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Editorial: Helicopter flight took governor off course

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The explanation for this helicopter trip, while understandable, really doesn’t fly.

Journal investigative reporter Thom Cole found that in 2011, after a state Board of Finance meeting ran late, Gov. Susana Martinez hopped aboard a State Police helicopter to fly to Albuquerque, so she could in turn catch a commercial flight to Houston for Republican Governors Association events.

The RGA, a registered political organization that has a goal of getting Republicans in governor’s offices, paid for Martinez’s commercial flight and travel expenses. It was also the largest contributor – more than $1.3 million – to her successful 2010 campaign.

Her spokesman correctly points out that the governor for security reasons uses state transportation to get from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. President Obama, after all, takes Air Force One when he goes on a golf vacation. But the question here is whether the State Police chopper, instead of vehicle, is appropriate under the circumstances.

Based on the high standards Martinez set for herself when she campaigned on selling the private jet Gov. Bill Richardson bought, it isn’t.

The $6.7 million chopper should be for purely state business. And that doesn’t include making up for lost time getting to the airport to catch a flight for a political event. That’s the kind of thing candidate Martinez would have robustly criticized.

So when her spokesman tries to paint the $800 chopper trip as being in the public’s interest, it really doesn’t fly.

Martinez travels extensively around the state, usually by vehicle, and other Martinez flights Cole found appear to have been work related, using state helicopter or turboprop airplane to fly to wildfires, announce jobs, sign legislation into law, greet President Obama, dedicate a building, meet with other border governors and attend a memorial service for Arizona firefighters.

True, it’s a flight log that pales in comparison to her predecessor’s, who happened to be running for president during his second term.

And true, it’s not a lot of money. But it’s also not a good decision.

Martinez set a high standard for herself on this score. She needs to meet it. The governor or her campaign could start by writing a check for $800.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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