Keeping up with Susana

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By Hal Rhodes

After Bill Richardson returned in 2002 from Washington D.C. and New York City and points foreign, hither and yon, to claim that big suite of offices on the fourth floor at the Roundhouse, most New Mexicans were more or less prepared for the frenzy that came home with their new governor.
Barely had he completed the oath of office before a gaggle of North Koreans materialized in Santa Fe seeking help with some difficulties they were having with Washington.
Eight years later, when Susana Martinez moved up to Santa Fe from Las Cruces to occupy the governor’s residence, most New Mexicans probably expected the former Doña Ana County district attorney to usher in an era of relative calm.
It just goes to show how fickle expectations can be.
During her more than two and a-half years in office, whatever record Martinez has amassed in the way of accomplishments, reforms and innovations remains modest.
But from the get-go Gov. Martinez and her administration have managed to foster sufficient political chatter and clatter to routinely arch eyebrows among rank-and-file New Mexico political junkies.
From that controversial contract with the Downs at Albuquerque early in her term to the current brouhaha over her administration’s suppression of an audit of New Mexico nonprofits that provide behavioral therapy to people on Medicaid, the criticisms have been unrelenting.
This week the Legislative Finance Committee is scheduled to meet in Chama to deal with the governor’s freeze of almost $18 million in Medicaid funds intended for some 15 New Mexico organizations that render such therapy to Medicaid patients.
Martinez’s Health and Human Services secretary froze those funds following what remains a secret “audit” by a Boston company that reportedly alleges mismanagement and perhaps fraud in one or more of those organizations.
The governor’s administration then brought in five Arizona organizations to take over the services heretofore offered by those 15 New Mexico providers.
Whereupon the LFC, some members of which are alarmed by the abrupt disruptions in patient services occasioned by the funding freeze, put a hold on payment of more than $10 million the administration wants to transfer over to the Arizona outfits.
Given federal regulations governing Medicaid, odds are the LFC will lift its hold on the transfer during its Chama meeting.
Nonetheless, the LFC’s co-chairmen, state Rep. James Roger Madalena and state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, both Democrats, have written United States Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to intervene by reversing the governor’s actions pending a full review of the secret “audit” that led to her bring in the Arizona organizations.
Shortly thereafter, four of New Mexico’s five-member congressional delegation called upon Sebelius to convene a public forum in the state on the controversy within next two weeks.
Meanwhile, arched eyebrows and chatter among political junkies out in the blogosphere (along with a few mainstream news organizations) have been asking whether well-healed Arizona Republican political fundraisers might have ties to any of Arizona outfits that stand to benefit from the Martinez administration’s actions against New Mexico providers.
Certainly there have been disruptions in the therapeutic services New Mexico Medicaid patients had been receiving from those providers. About that there is little dispute.
There is also little dispute that in early May a wealthy Arizona conservative Republican with ties to his state’s behavioral therapy groups serving young people, hosted a $100 per person Tucson fundraiser for Gov. Martinez, with the governor in attendance.
Keeping up with Susana is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it’s enough to make to make a body wish a klatch of North Koreans would show up on her doorstep.