Inside the Capitol

Sunday, April 15, 2012

4-20 Gov. Martinez ranked eighth in nation

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SANTA FE – Despite a few slips, Gov. Susana Martinez is riding high in New Mexico and national popularity polls. Both Public Opinion Strategies and Rasmussen recent polling show Martinez with at least 60 percent popularity in recent months.
The latest big news for our governor is her inclusion in a top-ten list compiled by Washington Post columnist Aaron Blake. His choices are evenly split between parties. Four are from the Mountain West – New Mexico, Colorado, Montana and Nevada.
Blake says his rankings take into account all factors in determining how successful governors have been – from approval rating to difficulty of what they have attempted to do legislatively to the political bent of their states.
Gov. Martinez was ranked in eighth place. She was boosted more strongly than the other four Republican governors as a possible vice-presidential nominee. Blake attributed Martinez's popularity to her focus on education and ethics issues.
One of my first questions upon hearing the news last week was who are the other nine picks. In case you might be interested, here they are, beginning with No. 1.
Andrew Cuomo of New York, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, John Lynch of New Hampshire, Mike Beebe of Arkansas, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Bob McDonald of Virginia.
As for Blake's assertion that Gov. Martinez's focus on education and ethics issues is what has made her popular in the state, she has had some wins and losses.
Education likely is the most difficult issue to try changing. It involves parents, students and teachers. That is just about everyone. People have some pretty different ideas and they aren't all the same. Martinez may already have made more changes than most governors and she will keep at it. The trouble with education changes is that it takes time to see if they will work.
Changes in ethics legislation also have been difficult. Legislators have been reluctant to strengthen ethics laws that have any effect on them.
And Martinez hasn't been very good about strengthening ethics of the executive branch either. She campaigned saying she would be more transparent than her predecessor, Gov. Bill Richardson. But she has been just as reluctant to release information to the public.
In my opinion, Gov. Martinez's popularity with New Mexicans comes from not making bitter enemies with lawmakers and interest groups right off the bat as many other new Republican governors around the nation are doing.
And Martinez has made a commendable effort to trim government. She made a big show out of selling Gov. Richardson's jet. The sale had strong public support.
She then more quietly sold three other planes out of the previously eight-plane fleet. The last plane sold hadn't been used in five years. It should have been sold four years ago.
Gov. Martinez also has trimmed the state's motor pool, cut staff and lowered salaries. The salary cuts have produced some losses of valuable staff. The staff cuts have started to affect the public, causing longer lines and longer waits. But I personally haven't heard many complaints.
There is one issue that needs explained, however. Gubernatorial appointments of employees exempt from the state personnel system became a major issue in the last campaign. Martinez vowed to clean house.
Figures developed by Thomas Cole of the Albuquerque Journal early last summer, after Gov. Martinez had been in office several months, indicated that former Gov. Richardson had trimmed over half of his over 500 exempt employees during the last two years of his administration and Martinez had trimmed that number even more.
But then Kate Nash of the Santa Fe New Mexican reported last week that Gov. Martinez now has 571 exempt appointees. That is more than the top amount Richardson had.
Nash reports that Martinez has cut total state employees by over 1,000 in the past year but exempt employees have increased.


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