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SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez’s popularity among New Mexico voters recently shot up from 60 percent to 69 percent in a recent Albuquerque Journal poll. That puts her in third place nationally according to the latest figures I find.
Such high popularity is quite unusual for a governor in a state dominated by the opposite party. It also is unusual for a member of the freshman class of new Republican governors around the nation elected in 2010.
Most of those governors have had a terrible time overcoming their initial efforts to change the direction of state government. Gov. Martinez, instead picked her battles and didn’t try to take big chunks from schools or Medicaid, which are more popular with voters.
Martinez’s sudden nine-point jump in popularity likely was caused by the timing of the poll which came just after Martinezís Republican National Convention speech. The speech didn’t have much of an effect on the nationwide television audience but it did in New Mexico.
Since the three network channels cut away for commercials and analysis of Condoleezza Rice’s speech, many missed out on Martinez. But New Mexicans apparently did some channel switching to find Martinez on PBS, C-Span or a 24-hour news channels.
Those New Mexicans who didn’t switch channels to find Martinez may just have been proud to have had their governor speak to a national audience and get good reviews. She even received two standing ovations.
Some of my friends tease me about having fallen in love with Martinez. I assure you that first gentleman Chuck Franco has no worries. I have taken Martinez to task when I have felt it appropriate, especially for half-hearted support of two of former Gov. Bill Richardson’s major projects — the film industry and the spaceport.
The film industry appears to be recovering despite a rather confusing cap on rebates. The spaceport, however, appears to be in trouble. The governor pushed a liability limit on space parts suppliers in the last legislative session.
It is difficult to know whether a more vigorous effort might have gotten the legislation past the trial lawyers’ lobby. But the lack of immunity seems to be a major obstacle to attracting space companies that currently are going elsewhere.
An all-out effort by all parties to alleviate the several concerns of space companies is in order. If you are a spaceport supporter and one of your legislators is a trial lawyer, it would be appropriate to encourage the candidate to help the spaceport effort rather than their pocket book.
Gov. Martinez’s biggest legislative priorities have been taking driver’s licenses from undocumented immigrants and holding back third graders who aren’t at reading level. Polls show New Mexicans support both efforts, thus another source of her popularity.
Legislative leaders have suggested that if Martinez were interested in compromising a bit, she could get most of what she wants. Former Gov. Gary Johnson passed up similar compromises.
Johnson’s last year in office, he vetoed a rather significant tax cut because it wasnít everything he was asking. The following year Gov. Bill Richardson signed the bill and received national acclaim.
But despite Martinez’s unwillingness to compromise she remains quite popular. Many Democrats complain her popularity is not deserved because she canít claim to have accomplished much.
It could be that is what New Mexicans want. Bill Richardson could claim a ton of accomplishments and it made him popular into his second term. But by the end of that term, the economy was sinking and Richardson’s expensive accomplishments weren’t paying off with the economic development he had promised.
Could it be that New Mexicans are glad to take a breather from expensive projects and are enjoying a more limited state government under a cost conscious governor?
Publicity of Martinez for being run by shadowy advisers, misusing email accounts and an insider award of a racino contract hasn’t hit any raw nerves with 69 percent of New Mexicans.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.