Surveys of New Mexico voters continue to show our first Hispanic female governor remains quite popular, with about 60 percent of the people giving her the thumbs-up.
So the conventional wisdom would conclude that Gov. Susana Martinez’ popularity presages a second term before the wheels start to come off the wagon—if they ever do.
Most voters’ impressions of a governor are shaped by media coverage. On TV, we get split-second footage: She's cutting ribbons, smiling at children, waving to crowds, and looking perky at a rally or solemn at a memorial.
What you don’t get on network television in New Mexico is any substantive discussion of policy initiatives.
What the electorate knows about the governor is based mostly on what the local mainstream outlets are saying about her and her administration. And the honeymoon ain't over yet, even after 18 months.
And the honeymoon ain't over yet, even after 18 months.
Martinez is not being held accountable for much of what has happened on her watch. Until reporters begin to dig into the consequences of her policy initiatives (not just reprint the press releases issued by state departments), the public will continue to hold her in high regard.
She's a creature of her campaign publicists—a kinder, gentler conservative leader. But that airbrushed illusion hides an alarming dismantling of the state’s future. Her administration's fiscal and environmental agendas are part of the same multipronged assault we’ve seen in other states (Wisconsin and Indiana, for instance). Neocon Republican governors have set to work demolishing 50 years’ worth of social progress.
Their pattern is clear. First, they shrink government dramatically by reducing taxes for the wealthy, and they push to privatize as many services as possible. Next, they marginalize public employee unions. They proceed to attack public school education in favor of private and charter schools. They ignore environmental concerns and reduce protections under the guise of becoming more friendly to industry.
She is carrying out the same plan as her colleagues on the right elsewhere.
For cover, the scheme calls for pandering to social conservatives as a way to distract the public from the fiscal pain involved. So we see phony controversies over evolution, reproductive rights, gun legislation, gay marriage, immigration anxiety—whatever is calculated to rev up the emotions of the voters. Meanwhile, citizens’ pockets are systematically picked by corporations and big-money interests that dreamt up this clever ploy.
Martinez has not generally been spotlighted in this effort to funnel public dollars into private pockets, but all elements of that strategy are being implemented in New Mexico. She is carrying out the same plan as her colleagues on the right elsewhere. Make no mistake about it: Our governor is a crusader.
Here are three brief examples (culled from many) of this reckless adherence to the national neocon blueprint. These issues don’t receive adequate analysis in the media, yet they are far more crucial to our state’s future than the red herring of driver's licenses for immigrants.
Health care: New Mexico may have the second-highest rate of people without insurance in the country, but Martinez continues to resist embracing the Affordable Care Act. It's New Mexico's best opportunity in decades to actually do something about unmet health needs. She may have wounded the effort to create a health insurance exchange, the starting point for serious change, by shifting leadership and reversing direction. The decision to hand over planning our exchange to a Utah-based consulting firm headed by the former Republican governor of that state may prove both expensive and destructive.
Public school teachers: So far, every element in the Martinez approach to educational reform has begun by calling into question the professionalism, commitment and skill of public school teachers. Instead of asking teachers how to improve performance, we are seeing those dedicated public servants repeatedly scapegoated, berated and ignored.
Pit rules: The guv is determined to end or drastically change environmental protections at oil wells known as “pit rules.” This is how Texas oil and development billionaires who financed her campaign are being repaid. Those common sense requirements have never slowed oil drilling in New Mexico or dented petroleum’s profit. And they've protected drinking water supplies.
In time, New Mexicans will recognize how badly served we are by electing a leader who slavishly follows a template created to handle circumstances completely foreign to us. That’s when Martinez’ popularity rating will begin to drop.