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Transparency is hard. Just ask the governor, who is now learning, as her predecessors did, that one of the sacrifices of her job is privacy.
In the latest skirmish of the transparency wars, Gov. Susana Martinez called out a Democratic lawmaker for using a legislative agency to dig dirt on a political opponent.
Some perspective: The Slurpy hit the fan last month after the governor tried to restrict the Legislature’s two biggest watchdogs, the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee, by requiring them to go through her chief of staff for information. A torrent of criticism from the media and both parties forced the governor to uncuff the committees.
This happened just after Sunshine Week, a media event that reminds elected officials to keep their cards on the table and their decisions out in the open.
Coverage of this controversy was interesting. The Albuquerque Journal, which has been so blatantly pro-Martinez as to sacrifice its credibility, blasted the administration for this move. Even red-county newspapers have noted the long fall from grace of the governor who campaigned on transparency. (To be fair, the Legislature has its own transparency blind spots, but that’s another column.)
We’re seeing more public records challenges.
The Associated Press sued after the Governor’s Office refused to provide records of the governor’s travel, work schedule, cell phone calls and expenses of her security team. Among other things, the AP wants to know if New Mexico taxpayers subsidized the governor’s participation in Mitt Romney’s campaign for president in 2012.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson made that information available, and he reimbursed the state for security costs of his political appearances, but Martinez’s lawyers argue that enforcement of the state Inspection of Public Records act would violate the United States Constitution. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government disagrees.
The Santa Fe New Mexican has asked similar questions and has waited six months for a response.
The Alamogordo Daily News opined: “To suggest that the public only has the right to know about the governor’s out-of-state travel when it involves official state business is preposterous. Each time the governor leaves the state, the lieutenant governor is in charge. We have a right to know when she is on the job, when she is not, and why.”
The News also pointed out that the governor claimed executive privilege in denying records requests, a step she promised not to take during her first State of the State speech.
The Santa Fe Reporter sued after Martinez refused to respond to the newspaper’s questions because she didn’t like the tone of the newspaper’s coverage. In legalese, this is “prior restraint” and hinders the dissemination of information.
In her own mind and on her campaign website, the governor is still the transparency governor for gestures like filming legislative floor sessions and committee meetings and posting employee salaries and state budgets. That suggests she thinks sunshine laws apply to everybody else.
Last week, the governor complained that Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was using the LFC to gather information to use against an opponent in the primary election. Lundstrom told me she was just trying to ascertain what records are public and it was a miscommunication. Maybe. Lundstrom is one of the smartest and hardest working lawmakers in the Roundhouse, but even smart people can screw up. Using Lundstrom’s mistake to justify muzzling the LFC still doesn’t wash.
More disturbing is the governor’s continued attacks on the LFC’s director and staff, who normally work behind the scenes. They’re probably the most knowledgeable people in state government and certainly among the most respected. Why pick on them?
The governor and her people must hope to deflect criticism as they dodge information requests, but it only reinforces the question, “What’s she hiding?”