ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Susana Martinez’s re-election campaign is looking a lot like her campaign of four years ago.
Martinez is again running against Bill Richardson, even though – just like in 2010 – he isn’t on the ballot.
Diane Denish, lieutenant governor under Richardson during his time as governor from 2001 to 2010, was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2010, but the Republican Martinez ran largely against Richardson, characterizing his administration as corrupt, wasteful and more.
Over the past several months, Martinez and her aides have repeatedly said her opponents this year want to take the state back to the days of Richardson and his “failed policies.”
There are five candidates in Tuesday’s primary for the Democratic nomination to challenge Martinez, and her campaign says they all want to raise taxes and raid a state trust fund for more money.
In a Martinez television advertisement that began airing this week, photographs of the Democratic candidates have been replaced with unflattering photos of Richardson.
“These attacks by Gov. Martinez are a distraction and are an effort to hide her abysmal record as governor,” Richardson said in a telephone interview Tuesday while traveling in Norway.
“She should stop looking backward to me,” he added. “She’s been governor for four years.”
Richardson said a reference in another Martinez TV ad to the sale of a state jet is “idiotic” and an “irrelevant platitude.”
The Richardson administration purchased the Cessna jet in 2005 for $5.5 million, and Martinez made it an issue in the 2010 campaign, calling it a symbol of government excess and pledging to sell it. It was sold in 2011 for about $2.5 million.
In the TV ad, Martinez said she sold the jet because of the projected state budget shortfall she faced when she took office in January 2011. The projected shortfall was about $450 million.
Richardson defended his record on a variety of fronts, from job creation to taxes, education to the environment.
“We probably had the most productive record of any governor,” he said. “In my judgment, she (Martinez) is heading in one direction – to be the worst governor in the state’s history.”
Richardson said he created more than 90,000 jobs before the start of the national recession in late 2007.
A published report in August 2007 put the figure at about 80,000, but there is no dispute that, while Richardson was in office, New Mexico was at times among the top-ranked states in terms of job growth just before the recession.
For the year that ended in March, New Mexico lost jobs, while all neighboring states gained employment. A decline in federal government spending in New Mexico, which has historically had an unusually heavy reliance on federal dollars, has been a major factor.
Richardson said Martinez has taken credit for construction of Union Pacific Railroad’s freight terminal in Santa Teresa but that his administration made the original deal with Union Pacific for the project.
As part of the deal, announced in 2006, Richardson signed legislation to remove the gross receipts and compensating taxes from locomotive fuel. However, the project later stalled, in part because of the recession, and the tax breaks expired. New legislation was passed in 2011 and Martinez signed it. The Union Pacific terminal opened this spring.
On the issue of taxes, Richardson said he cut more than a $1 billion in taxes, including reductions in the personal income and capital gains taxes, elimination of the gross receipts tax on food and medicine, creation of the tax-free back-to-school holiday and expansion of the low-income tax credit for working families.
“I was the pro-tax-cut governor,” he said. “She (Martinez) is masquerading as one.”
For his tax cutting, Richardson received kudos from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, former GOP presidential candidate and magazine publisher Steve Forbes, and the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.
However, a study found that tax cuts during Richardson’s first five years in office were more than offset by increases in other taxes and fees. Also, as a result of a decline in state revenues due to the recession that began in late 2007, Richardson in 2010 signed legislation that increased cigarette and gross receipts taxes, and closed a loophole in the personal income tax.
Martinez’s two major tax initiatives – signed into law in 2013 – cut the corporate income tax and made a change in tax law to allow manufacturers to use a “single sales factor,” meaning their taxes will be based entirely on New Mexico sales. Their taxes were based on a combination of sales, payroll and property.
The tax changes were projected to cost the state about $215 million in tax revenues in the first four years after enactment. The Martinez administration says the changes will make New Mexico more competitive with neighboring states in attracting businesses and helping existing businesses grow. That could offset the cost of the tax changes.
On the issue of public education, Richardson said he approved multiple pay raises for teachers, expanded full-day kindergarten statewide and started pre-kindergarten. By comparison, he said, Martinez has “this teacher evaluation effort that is a disaster and is causing dissension among teachers.”
Richardson said he expects to have little more to say about Martinez before the November election.
“I don’t want to be an issue in the election,” he said. “It should be on her four years running against the Democratic nominee.”
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.