Transparency promise opens Martinez to attacks [Santa Fe New Mexican]

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Transparency promise opens Martinez to attacks

Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2014 4:45 pm | Updated: 10:09 pm, Sat Mar 29, 2014.

This post originally appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.  Read the original and add your comments here.

Gov. Susana Martinez in 2010 campaigned on a promise to run an open and transparent administration, in contrast to that of then-Gov. Bill Richardson. Four years later, however, issues of transparency and open government are becoming regular sources of attacks against her.

Among recent developments:

• Lawyers for Martinez, in two lawsuits filed by The Associated Press over public records, contend court enforcement of the state Inspection of Public Records Act to make the governor and state agencies turn over travel records would violate various parts of the U.S. Constitution. Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said last week, “No court has ever held that IPRA, which is a straightforward access-to-records statute, violates the state or federal constitutions or separation-of-powers principles. We do not believe that any constitutional analysis is required in this case.”

• Martinez’s lawyer, Paul Kennedy of Albuquerque, made virtually identical constitutional arguments last November in a lawsuit over public records filed by former New Mexico Finance Authority CEO Rick May. May’s lawyer, Steven Farber, told The New Mexican on Friday, “There really appears to be a calculated effort by these defendants to weaken and fundamentally change the thrust and import of the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act enforcement provisions.”

• At the governor’s direction, state agencies have begun telling legislative oversight committees that their requests for information must be sent first to the governor’s chief of staff for his approval before the agency will respond. Legislative Finance Committee Chairman Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, told The Associated Press that the new policy is an unprecedented move to control the flow of information that his committee is entitled to under state law. Before this directive, the legislative committees and their staff members typically were in direct contact with agencies to seek data and documents.

• The New Mexican reported recently that for six months, Martinez’s Department of Finance and Administration has dragged its feet on the paper’s requests for out-of-state travel records for Martinez, her staff and security detail.

• Besides The Associated Press cases, in recent months, the administration has been sued by the Santa Fe Reporter over alleged violations of the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

Martinez and her spokesmen have denied any wrongdoing in each instance. Regarding the matter of the legislative committees, a spokesman told The Associated Press, “The governor is responsible for numerous agencies in the executive branch, so it is important to address those requests across all agencies to ensure that state government is functioning collectively, in a cohesive manner and not compartmentalized.”

Last week, when asked for comment, the governor’s campaign spokesman, Chris Sanchez, repeated what other spokesmen for the governor have said in recent months: “Gov. Susana Martinez has ushered in a whole new level of openness, and this administration is the most transparent in New Mexico history. Since coming into office, the governor has worked hard to restore New Mexicans’ confidence in the state government, and she is proud of her record.”

In the court cases involving travel records for Martinez and her security detail, administration officials have argued that releasing the records could jeopardize the security of the governor, her family and the officers. Martinez aides also have objected to records requests for information about the governor’s personal and political travel, claiming those aren’t public records.

So far, Martinez’s transparency problems haven’t surfaced as major issues in her re-election campaign. But in a news release issued Saturday, candidate Gary King compared Martinez’s “passion for government secrecy” with that of the late President Richard Nixon. “Most people would agree that 4th Amendment protections exist to protect citizens from the government, not the government from the citizens,” King said.

Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said Monday it’s possible that the transparency issue could zing the Republican governor in the upcoming election campaigns.

“Most voters don’t pay that much attention to news stories about allegations of a lack of transparency,” Sanderoff said. “However, it is possible that a clever TV commercial or a direct-mail piece claiming that she’s not practicing what she preaches, or not ‘walking the walk’ could be effective.” He said it’s probable that Democrats will try this line of attack against Martinez.

Sanderoff said his past polling has found that issues of “open government” and transparency appeal mostly to independent voters, as opposed to Democrats or Republicans.

Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at The University of New Mexico, said Monday she’s not convinced that open-government issues will move voters in the gubernatorial election this year.

“It’s one of those gray areas,” she said. “It would be hard for that to gain any traction.” But Atkeson said if Martinez lost decisively in any of the lawsuits, it could help opponents.

It’s also possible the transparency issue could backfire on Democrats. King, for instance, has been criticized by Republicans for condicting public business on private emails — which was revealed shortly after Martinez and her top aides were found to be doing the same thing.

Last year, the state Legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass a measure to shield lawmakers’ emails from public records requests. Among those voting for this were two other Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque.

In December, there was a public dust-up between Morales and Martinez’s political consultant, Jay McCleskey. Each filed formal public records requests seeking each other’s emails and other public information. Martinez’s campaign spokesman, Danny Diaz, at the time said, “We call on [Morales] not to obstruct that request with the bogus rule he voted in favor of last session, which shields information from the public about what their elected officials are doing on the taxpayer’s dime.”

Nothing became of either public records request, but Martinez’s campaign was able to highlight the controversial legislative email vote.

Morales defended his vote in a statement to The New Mexican, saying he believes in openness and transparency. “However, as a state senator, I have had many constituents send me correspondence of a very personal nature. Sharing [that] correspondence would jeopardize their privacy and potential safety. I have a responsibility to protect the trust that people have placed in me as their representative in the Senate.”

Contact Steve Terrell at Read his political blog