New Mexico's Gov. Susana Martinez emerged from her spider hole of post-pizza-party depression and embarrassment on Tuesday, delivering a nearly hourlong State of the State Address before a packed House gallery, kicking off the 52nd legislative session in the Roundhouse.
The speech was heavy on protecting the people, putting away dangerous criminals for longer periods of time, ratcheting up penalties for DWI offenders, improving education and helping families—always the cornerstone of conservative Republican principles.
It was also self-congratulatory, in typical, anti-tax GOP fashion, in which Martinez, a Republican now entering her sixth year in office, claimed New Mexico stands on firm fiscal ground, without having to raise taxes or bail out the government on the backs of hard-working families.
Only once did Martinez refer to campaign finance reform, saying it was time to shut the "revolving door" between lobbyists and legislators. But there was no mention of cleaning up corruption or establishing an independent ethics committee in New Mexico's citizen Legislature, which meets only once a year, in this case for a 30-day stretch to balance a $6 billion budget.
Such a subject was the elephant in the room, in which Martinez stars, front and center, as the subject of a federal probe over campaign funds during her first run for governor, a shell game that followed on the heels of of Martinez's own version of running the government through private email, drawing comparisons to Hillary Clinton's private email accounts.
Instead, the 56-year-old Martinez, an El Paso, Texas, native and former New Mexico prosecutor, deferred to what she knows best in her 45-minute deliverance: telling harrowing tales of police officers shot dead in the streets of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque during traffic stops by repeat offenders—for purposes of bail reform in the state.
"Call them boomerang thugs, turnstile thugs, whatever," Martinez said. "We have vicious, heinous criminals among us who are willing to take the lives of our greatest heroes and who have no business being out on the streets."
Democrats immediately threw political counterpunches after the speech, including Debra Haaland, chairwoman for the Democratic Party of New Mexico, summing it up as "the same old rosy picture that she paints, and nothing really jibes with reality, and her policies have not changed since she entered office."
Meanwhile, outside the Roundhouse, just hours before her speech, protesters wearing evil-looking masks held a satirical "pizza party" to impeach Martinez, with their name-calling upstaging the humorous spirit of the party. She is nothing short of "a tyrant," they said, and her policies, from pro drilling to the anti-regulation attitude she wields, only serves to help big corporations while ignoring the "little people" of New Mexico.
The pizza, of course, was a clear allusion to the holiday party gone awry in the second week of December, in which Martinez lied to responding Santa Fe police officers and demanded emergency dispatch give her the name of the person who called in to complain about the ruckus on the fourth floor of the Eldorado Hotel during an after-party holiday party. She also told dispatchers the people in the room were eating pizza, not drinking beer and throwing bottles off the balcony.
Protesters, who included former Santa Fe City Council candidate Jeff Green, say they've drafted a resolution calling for Martinez's impeachment for "high crimes, corruption and malfeasance," and while the movement could turn out to be more symbolic than substantial, emotions still ran high, even if they were choreographed, the megaphone passed around like some joint.
"The Constitution says 'We the people, by the people, for the people,'" shouted Albuquerque resident Dinah Vargas, as a crowd gathered and ate pizza and state police officers looked on. "The Constitution doesn't say, 'We the government, for the government, for contracts and contractors and dirty money that's shoved under the table.'"
Not to be undone, pro-immigrant rights groups, including Somos Un Pueblo Unido, created a semblance of a human chain on the other side of the capitol, condemning Martinez for trying to strip undocumented residents of their driver's licenses, stoking fear by falsely claiming the law lures criminals and leads to human trafficking while deliberately conflating the issue with the Real ID Act.
But for Martinez, whose social slip-ups may have lost her any sort of chance at a national post, the speech she gave could be her last attempt to save face. So she tugged at the heartstrings of her Republican-controlled House, mentioning, by name, victims whose lives have been cut short by drunken drivers.
She talked about supporting curfews in certain communities that are being terrorized by crime, expounded on closing the legal loopholes in which child pornography suspects receive little, if any punishment, and laid bare her plan to invest millions of dollars in early childhood programs and improve reading among the state's elementary school students.
"No child is un-teachable," she said. "I will never give up on any kid."
She was full of unoriginal ideas that have long stood the political test of time—like encouraging more parental involvement by granting employees a leave so that they could attend parent-teacher conferences, echoing the notion that education begins in the home.
And she patted herself on the back for loosening regulations that have led to an eight-day turnaround in the state's ability to distribute drilling permits to the oil and gas industry, then countered in the next breath that the state has levied and collected more fines from polluters than any other administration in state history.
There is a middle ground, she insisted, between protecting the public health and the environment while making a buck off the land in a state where the oil and gas industry ranks fourth in the nation.
"We must never be so arrogant or naive to forget that businesses can be located anywhere in the world," she said. "Whether we like it or not, whether it makes us comfortable or not, we are in a high-stakes daily competition with other states and other countries. It's our job to make New Mexico more welcoming, more predictable for job creators, and we've come a long way in doing so, largely by focusing on the fundamentals to better compete."
Joe Kabourek, executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, was ready with a counter too: "The one thing we didn't hear about is the public's lacks of trust in its leaders. From a federal investigation to an elected official doing time in jail, scandals have been nonstop for Gov. Martinez and her administration. It's time she breaks her silence and speaks frankly about the problems and finds solutions."