribbon cuttings and other public appearances, appointed a press secretary and just two public information officers for his entire administration.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.