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No More High-Flying Governor for New Mexico

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
          The state's aircraft have been getting a lot of hangar time since Gov. Susana Martinez took office.
        It seems that if the boss isn't going to fly, others in the administration aren't much interested either.
        Martinez, who during the campaign pledged to sell the state jet and criticized aircraft use by the previous administration, hasn't set foot on a government plane since taking office Jan. 1.
        She has been traveling around the state in a government-provided Ford Expedition with a desk in the back seat.
        The government's Cessna Citation Bravo jet hasn't been off the ground since the start of the new administration, and its Gulfstream Turbo Commander and Beechcraft King Air turboprops have seen limited use.
        Of 12 passenger flights this year, 10 were for Children's Medical Services, the state agency that coordinates care for uninsured or underinsured children with chronic medical conditions.
        New Mexico Tech used the King Air in February to fly personnel to its Playas Training and Research Center in southwestern New Mexico, then shuttle a group of congressmen from the center to Tucson.
        The only other state agency or institution to use a plane was the Film Office.
        On Feb. 23, the King Air was flown from Santa Fe to Las Vegas, N.M., where it picked up four passengers, then was flown to Pagosa Springs, Colo. The aircraft returned to Santa Fe that evening.
        A Film Office spokeswoman said the office chartered the plane so a TV film crew could scout a location in Chama. The cost was about $3,500, and Santa Fe County paid the expense, according to the spokeswoman.
        The state Transportation Commission historically has been one of the biggest users of government aircraft.
        The commission is scheduled to meet March 17 in Rio Rancho. I'm guessing the new Martinez appointees aren't going to use government aircraft to get there.
        Make an offer
        The state's Bravo jet has been listed for sale on the website of the General Services Department for about a month.
        There is no asking price, and an appraisal hasn't been conducted, according to the department.
        The administration of Gov. Bill Richardson purchased the jet in 2005 for $5.5 million, and it has made 2,280 landings.
        The General Services Department plans to seek bids from brokers to sell the jet. The invitation for bids could be issued as soon as this week.
        The department also is accepting offers from potential buyers, but none has been made.
        Middle seat
        Richardson's use of state aircraft — as well as private jets — attracted a lot of news media attention. So, just about anytime Martinez travels, I hear from readers wanting the same scrutiny applied to her trips.
        Such was the case when the governor took off last week to Washington, D.C., for a conference of the National Governors Association.
        Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said she flew commercial — "middle seat, Delta Airlines" — leaving New Mexico on Feb. 25 and returning Monday after an association meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama.
        The governor's husband, Chuck Franco, went along for part of the trip because he was invited to the White House event, Darnell said.
        The cost to the state for their trip was $3,460, including airfare, car rental, conference fees and meal expenses, he said. The Republican Governors Association picked up the tab for their stay at the Four Seasons luxury hotel.
        Keith Gardner, the governor's chief of staff, also attended the NGA meeting. His trip cost the state another $1,467, the spokesman said.
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or (505) 992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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