One Year of Susana

On a sunny Saturday in March 2010, Republican candidates and supporters thronged the halls of the Albuquerque Hilton. That morning, New Mexico's Republican gubernatorial field seemed every bit as wide-open as the GOP's current presidential field. Former New Mexico Republican Party Chairman and retired Marine Col. Allen Weh was running strong. Janice Arnold-Jones, a former state representative from Albuquerque, had four terms under her belt and aisle-crossing potential. Albuquerque public relations guru Doug Turner gave the race a sense of youth and vibrancy, and Pete Domenici Jr.'s name carried the weight of history.

But by the afternoon, the race had a clear front-runner. Susana Martinez, a Doña Ana County district attorney, swept the pre-primary convention, winning close to half the vote. Weh trailed significantly, with 26 percent.

Martinez' candidacy would go on to define the race. On May 18, she released the first negative ad of the race: a video spot slamming Weh for having "pushed amnesty for illegal immigrants." (In a 2007 Albuquerque Journal column, Weh wrote that he favored "a controlled guest worker program.") After winning the Republican nomination, Martinez soundly beat former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish in the general election. At midnight on Jan. 1, 2011 she became New Mexico's first female governor.

Like the ad about Weh, many relics of Martinez' campaign have since vanished. Aside from its "Bold Change for New Mexico" header, both Martinez' campaign website,, and her transition site,, bear nothing more than a brief thank-you to voters and a Flickr stream containing photos of Martinez.

Martinez' first year in office has been characterized by triumphs and missteps, controversy and compromise. She inherited an office rife with allegations of corruption and nearly bankrupt.

Today, state government is leaner and smaller—though the Legislature has played a major role in getting it there. For the first time in years, New Mexico will enjoy a budget surplus. And yet, much remains the same.

Allegations of corruption continue to plague the executive branch. Gains in transparency are incremental: The state's Sunshine Portal, meant to be a reliable source of government data, offers a fragmented view at best. And Martinez' office disseminates information largely on her terms: Although SFR requested to meet with Martinez at any time over a two-week period (Jan. 2-13), her spokesman, Scott Darnell, replied that she would not be available. (Darnell declined to explain why other news outlets were granted interviews during the same period; Martinez was also the first gubernatorial candidate in SFR's history who refused an endorsement interview.)

The sections below are organized according to the basic structure of Martinez' campaign website, pulled from a May 28, 2010 cached version of We recall the promises Martinez made during her campaign and analyze her progress (on an admittedly unscientific percentage scale, with 0 percent signifying no progress and 100 percent signifying complete success).


Campaign promise: “The first place Martinez will start is by seeking to repeal the law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.”

Post-election reality: The driver’s license law was indeed the first place Martinez started—but so far, attempts to repeal it have proven fruitless. During the January 2011 legislative session, outrage among pro-immigrant groups, public officials (Santa Fe Mayor David Coss and then-Police Chief Aric Wheeler testified against it) and the Catholic church contributed to the bill’s defeat. Over the summer, an attempt by the Martinez administration to require 10,000 random license-holders to verify their residency status also fell flat when 1st Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton halted the effort. 

More recently, two lawsuits have challenged Martinez' immigration policies. On Jan. 12, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund struck another blow to the verification program, suing the state on behalf of former Motor Vehicle Division employee Laura Montano, who maintains she was forbidden from speaking Spanish to non-English-speakers seeking to renew licenses. Around the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union also sued the state for withholding the names of foreign nationals who allegedly voted in New Mexico elections—a primary justification for the administration's effort to require photo ID from all voters.

But Andy Nuñez, I-Doña Ana, has said he'll reintroduce the original driver's license bill this session, while other lawmakers are pushing for a compromise version.

"Both sides agree there are public safety issues that need to be addressed; the Senate compromise from the January [2011] session is a great starting point to have a discussion," state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, tells SFR. That bill tightened some requirements, such as mandating license renewals every two years for foreign nationals and increasing the penalty for license fraud. "I'm hopeful we can put this issue behind us," Wirth says, "although I've heard from some of my colleagues that [Martinez'] position has been, it's either a ban or nothing."

Progress: 15%

Bottom line: So far, Martinez’ attempts to deny driver’s licenses to foreign nationals and require voter ID have failed, but a compromise bill tightening license restrictions could get her part of the way there.

BUDGET: Baby Steps

Campaign promise: Martinez promised, per her campaign website, to “eliminat[e] programs that don’t work,” balance the state budget and “make sure money is put away in a rainy day fund for down economic times, while refunding taxpayers their hard-earned dollars to stimulate and grow the economy.”

Post-election reality: After several episodes of budget revisions, New Mexico is finally enjoying a surplus—an estimated $250 million that legislators can choose how they want to allocate. The state’s reserves are also up, from around 3.5 percent last year to 9 percent.

Martinez' budget request for fiscal year 2013 resembles the legislative proposal and includes a modest increase (3.6 percent) in total spending over FY 2012. It differs, however, by allocating $55 million of the surplus to provide tax breaks for various interests—a proposal that has raised hackles among some Democrats.

But New Mexico Tax Research Institute Executive Director Richard Anklam says the tax breaks won't bankrupt the state—provided New Mexico's reserves remain at 9 or 10 percent. "Based on all the economic forecasts, if they're maintaining that, I think they can in good conscience spend all $254 million, whether it's on program enhancements or tax reductions," Anklam says.

But Wirth has a different proposal—one he says will increase revenue to the state coffers, even while cutting taxes.

This month, Wirth filed the eighth version—he's tried it every year since 2005—of a bill requiring multistate corporations to pay taxes on their in-state earnings [news, Nov. 9: "Tilting at Walmart"]. The difference this time is that the bill adheres to a classic conservative tax mantra: Broaden the base; lower the rate. If New Mexico captures the extra income from multistate corporations and lowers its corporate tax rate from 7.6 percent to 7 percent, Wirth says, the state will still make money—and local businesses will have a better opportunity to compete.

"If you're a New Mexico bank, under this bill, your competitors across the street have the same set of rules—and your taxes are going to go down," Wirth points out.

Another rhetorical war is brewing over state employees. Although the Legislative Finance Committee's budget proposal calls for a slight increase in state employee salaries—at a cost of approximately $3.4 million—Martinez' budget takes the opposite tack, trumpeting her accomplishments in "reduc[ing] the bloated bureaucracy in state government." Indeed, according to the LFC's January newsletter, the total number of state employees is down 6.2 percent since last year. But those who remain are making out better than in the past. On average, New Mexico state employees earn about $4,500 more per year than the average New Mexican in private employment and about $1,900 more than the average state employee nationwide. And according to the New Mexico State Personnel Office, the percentage of state employees making more than $60,000 a year grew by almost a whole percentage point between 2008 and 2011, from 12.67 percent to 13.6 percent (see charts). Since Martinez started her term halfway through fiscal year 2011, that number might say more about Richardson than it does about her. But by the same token, the Legislature—which compromised to fill a gaping $450 million budget gap and then submitted a balanced budget to Martinez to sign—deserves some of the credit for bringing New Mexico back into the black.

Progress: 40%

Bottom line: Although Martinez publicly touts her budget-cutting, bureaucracy-reducing credentials, New Mexico owes some of its current budgetary health to legislative compromise. State employees also continue to enjoy better-than-average base pay.

CORRUPTION: The Pay Is Still in Play

Campaign promise: “There will be no higher priority in a Martinez Administration than rooting out corruption,” Martinez’ campaign website promised. 

"[W]e need a smaller government that is open and transparent. As governor, I will…end 'pay to play' in state government."

Post-election reality: Revelations of judicial corruption and accusations of political favoritism in the lucrative contract to operate a new racino outside Albuquerque have hampered Martinez’ progress in ending corruption [cover story, Dec. 21: “Pay to Stay”]. Her political action committee, Susana PAC, also received contributions during the Legislature’s special redistricting session in September—technically allowable as long as she didn’t solicit them [news, Oct. 19: “Pac It In”]. Since then, Susana PAC has continued to attract supporters; according to SFR’s analysis, more than 34 percent of donors who gave more than $250 work in oil and gas. SFR also reported on Dec. 30 that J Miles Hanisee, the Court of Appeals judge appointed in July, contributed $750 to Susana PAC shortly before his appointment. (Under a new judicial code of conduct, judges can no longer donate to any political candidate.) All of this hints at a larger issue: the extent to which political action committees and other organizations can influence elections and policy, such as the Martinez administration’s recent push to dismantle the “pit rule,” which oil and gas producers maintain hurts their profits.

Wirth has filed a bill requiring independent organizations to disclose their campaign-related expenditures, and Martinez’ recent decision to allow lawmakers to consider campaign issues during this session—even though it’s technically a budget-only session—opens the door to other reform efforts.

"Governor Martinez has implemented important ethics reforms at agencies like the State Personnel Office and the State Investment Council and now has permitted campaign finance reform bills for the upcoming 30-day session," Think New Mexico Executive Director Fred Nathan writes SFR in an email. "To answer critics who argue that she has not done enough, the Governor should support Think New Mexico's legislation to ban political contributions from lobbyists and government contractors. These reforms present an opportunity for her to take the 'pay' out of 'pay to play' corruption."

Progress: 25%

Bottom line: Although Martinez at times seems open to campaign finance reform and transparency, pay-to-play allegations have continued to plague state government.

CRIME: Continuing Irresolution

Campaign promise: In addition to reinstating the death penalty, Martinez promised to “conduct a thorough review of our state’s laws and report back to New Mexico’s citizens on laws that need changing and toughening” and “bring together a group of experts in this area to develop and implement a long-term strategy related to crime prevention.” She also promised to “look for ways to increase support and funding for law enforcement.”

Post-election reality: Although Republican legislators introduced bills to reinstate the death penalty last session, all three died in committee. As of press time, no such bills had been filed in the 2012 session. Darnell did not respond to SFR’s inquiry as to whether the governor accomplished either the promised legal review or the long-term crime strategy. She did, however, succeed in passing Katie’s Law, which requires that state police collect DNA samples from all felony suspects (see sidebar, page 20). As to the effectiveness of her strategy, of the seven most reported crimes tracked by the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, five either decreased or stabilized between 2010 and 2011. But even while reported assaults dropped 10 percent, homicides increased 31.6 percent, from 38 to 50 per 100,000 New Mexicans. Although no individual county was solely responsible for the leap, Santa Fe County showed the largest increase, from eight homicides to 13. 

Martinez, meanwhile, has continued to push for additional law enforcement funding. Her 2013 budget proposal requests a 6.1 percent budget increase for the Department of Public Safety, with the bulk of the increase concentrated in law enforcement. In total, it amounts to about $3.5 million more than the agency had when Richardson left office.  Martinez' budget also allocates $2 million for new law enforcement vehicles.

Progress: 30%

Bottom line: Although Martinez proposes additional funding for law enforcement, her effectiveness in reinstating the death penalty and in improving crime rates has been limited.

ECONOMY: Struggling Forward

Campaign promise: “My primary goal will be to make certain businesses in New Mexico continue to operate in the state, while attracting others to set up shop here,” Martinez promised, vowing to “reform the tax and regulatory system.”

Post-election reality: Despite an enduring recession, the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research recently predicted that the state will add 8,000 jobs this year. Martinez’ proposed $55 million tax credit and exemption package also contains a series of measures to, in her words, “encourage job creation”: an exemption for small businesses, a $1,000 tax credit for employers who hire veterans and various targeted tax breaks for certain types of businesses [Big Picture, Jan. 11: “Taxonomy”].

But some experts say her proposal only complicates matters.

"Exempting small businesses—I don't know where that will create jobs, but it's certainly not a move in the direction of sound tax policy," Mark Robyn, an economist with the Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan Tax Foundation, says. Nor will the $1,000 veteran tax credit alleviate unemployment, he adds.

"If you're encouraging people to hire veterans, that doesn't mean they're hiring more people in total; they're just hiring more veterans," Robyn says. "Now, maybe that's the goal, but that doesn't mean you have less people unemployed. It just means less of them are veterans—assuming it's even effective at doing that."

Sweeping reform, however, is a much thornier prospect.

"Democrats and Republicans both, if you put the word 'small business' into it, it tends to feel good…If you look, even, at what the governor's proposing, there's a fairly limited amount of money available to do anything substantial," Anklam says. "Real tax reform is very hard, and it takes a long time to draft it, so I don't expect this administration will try to take anything like that on in this session."

Progress: 20%

Bottom line: Martinez’ tax-related proposals may make certain beneficiaries happy—end even encourage certain businesses to relocate here—but they’re a far cry from comprehensive reform.

EDUCATION: Testing the Waters

Campaign promise: “Instead of accepting mediocrity in New Mexico schools and being bullied by special-interest groups into shying away from real changes, I will take on the establishment and fight for a system that puts children learning first, before anything else.”

Post-election reality: During the January 2011 session, lawmakers passed a bill requiring the state Public Education Department to rate schools on an A-F scale according to performance. (In January, the PED issued grades for each school district; Santa Fe Public Schools scored a C-minus.)

Another measure barring third-graders from graduating to fourth grade if they lack reading proficiency (called "social promotion") failed, but Martinez has promised to revive it in 2012. Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers have introduced an alternative bill requiring parental approval before a child is held back.

Wirth says he supports that bill and the idea of reforming New Mexico's schools in general.

"The extremely challenging thing is, the message is that the solution is not more money, yet we've underfunded our public schools to the point that we're close to a constitutional question," Wirth says.

Martinez' 2013 budget proposal does include $5.5 million for new initiatives to pay low-income students' PSAT fees and provide testing at frequent intervals to measure student progress throughout the year. But one critic, the liberal Independent Source PAC, claims some of Martinez' proposals will simply funnel precious state dollars to private, out-of-state contractors. On Jan. 13, ISPAC issued an inch-thick report calling for PED Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera's resignation, in part because of her ties to companies that may benefit from the proposed initiatives. According to a list of PED's contracts and purchases obtained by SFR through a public information request, however, none of those companies contracted with the state in FY 2011 or 2012.

Other allegations have dogged the PED. In October, shortly after reports surfaced that Martinez Chief of Staff Keith Gardner's wife, Stephanie Gardiner, had landed a $67,000-a-year job with PED, SFR reported on Skandera's decision to renew charters at three underperforming Albuquerque charter schools and to hire a former charter school contractor for help with the decision [news, Oct. 12: "Fox in the Henhouse?"].

SFR's records request reveals other anomalies. Many contracts and purchases listed in PED's records differ—sometimes significantly—from those listed on the state's Sunshine Portal (, which is supposed to show each department's accurate financials. Some purchases listed on the Sunshine Portal don't show up in PED's records and vice versa. With Skandera's nomination still pending Senate approval, it could be a rocky month for Martinez' education goals.

Progress: 60%

Bottom line: In her education proposals, Martinez has made significant steps and is likely to make further progress this session, but problems in the PED may limit her success.

HEALTH CARE: Behind Closed Doors

Campaign promise: “Our Medicaid dollars have been spread thin and we need to re-focus on core priorities, such as protecting our children, while rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the system.”

Post-election reality: In December, SFR filed a public records request seeking the results of a lengthy scoping process on Medicaid reform, paid for with a $1.7 million contract to Washington, DC-based Alicia Smith and Associates [cover story, Dec. 14: “Skin in the Game”]. The state Human Services Department, however, responded that no such records existed. As state officials await Smith’s findings—which advocates worry may include higher co-pays for Medicaid recipients—other aspects of New Mexico’s health care system have attracted scrutiny. According to the LFC’s January newsletter, “New Mexico provides nearly $300 million in tax credits to medical providers but does little to assess the impact of these programs.” Additionally, efforts by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King to curb waste, fraud and abuse within Medicaid have yielded little.

As SFR reported this summer, for every dollar King's office spends on prosecuting Medicaid fraud, it recovers just 53 cents, a "dismal" return on investment, LFC Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Hidalgo, told SFR at the time [news, July 20: "Rate of Return"]. Martinez' budget includes a very slight increase in funding for King's Medicaid fraud unit, but a little extra funding seems unlikely to make a big difference.

Progress: 5%

Bottom line: Little visible progress has been made on the Medicaid reform initiative; pending the release of the contractor’s synopsis, it’s hard to say where New Mexico stands.  SFR

Additional reporting by R Harrison Dilday.

Political Football

“There’s a lot of things where [Gov. Susana Martinez] is saving the state $500,000 by doing this and another couple hundred thousand by doing that—well, why didn’t she move [the DNA database] back and save another $400,000?”

—John Denko, former secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety

Before Gov. Susana Martinez even took office, she pledged to oppose one of Gov. Bill Richardson’s final acts—moving the state offender DNA database from Albuquerque to Santa Fe.

Denko tried to move that database to the state Department of Public Safety headquarters in Santa Fe after getting orders from Richardson to cut costs. He learned that the Albuquerque Police Department, which hosts the database, had a $512,000 annual budget for the lab; DPS’ own lab could do the work for $121,000 per year.

So Denko moved the database. But Darren White, then-director of the Albuquerque Public Safety Office, refused to let all of the DNA samples leave Albuquerque until they were entered into a log by hand. Before DPS could finish doing so, Martinez took office and moved the database back.

The problem is, the DNA ID Fees Fund is supposed to pay for the DNA lab’s administration. Legislation that passed last year requiring more offenders to give DNA sample, was expected to increase the fund’s revenue, but analysis of the bill warned that, even with an increase, the fund could not support the DNA lab for more that two years. The analysis also noted that an unknown amount of fund money has been transferred to the APD.

The DNA lab never should have been operated by APD in the first place, Denko says. White moved it there when he was state director of public safety under former Gov. Gary Johnson.

“It’s a state responsibility, and...if Albuquerque screws something up badly with that, it’s my understanding that the responsibility and liability would lie with the state,” Denko says.

The lab has screwed things up in the past. According to a 2007 state audit report, it returned a five-months-late DNA match linking an offender with a crime scene and allowed unapproved staff access to the database. A 2010 DPS report on the lab found that lab staff members were working on APD cases on the state’s dime [news, Jan. 5, 2011: “Lab Spat”]. White’s retirement last year, amid allegations he interfered with an APD investigation, opens the question of whether the Martinez office might reconsider, in the interest of saving state money.

“Hopefully, the truth has been put forward, and at this point, [the Martinez administration] really doesn’t owe White anything now,” Denko says, alluding to White’s support of Martinez’ bid for office. But Marc Adams, director of the Albuquerque Police Department Crime Lab, says the database isn’t going anywhere.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Adams says. “And I’d be the first to know.”

(Wren Abbott)

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