A governor still on the campaign trail

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By Hal Rhodes

It borders on cruel and unusual punishment, the way we require newly elected governors to stand before the Legislature and hold forth on “The State of The State” barely two weeks after taking office.  
Think about it: They get themselves elected on the first Tuesday in November, whereupon they have a couple of months to catch their breath after a grueling campaign, collect their wits and begin the process of assembling the rudiments of an administration before raising their right hand and taking the oath of office on Jan. 1.
Those necessities out of the way, they are then compelled to whip out a speech on the affairs of a state of which they have only recently become the top elected official.
Worse, once they have fashioned something approximating a speech, they must go before a large gathering of state lawmakers and other notables, many of whom are veterans at governing, far better versed in their state’s affairs than the new governor standing behind a podium trying to impress with his or her words, wisdom and wit.
Such was the assignment that fell to New Mexico’s 27th governor, Republican Susana Martinez, when the 2011 Legislature’s 60-day session convened in Santa Fe last Tuesday.
When it was over, Senate Democratic Whip Mary Jane Garcia, no less a Las Cruces political fixture than the new governor, summed it up succinctly when she said it sounded to her as though Martinez had just recycled her old campaign speeches.
Granted there were obligatory words about bipartisanship in the governor’s remarks, but if you closed your eyes and listened to all the other words it would not have been difficult to imagine yourself back on the campaign trail with candidate Martinez.
She’s still running for governor, and still running against Bill Richardson, not Diane Denish.   
She would have the death penalty restored. She intends to sell the state’s jet airplane. She continues to imply that Richardson misled her about the size of the budget deficit. She wants to reduce rebates instituted under Richardson for the state’s now flourishing film industry.
What’s more, she’s firing chefs at the governor’s residence. “The First Gentleman (husband Chuck Franco) makes a mean baloney sandwich,” she explained to appreciative chuckles from the Republican side of the legislative aisle.
Yet, ironically, the governor went out of her way to risk credibility by insinuating that somehow in her brief tenure at the Roundhouse she has earned bragging rights for gobs of new jobs in southern New Mexico.
“Less than two weeks ago,” she intoned, “I announced that Union Pacific Railroad will move its hub from El Paso, Texas, to Santa Teresa, New Mexico.” As a consequence, she continued, “More than 3,000 jobs will be created,” 600 of which will be permanent.  
Indeed the governor did indeed make such an announcement roughly three weeks into her tenure.
But to the extent Union Pacific’s move of its hub from her old hometown of El Paso to Santa Teresa brings new jobs to southern New Mexico, the groundwork for that development was the handiwork of the administration of another governor, one at whom this governor snipes with regularity.
And there’s the problem: The new governor still is most at home with the kind of glib slogans and political posturing she honed during those long months of campaigning as Candidate Martinez.
That’s not uncommon in freshly-minted governors, but it is something freshman governors with a lick of savvy quickly overcome lest  their partners in governing, the people they serve and the Legislature, come to regard them as disingenuous in the extreme.
Hal Rhodes
NM News Services