New Mexico, best known as the state which most Americans think is a province of Old Mexico, has produced possibly the only Republican politician capable of appealing to Hispanics: Governor Susanna Martinez, who keynoted the Mitt Romney coronation. Martinez has now made the news, and not in a good way. Andy Kroll, MoJo:
Despite numerous requests, the governor and her aides declined to comment for this piece. But previously unreleased audio recordings, text messages, and emails obtained by Mother Jones reveal a side of Martinez the public has rarely, if ever, seen. In private, Martinez can be nasty, juvenile, and vindictive. She appears ignorant about basic policy issues and has surrounded herself with a clique of advisers who are prone to a foxhole mentality.
As district attorney, Martinez displayed the kind of hard-driving tactics that would come to define her. She was known for demanding harsh penalties, and didn’t hesitate to lock up defendants awaiting trial. (In 2012, the county said that Martinez’s office was partially responsible for an incident in which a mentally ill man named Stephen Slevin was left in solitary confinement for nearly two years without trial, and later agreed to pay a $15.5 million settlement.)
Martinez struggled to stand out. Her fundraising was mediocre, and she lacked the wealth to self-finance like her main rival, a former Marine colonel and state party chairman named Allen Weh. Weh believed the job was his, according to an email McCleskey sent to campaign staffers, and at one point suggested Martinez was better suited for lieutenant governor. “What a narcissistic grandiose ‘tool’!” she replied.
But things began to turn around as major party figures from outside the state put their weight behind Martinez. In May 2010, Texas megadonor Bob Perry and his wife, Doylene, cut the first of several checks that would eventually total $450,000, making them her biggest individual donors by far. And then, on a Sunday morning just two weeks before the primary, Sarah Palin rolled into Albuquerque at the behest of the RGA. As “Start Me Up” pumped out of the hotel ballroom speakers, Palin walked onstage with Martinez and declared to a crowd of 1,300 screaming fans, “You have a winner right here.”
Listening to recordings of Martinez talking with her aides is like watching an episode of HBO’s Veep, with over-the-top backroom banter full of pique, self-regard, and vindictiveness. As Martinez and her campaign staff rewatched a recent televised debate, Martinez referred to Denish, her opponent, as “that little bitch.” After Denish noted that the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce had given her an award, McCleskey snapped, “That’s why we’re not meeting with those fuckers.”
In a September 2009 email mentioning one of Martinez’s 2010 primary opponents, a former state representative named Janice Arnold-Jones, McCleskey wrote: “I FUCKING HATE THAT BITCH!” And in yet another debate prep meeting, Kennicott mocked the language skills of Ben Luján, a former state House speaker and a political icon to New Mexico Latinos: “Somebody told me he’s absolutely eloquent in Spanish, but his English? He sounds like a retard.”
What had Yates especially concerned was the growing evidence of business as usual from a governor who’d campaigned as a good-government reformer. In late 2011, the state awarded a 25-year lease worth an estimated $1 billion to a company largely owned by a pair of major Martinez backers, the Downs at Albuquerque, to operate a racetrack and casino at the state fairgrounds. To hear critics tell it, the bidding was rigged: Martinez met with the donors privately during the campaign and again during the selection process. The governor-appointed bid committee was stacked with McCleskey allies, and leaked files show the Downs’ attorney emailing with administration staffers to secure votes on the fairgrounds commission. Andrea Goff, a former Martinez fundraiser, has said McCleskey pressured her to get her father-in-law, who served on the commission, to switch his vote. “Everything about the whole process was controlled by the governor’s office,” Charlotte Rode, a Martinez appointee to the commission, told me.
I thought the Nixon story made it clear that if you’re going to be a vindictive, grandiose psychopath, it’s wiser not to have a record of your private comments on tape. It remains to be seen whether her presidential aspirations have been dented as badly as Chris Christie’s, that other corrupt vindictive, juvenile ex-prosecutor.
Alex Pareene of Salon had a great comment:
I do not mean, in any way, to diminish the reporting of Kroll and Mother Jones, but it seems, from the outside, that this piece happened because someone with access to a lot of documents and recordings decided to send those documents and recordings to a venue that would make sure to post them in the most damaging and complete form possible. (The Times, for example, would’ve produced a similarly comprehensive profile with this material, but it would’ve been headlined something like “Unanswered Questions Linger Over Influence of Adviser to New Mexico Governor.”) That right there is a good indication that something is terribly wrong in the office of the governor of New Mexico: Vindictive behavior leads people to do things like leak all your shit to Mother Jones.