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At the Roundhouse: The Martinez Campaign

I saw New Mexico’s second-year Republican governor in action Monday, apparently doing some of what riles up Democratic legislative leaders so much.

But I didn’t see any skullduggery.

Gov. Susana Martinez was rallying her troops at a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce lunch. It looked innocent and effective at the same time.

She clearly is good at it. I came away thinking maybe that’s what really bugs lawmakers.

Martinez never identified leadership of the Legislature’s Democratic majorities as obstacles to her pro-business agenda of lowering taxes and eliminating regulatory burdens, but it clearly was her target.

“If we are going to reform New Mexico in a big way, we have to make sure these bills are moving along,” the governor told a chamber audience of about 500.

Fair game, it seems. The Republican former district attorney was elected statewide in 2010 with 53 percent of the vote.

Martinez feels she has her mandate. So do Democratic legislators who were elected by district, close to home, and they have their own ideas about reform. But she’s the governor, elected by over 300,000 voters, and would anyone really say that she shouldn’t push her agenda out of deference to lawmakers elected by far fewer?

Maybe it’s the tactics Martinez employs that the lawmakers object to the most.

“It’s not enough anymore to send just one person to the Roundhouse,” she told the chamber crowd, referring to the practice of business groups sending only their executive directors to lobby the Legislature.

She told the business people that every one of them needed to email and phone lawmakers, and she said she has been trying to enlist the same support for agenda at chambers of commerce around the state.

Her economic development secretary-designate, Jon Barela, joined her on the stage and followed up: “Get after your legislators. Call them.”

Martinez, with a wink and a grin, also disclosed her version of another controversy with Democratic leaders, who have so often complained that she doesn’t talk to them.

“I meet with a lot of legislators, despite the fact that they would deny it,” she said. (I can’t let this pass, though, without saying I think the Governor’s Office should prove it. This is the kind of thing they keep us in the dark on).

Martinez also explained how her videotaping and webcasting of committee hearings and lawmakers on the floor are aimed at showing how legislators handle bills.

“This bill has sat there for six days,” she said, drawing a scenario of Democratic lawmakers blocking her legislation.

And she told the business leaders that it is an “extremely short 30-day session.

“They just went home for three days,” she said referring to the lawmakers’ first-week, long weekend. (More about the fairness of this complaint later, too).

Surprise: It’s an election year, and because all 112 seats and political control are at stake, Martinez has been looking at improving her odds in the Legislature since she took office last year.

It obviously serves her purpose to bash lawmakers in public. What else is new?

Martinez is one our governors who never served in the Legislature and seems to have little sympathy for lawmakers.

Gov. Bruce King, a former House speaker, was much more deferential — or, at least, he used to flatter lawmakers by calling them his board of directors. But King, a Democrat, also had Democratic majorities in the Legislature through much of his three terms. (The Cowboy Coalition, circa 1979, was the exception to outright Democratic control).

Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson also had only to contend with Democratic majorities through his two terms. But he also heightened his political reputation and kept Republicans (and chambers of commerce) off his back for 8 years by signing, in his first year, a personal income tax cut for higher brackets. (It remains in place today).

Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, who really was more of a libertarian and was all about less government anyway, was faced with Democratic majorities during his two terms. He just said “No” to Democrats, setting records for vetoes.

Martinez is not New Mexico’s first activist governor. Democratic Govs. Jerry Apodaca and Toney Anaya campaigned intensely after taking office for their legislative agendas back in the 1970s and 1980s.

But more about Martinez’s tactics later. I have to rain on her parade on at least the phone calling.

By the way, you can still read my Monday At The Roundhouse column, “Fight Club,” by clicking on today’s column and then the blue At the Roundhouse link at the top of the page. All columns are archived there.  Or you can just click on this link:

http://www.abqjournal.com/2012/01/23/politics/at-the-roundhouse-fight-club.html 

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