Martinez hits some turbulence with state plane fiasco

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration has been taken to task for misuse of a state airplane. The basics of the situation sound reasonable for the state to have undertaken.
A production crew shooting a pilot for at TV series was stuck in Las Vegas, N.M., and needed to take a look at the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad in Chama.
They called the head of the state film office who offered to get a state plane to fly them up. She checked with the state transportation director, two cabinet secretaries, two top state lawyers and the governor’s office.
Reportedly all felt it was a legitimate usage to further the business of the state. That doesn’t sound bad at all. I can believe it has been done by previous administrations, including the most recent one.
So why did KRQE-TV feel this situation was important enough to send investigative reporter Larry Barker to look into what happened?
Susana Martinez ran on a platform of cleaning up corruption in Santa Fe. So did some of her primary opponents. She also was tough on the film industry and thought it got too many perks.
If Martinez had heard of the Richardson Administration doing such a thing, she would have blamed it on the corrupt Richardson-Denish administration.
But there is a strong possibility Martinez never knew what was going on and I can’t even imagine Lt. Gov. John Sanchez being in the loop.
This was a case of a new administration with very little government experience bumbling through totally unfamiliar territory.  And it is very likely to happen more than once again.
Two very basic principles were ignored here. None of these top administration officials were aware that this action was completely in conflict what their governor had been saying for a year. Perhaps they all need a training session on what the governor stands for.
And much more importantly, they all approved breaking state laws on which they also should be trained.
Even though lending a hand to a film production crew seemed like good business for the state, New Mexico has some very strict laws against public resources being used for private gain.
New Mexico, the first state to be colonized by Europeans, was almost the last state admitted to the Union because of our long history of lawlessness and corruption.
When Congress approved New Mexico’s constitution 100 years ago, it required very strong anti-corruption provisions.
Those provisions have hampered economic development and tourism efforts for years.
Attempts have been made to reduce the restrictions but the sad truth is that New Mexicans still don’t trust their government very much.
That means that, to this day, we still operate under strong anti-donation restrictions.
General Services Department Secretary Ed Burkle was selected to take the fall for the administration. Had a similar situation under the previous administration come to light, Martinez’s campaign would have blamed the governor and lieutenant governor.
And you can be pretty sure that the next time Martinez or Sanchez runs for anything, they will be blamed for the illegal action. No one will even remember the name of Ed Burkle.
The person who handled the approval for the governor’s office was former Rep. Keith Gardiner, now Martinez’s chief of staff.
In this administration, the buck stops with him in almost all cases. Very few people or issues get all the way through to the governor.
This case should have gotten all the way to Gov. Martinez.
It involved two of her biggest issues: film industry perks and state planes.
 Even before she became governor, Martinez appointed a team to review state airplane usage.
But I’m told no one from the film industry has ever gotten all the way into talk with the governor about anything.
   Reportedly the film company has reimbursed the state for the $4,000 cost of the plane. No explanation ever has been given why they didn’t just rent a car.

Jay Miller