7-25 Gov's campaign staff playing big role in administration
SANTA FE -- Recently I wrote about the departure to Washington, D.C, of Brian Moore, a deputy chief of staff in the office of Gov. Susana Martinez.
Since then, we hear of the resignation of Tourism Department deputy secretary Toni Balzano, after what she termed six months of bullying capped by her exclusion from the news conference announcing the Billy the Kid manhunt.
Both departures were attributed to the influence of Martinez's chief political advisor Jay McCleskey. McCleskey also was Martinez's chief adviser during her gubernatorial campaign last year.
The Albuquerque Journal recently referred to McCleskey as "the fifth floor because of his dominance over the Capitol's fourth floor offices of Gov. Martinez.
In the eight months since Martinez's election last November, she has been accused of taking actions influenced more by politics than by good public policy. Many also say Martinez is running government as though she still is in campaign mode.
That may be due to McCleskey's continued influence over the governor's actions. Martinez often has called him her top adviser. And he apparently still is despite not working for the state.
McCleskey owns McCleskey Media Strategies, a consulting service he formed shortly after Martinez took office. Several other top members of Martinez's campaign staff have been placed in high positions in the governor's office.
McCleskey still seems to be calling the shots for the governor and these state payrollers. Brian Moore was not part of Martinez's campaign staff so he wasn't in this apparent inner circle. Chief of Staff Keith Gardner wasn't either. Both were Republican leaders in the state House of Representatives.
That background seemed ideal to head the governor's office. They were familiar with state government and would provide a logical bridge to the Legislature.
But that bridge was underutilized during this year's legislative session. Relations with the Legislature were rocky. Legislative leaders felt the governor's office was taking a my-way-or-the-highway attitude. Efforts to get through to the governor nearly always stopped with Gardner and it became obvious Gardner wasn't calling the shots.
Martinez's campaign staff had an inordinate amount of control. This staff wasn't a group of young men from the East sent in to take over. They mostly appear to have New Mexico roots.
McCleskey, according to Las Cruces blogger Heath Haussamen, got his political start as a student at New Mexico State University. In 1996, he took a government class with professor Jose Z. Garcia and got the political bug.
Professor Garcia's name might be familiar to you. He was one of Gov. Martinez's first political appointees, as the secretary of the Higher Education Department. Garcia has been active in state Democratic politics.
After college, McCleskey went on to manage campaigns for Republican Sen. Bill Payne and Republican Rep. John Sanchez. He then managed Sanchez's unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2002.
McCleskey then had stints working for the state GOP and the Republican National Committee. Recently McCleskey was chief strategist for Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry's successful campaign and then did media for Secretary of State Diana Duran's campaign.
Ryan Cangiolosi, Martinez's other deputy chief of staff, has a B.A. and M.B.A. fro the University of New Mexico. He was Martinez's campaign manager. Matthew Stackpole, the governor's assistant general counsel, is a graduate of UNM Law School. And communications director, Scott Darnell, a Farmington native, has two degrees from UNM.
Toni Balzano was a holdover from the Richardson administration, resigned last week before being fired from her position as deputy secretary of the Tourism Department. She says she endured six months of slander by McCleskey and a hostile work environment.
McCleskey says if you don't make enemies, you're no good at your job. It appears that a Martinez administration that seemed to be getting off to a pretty quiet start suddenly has become wild and wooly.
Who will be next?
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) email@example.com