Rob Nikolewski. Photo courtesy of Santa Fe New Mexican/Clyde Mueller.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – It’s been said you need to keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
For Gov. Susana Martinez, the difficulty comes in trying to keep your frenemies away.
Politicos all around the state are still buzzing about a secret audio recording, showing the governor and staffers from the 2010 gubernatorial campaign swearing and deriding political opponents while advisor Jay McCleskey discusses how the administration could respond to criticism by posting “a YouTube video that no one will ever see.”
It all seems like a scene from “House of Cards.”
The audio cuts came from a scathing article appearing in the liberal magazine, Mother Jones that calls Martinez petty, vindictive and weak on policy.
Within an hour of the story being posted, the Martinez campaign responded with an email bomb to supporters and potential donors, saying the article “shows just how far the Left is willing to go to stop reforms in New Mexico.”
The reaction was predictable: Martinez opponents swooning and getting into high moral dudgeon at the sound of politicians talking like, well, politicians (as if conference calls involving, say, Bill Richardson or Rahm Emanuel or Bill Clinton would never include such coarse exchanges) and Martinez supporters decrying the recordings as exercises in the politics of personal destruction (as if Republicans wouldn’t take advantage of a similar incident involving a Democrat).
But the larger question centers on the fact that, obviously, the recordings came from someone inside the Martinez camp who then turned them over to the author of the article in the first place. Who did it?
An FBI investigation into allegedly stolen emails led to federal charges and a pending case against former Martinez campaign manager Jamie Estrada. But the article says the recordings come from October of 2010. Estrada was gone from the Martinez campaign by December of 2009.
Could it be Anissa Ford, another former Martinez campaign employee, who got crossways with the governor’s staff? She won’t confirm or deny it. Maybe the recordings come from someone else.
The editors at Mother Jones wouldn’t tell Steve Terrell of the New Mexican who supplied them.
The incident is similar to one that put Martinez chief of staff Keith Gardner in an embarrassing spot. In September of 2012, Gardner was caught on audio tape saying how he avoids putting anything on his state email account and cussing like a sailor, calling then Senate Pro Tem Tim Jennings a … well, let’s just say it’s a word that, if directed to a referee by any NBA coach, leads to an immediate ejection.
But in each case, what’s telling is the information that damaged Martinez and/or her staff did not come from an outside agency. It wasn’t like a cabal of liberals had installed a Soviet-style recording system into the Martinez inner sanctum.
That certainly fuels fire that while the Martinez team may be politically effective, it leaves plenty of hard feelings in the process.
A highly critical article from the National Journal last fall was most noteworthy because it got Harvey Yates — the former chairman of the state Republican Party — to go on the record with his complaints about McCleskey, urging Martinez in an email to make “it clear that you run the government and he does not.”
Whether all this will really matter to New Mexico voters come November is an open question.
Intraparty infighting and handicapping elections make for lively discussion in a state long consumed with political intrigue but Martinez has a substantial campaign war chest and the five Democrats fighting for the gubernatorial nomination seem oddly unfocused with little more than six weeks to go until the June 3 primary.
But it’s safe to say one thing about the latest round of secret recordings of Martinez and her staff: It sure doesn’t help her.
This editorial first appeared in the Sanata Fe New Mexican on April 20, 2014. Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski