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Politics Notebook: Dems slam governor over copter use

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New Mexico’s two announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates criticized Gov. Susana Martinez on Thursday for her 2011 use of a State Police helicopter, starting a back-and-forth tussle over travel habits.

State Sen. Linda Lopez and Attorney General Gary King released statements that took the Republican governor to task for traveling by chopper to the Albuquerque airport, where she caught a commercial flight to Houston to attend a political event.

The campaign manager for King called on Martinez’s re-election campaign to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of using the State Police helicopter – an estimated $800.

“The governor spoke out unambiguously against such misuse of public resources when she was a candidate for governor in 2010,” King campaign manager Jim Farrell said. “She called for total transparency in state government in such cases. The taxpayers need Gov. Martinez to keep her word now.”

Although a Martinez spokesman has said the helicopter ride was necessary so that the Republican governor could stay longer at an important meeting in Santa Fe, her political opponents say the travel was hypocritical.

Martinez, who was elected in 2010, criticized Gov. Bill Richardson, her predecessor, for his purchase and frequent use of a $5.5 million state jet. That jet, along with other planes in the state fleet, were sold by the Martinez administration.

Meanwhile, Lopez questioned whether the helicopter flight violated a state law that says state officials should use the powers and resources of elected office only to advance the public interest.

“While the hypocrisy is astounding, of more immediate concern is whether the governor acted in violation of the Governmental Conduct Act,” Lopez said.

Martinez spokesman Danny Diaz responded to the criticisms by attacking King’s travel record as attorney general.

Specifically, Diaz cited a state-paid 2008 trip that King took to Switzerland – he had been in Romania with his wife – and said the state’s top attorney should reimburse taxpayers for that trip.

“Unlike globe-trotting Gary King, Gov. Susana Martinez does not use tax dollars to pay for her personal and political travel,” Diaz said.

King defended that travel at the time, saying he had been invited to help present a report to a United Nations committee.

Contact Dan Boyd at dboyd@abqjournal.com.

 

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