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Monahan: Behind the Throne

Monahan: Behind the Throne

Among the myths that will be destroyed is that Susana is a strong leader engaged in the running of state government. No, McCleskey has been calling the shots.


This joke on social media in the wake of confirmation of a federal investigation of Governor Martinez’s top political adviser, the man known as the “Shadow Governor,” rang with truth for anyone marginally involved with state politics:

“If Jay McCleskey is charged, would he step down and would Susana Martinez become governor?”

With the federal probe revealed, the cat was out of the bag to the public at large, not just the political community. The public is finally beginning to learn that one man has exercised extraordinary control over the state’s governor and government and with her full acquiescence.

Incredibly, it was a story that had been fully revealed in a lengthy piece in the National Journal in November 2013 as well as on our blog, joemonahan.com. But back then, it was greeted with yawns. McCleskey was given free reign to preside over millions of dollars in various campaign accounts, get high-level jobs for his loyal acolytes and basically run state government.

This segment from the National Journal article is insightful in light of recent events:

“The campaign’s former chief fundraiser, recalls an incident … when she discovered that McCleskey was operating out of a hidden, closet-like antechamber inside the governor’s statehouse suite.“Step into my office,” (she) recalls McCleskey boasting, as he revealed a small workspace containing a desk and his laptop. He told her he regularly worked there, physically closer to the center of power than any of Martinez’s state-paid aides. “

Shadow Governor? You bet.

Still, the state yawned. Why, when such concentration of power in the hands of a well-known cutthroat political consultant likely was a recipe for disaster?

Aiding McCleskey’s reign and hiding Governor Martinez’s secret have been McCleskey’s no-hold-barred attacks on anyone who dared criticize the administration and the threat of lost government contracts. Other tools included outright bullying and threats.

Most of all it was Martinez’s own insecurity about doing the job she was elected to do that has kept her dependent on the man who had engineered her election and that has let him run riot across the state.

The news media was also given the McCleskey treatment and looked the other way. In the case of the state’s largest newspaper it appeared intentional, a decision based on its devotion to protecting the Republican governor from any negativity. You would be hard-pressed to find even one editorial in the past five years directly criticizing Martinez. The demise of The Albuquerque Tribune in 2008 also played a role. The Tribune was a countervailing force that kept news coverage more balanced and competitive.

In the case of other news media outlets, causes for the story being repressed (or ignored) include bullying of reporters, the natural inclination of TV news to focus on crime, plus the stations’ benefiting from millions of dollars in political advertising. Whatever the reasons, McCleskey and Martinez have been exempted from any significant adversarial journalism.

Flashback to Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration when allegations of corruption led to nonstop coverage – for years. Investigative reporters were let off the leash and, thanks largely to the Journal, the public was involved in that federal grand jury story virtually every step of the way.

Second terms have a way of shining light in places previously left dark, and myths are gradually destroyed. Whether federal charges are leveled against McCleskey or not, the three years left in Martinez’s term will be brutal for her as the real story of her administration is unveiled.

Among the myths that will be destroyed is that Susana is a strong leader engaged in the running of state government. No, McCleskey has been calling the shots on major policy and legislative strategy.
Another myth is the Martinez personality as warm and compassionate, while the reality is closer to vindictive, petty, punitive and revenge-filled. It’s not Democratic opponents but Republican critics who are telling the feds they had their tax returns audited following criticism of her. Her real personality, the one that is seemingly banned from sight in the state’s media, actually was showcased in audio tapes leaked months ago to Mother Jones magazine – which published another national piece that was ignored or glossed over locally.

As her administration grapples with the reality of what it has wrought, and as power slips away from her in the days ahead, the truth will have a much easier time of getting out. Don’t say we didn’t tell you.

Joe Monahan is a veteran of New Mexico politics. His daily blog can be found at joemonahan.com

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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