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Monday, October 18, 2010
Candidates Susana Martinez and Diane Denish face off in KOAT-TV/Journal debate
By Deborah Baker
Journal Staff Writer
The candidates for New Mexico governor pummeled each other Sunday in the first live, televised debate of their historic campaign, trading jabs about personal integrity for nearly an hour.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish repeatedly accused Republican District Attorney Susana Martinez of lying to voters, while Martinez said Denish was complicit in the corruption of an administration in which "pay-to-play ... has become a household term."
"You are a liar," Denish told her opponent at one point.
"You, Diane Denish, are connected at the hip with Bill Richardson," Martinez said, referring to the outgoing Democratic governor, during the hourlong debate sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Journal.
The candidates — one of whom will become New Mexico's first female governor — clashed over jobs creation, domestic partnerships, and other issues, while offering sometimes sketchy answers on questions about New Mexico's budget crunch.
One of the few things the candidates agreed on: There are too many high-paid vice presidents at the University of New Mexico.
In an exchange over driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, Denish said that Martinez's lieutenant governor running mate, John Sanchez, had twice been cited for hiring illegal immigrants for his Albuquerque roofing business.
It was a reference to incidents in the late 1990s, which were reported in 2002.
Martinez did not respond to the assertion, reiterating that she would fight for repeal of the controversial New Mexico law that allows foreign nationals, including illegal immigrants, to obtain state driver's licenses. The law was adopted during the Richardson administration.
"It is a security issue," said Martinez, who has been the district attorney in Doña Ana County since 1997.
Denish didn't answer a question about the driver's licenses during the debate while Martinez was forceful. Denish has said previously she wants the law repealed but would not immediately revoke such licenses, as Martinez would, but rather would allow them to expire.
Denish, who has been lagging in the polls, accused Martinez outright of making "promises in trade for contributions" from Texas donors. She said Martinez told them she'd roll back regulations and allow water and air to be polluted and predatory lenders to go after New Mexico families.
The Democratic nominee repeatedly criticized Martinez for how she spent federal border security funds provided to her district attorney office, including car purchases, staff bonuses and meetings at a Ruidoso-area resort.
"You're part of the problem. If you want to clean up corruption you ought to start in your DA's office," Denish said.
Martinez countered that the funds were intended to help prosecutors deal with the burgeoning case load of border crimes.
Pressed about how they would deal with a revenue shortfall projected to be at least $230 million in the next budget year — each candidate has said she wouldn't raise taxes — the candidates took refuge in the positions they'd outlined earlier.
Martinez assailed the "spending spree" of the Richardson administration and Denish's use of the state jet, and she promised belt-tightening, including a "zero-growth budget."
Denish said her plans include trimming the number of political appointees, consolidating services, reorganizing some parts of government and changing the way capital project funds are handled.
And she countered that her office had returned money to the state's general fund every year.
Martinez said Denish has had two terms as "second-in-command" to bring about the changes she is now promising.
"Why haven't you come up with these ideas? Why haven't you been at the forefront?" the Republican nominee said.
Denish said that while she was a small-business owner and had helped businesses through a microlending program, Martinez had "never, ever created a job" but rather had "24 years of collecting a government paycheck."
Martinez fired back: "If you have been such a great job creator, then why have you lost 55,000 jobs" during Richardson's tenure?
Martinez accused Denish's household of profiting from lobbying work Denish's husband, Herb Denish, did for a land use development project.
Denish replied that her husband was paid only for his consulting services and did not profit from the deal. She said she "did the right thing" and recused herself from Board of Finance votes related to the Mesa del Sol development, south of the Albuquerque Sunport. She also said, "My husband has never lobbied the state."
The candidates disagreed on a proposed domestic partnerships law that would give same-sex couples nearly all the rights of married people.
Denish called it "the right thing to do." Martinez opposes it, saying same-sex couples could use existing laws to get legal protections in areas such as estate and health planning.
"Domestic partnership is just another word for gay marriage, and I do not support that," the DA said.