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No Susana

New Mexico’s governor is a rising star, but won’t enter the veepstakes.

Apr 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 30 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Ken Martinez, the Democrat, tells a different story. He says the legislature had “already done all the tough stuff” in cutting spending the two years prior to Susana Martinez’s becoming governor, even levying a small tax to balance the budget. (New Mexico is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget.) The storm, he argues, was mostly weathered by the time she came into office.

“We scrubbed all the way to the bottom,” the governor says, noting unnecessary fleets of government vehicles, fancy cell phones for government employees, and outlandish salaries for cabinet secretaries that had accrued during Richardson’s two terms. Working with Democratic majorities, she found other waste to cut and plugged the budget hole, all the while increasing funding for Medicaid and education. The legislature, especially the senate, resisted the cuts initially but eventually passed balanced budgets two years in a row—without raising taxes.

Martinez has found other ways to shake things up in Sante Fe. The New Mexico legislature has no legal obligation to keep a public record, so she sends an intern with a video camera to tape floor debates and committee meetings. The governor’s office uploads the videos to its website. At first, some legislators mocked this as a gimmick while mugging for the camera. But now, Martinez says, they’re coming to terms with the new transparency.

“I was willing to make them angry for a little while, because at the end of the day, what were we getting?” she says. “Accountability on their votes on education reform. And people were watching that. And they see that. I think commonsense legislators on both sides of the aisle will say, ‘All right, we had our three days of screaming at her. At the end of the day, we’re still on camera. Are we going to be held accountable by the people back home if we don’t start doing what’s right?’ ”

Sincerity, Martinez says, is what people are looking for in their elected officials, and most haven’t liked what they’ve seen in a while. Republicans, she says, have an opportunity. “You have to stay steady,” Martinez says. “You either mean it or you don’t. And you have to follow through when you say it. People have to start believing in their elected officials.”

If Martinez is to be believed, then, her next campaign will be for reelection in 2014. After that? Well, that could be interesting.

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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