Martinez taps Johnsonians

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The ins and outs of the outs and ins

By Hal Rhodes

New Mexico is about to get a new governor, but if the people assisting her are any indication, the emerging Republican administration of Susanna Martinez just might bear a noticeable resemblance to the administration of the state’s out-going GOP governor eight years ago, Gary Johnson.
If there was anything consistent about Martinez’s campaign this year, it was her call for voters to kick the “Ins” out.
And a majority of voters did. Yet what Martinez has managed to accomplish during her transition is an incoming administration in which an earlier cadre of “outs” are decidedly back in.
It started with her first post-election announcement that Heather Wilson would head up her transition team.
Wilson was elected to Congress from the state’s 1st U.S. House District and subsequently sought (to no avail) the 2008 GOP U.S. Senate nomination. But her political career in New Mexico began when Gary Johnson made her a cabinet secretary in his administration.          Another former Johnson cabinet secretary Martinez tapped to assist her transition was Darren White, who served on the group charged with finding the next governor someone to head the Public Safety and Homeland Security Department.
White left the Johnson administration in a high profile huff after the governor made it known that he favors decriminalizing marijuana. Johnson loyalists thought White’s headline-grabbing departure gauche.
Nonetheless, he subsequently got himself elected sheriff of Bernalillo County, then ran unsuccessfully as the GOP’s 2008 nominee for the congressional seat Wilson relinquished to pursue her senatorial ambitions.
That defeat sent White back to being sheriff, a job he quit earlier this year in order to serve in the administration of Albuquerque’s new mayor, Richard Berry.
White is one of those politicos who seem to make a career of being in and out and in again ­— a lot.
In any case, the individual Martinez has picked to head her Public Safety Department, Gordon Eden, was Motor Vehicle Division director under Johnson, and he is only one of several Johnsonians soon be in again.
In New Mexico, irrespective of party, political types are rarely on the outs, merely on standby. Consider out-going Gov. Bill Richardson.
Eight years ago, just days after taking office, news broke that a group of North Korean diplomats were en route to Santa Fe for a meeting they had sought with the  new governor.
U.S. and North Korean relations were tense and as a former U.N. ambassador, Richardson understood the politics and protocols in meeting with the North Koreans.
Here was a newly inaugurated Democratic governor of New Mexico sitting down with representatives of a nation engaged in a war of wits and words with the Republican administration of George W. Bush.  
Richardson played it by the book. Gracious, solicitous of his guests’ views, firm in articulating U.S. concerns, resolute in keeping Bush administration officials fully informed of the discussions.
Eight years later, only days remaining before leaving office, the governor has just returned from meetings in Pyongyang where his presence was requested by North Korea’s vice-foreign minister.
Again tensions were high and North Korean sabers were rattling. Yet, he insisted, his meetings were “unofficial.” He was not there “as a representative of the Obama administration.”
Perhaps. But Richardson doesn’t do Hot Dog diplomacy and wouldn’t have gone without White House and State Department clearance. It’s also a given that both have been fully briefed on what transpired.
Interestingly, upon his return, Pyongyang’s sabers rattled less threateningly, and its leaders reportedly had agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency monitors access to their uranium enrichment facility.
Time will tell. But on his way out, Bill Richardson says he’ll be even more deeply invested in  the quest for peace.

Hal Rhodes
NM News Services