Jet served a purpose

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Although never a passenger, governor got great mileage

By Sherry Robinson

There is just something about a jet…
The governor won headlines for selling the “ultimate symbol of waste and excess,” an executive jet purchased by her predecessor, for less than half its purchase price.
It was an unwise acquisition in the first place, and its fire sale during a recession is questionable, but hey, we’re talking symbols here.
As a corporate public relations person in the 1970s, it was my responsibility to explain the Lear jet purchased and used by executives of PNM, the state’s biggest utility.
Management saw it as a tool. Long before cell phones and laptops, their frequent trips east to raise money meant they were difficult to reach, and the prevailing concern was to minimize their time away.
However, the public and media saw it as an unconscionable luxury at a time rates were rising.
Even though the cost was a flyspeck in the bottom line, it just looked bad.
This kind of tunnel vision seems to be a weakness in a lot of leaders.
Former Gov. Bill Richardson’s insistence on buying the jet in 2005 over public objections may be seen as an early sign of an otherwise savvy politician’s loss of touch with the people.
New Mexico’s $5.5 million 2005 Cessna Citation Bravo was the most expensive state aircraft in the region and the only state-owned jet in the Southwest.  
Republican radio ads said the plane was proof of Richardson’s “lifestyle of the rich and famous.”
About that time Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, a Republican, dumped his state’s two aging planes and bought a jet, an equally unpopular move.
Democrats said Murkowski thought he was too good to ride with the people on Alaska Airlines, according to the Juneau Empire.
 Both governors argued practicality. Richardson said the jet would be safer, that state agencies would also use the plane.
Murkowski   argued that Alaska was so large a modern plane was a necessity. Both planes became political baggage.
A newcomer named Sarah Palin trounced Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2006 and later tried to sell her state’s jet on eBay.
Both planes sold through brokers for less than the asking price.
So there’s more than a little irony in Gov. Susana Martinez selling the jet to an Alaska couple for $2.5 million.
Unlike the sale of other state equipment, this one got a ceremony, with the jet in the background sporting a large “SOLD” sign.
Martinez reminded the cameras of her campaign promise to unload the thing and assured us she was never a passenger.
She also gave the purchaser a hug for taking it off her hands.
The jet has been more useful to Martinez on the ground than it was to Richardson in the air.
During her campaign Martinez pounded her opponent, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, for using the jet, saying, “Those are wasted dollars that our kids could be benefiting from.” She even had billboards: “Sell the jet!” A simple issue that fits on a billboard, the jet resonated with the public.
And it made a great backdrop for the ceremonial handing over of the keys.
The former state jet is now flying the skies of Alaska, but expect to see it again in Martinez’s campaign ads – either for a second term or whatever higher national office she’s being groomed for.
As the governor was hugging the jet’s wealthy buyer, state senate leaders announced an initiative that matters to people – the 38-member, bipartisan Jobs Leadership Team, which will develop recommendations to spur job growth.
This follows the announcement of an already developed jobs plan by the Association of Commerce and Industry.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, didn’t say what took them so long, but at least they’re focusing on job creation.
So the score in that arena is industry, 1; Senate, 1; administration, 0.

Sherry Robinson
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Services 2011