As a result of the vindictiveness and apparent drunkenness disclosed in the tapes Martinez has lost respect and moral authority
BY JOE MONAHAN
The New Mexican governorship was irrevocably redefined for the final three years of Gov. Susana Martinez’s second term as a cheerful holiday staff party she threw at Santa Fe’s elegant Eldorado Hotel descended into a political nightmare of the highest order.
The 911 audio tapes revealing the dark side of her personality (we would argue her dominant side) that has been concealed from most of the public for five long years have set off an astonishing wave of condemnation on social media.
It was so expansive that a television news reporter covering the story confessed that as hard as he looked, he could not find any supportive comments for the freshly embattled chief executive.
The damaging story also exploded nationally, appearing to put an end to any national ambitions the 56-year-old two-term governor may harbor.
So what’s next?
As a result of the vindictiveness and apparent drunkenness disclosed in the tapes Martinez has lost respect and moral authority. Her likability is severely damaged and that should impact her favorability ratings, further eroding her gubernatorial power and prestige.
Her foes will grow less fearful and intimidated by her political machine and will launch more aggressive attacks. The diminution of the Governor will echo in the legislative chambers as well with even Republicans perhaps being careful not to embrace too warmly their now severely dented leader.
Questions about Martinez’s political future will quiet. The talk of the vice-presidency – always a chimera to most discerning analysts – is now finished. A 2018 challenge against Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich appears even more unlikely. National Democratic power would eviscerate her with the Eldorado tapes being the sharp blade.
The Republican Governors Association was warned of possible problems if they made Martinez their new chair because her closest political aide Jay McCleskey faces FBI scrutiny over campaign finances and a possible federal indictment. They chose to ignore it and now her effectiveness as a Hispanic symbol for the GOP takes a big hit.
Worst of all for Martinez was her reminder on the tapes to police officials that she is “the sitting governor of New Mexico” and her repeated insistence that she be given the name of the person who complained about noise coming from the partying room. Police dispatchers and the Eldorado desk clerk held their ground in the several-minute exchange, refusing to violate protocol.
That the governor put herself above the common person in demanding how she be dealt with by law enforcement is what ignites the rage of everyday people who struggle to pay the bills, while their elected leaders seem ever more distant from their reality. With those words it was as if she had taken a spear and stabbed her own political heart.
Therein also lies the deconstruction of the Martinez political personality so carefully crafted by her controversial political strategist McCleskey.
Rather than the compassionate but tough middle-aged lady who relishes reading to third graders and who reminds you of your favorite aunt, you now have this dark, vindictive, petty personality seeking out whoever dared challenge her authority with the clear implication that they will suffer retaliation.
Martinez’s political machine has mercilessly thrashed her foes – including numerous fellow Republicans – with a Nixonian fervor that the state has rarely seen. That ugly side is hidden no more, captured on audio tapes that ripped away a five-year facade in five minutes.
The hallmark of the Martinez administration has been its lack of purpose. The image of a governor whiling away her time getting high on adult beverages fits perfectly with her lack of interest in governing. Martinez’s agenda was always to win the governorship, punish her political opponents and advance her national political ambitions. Two of those three goals were accomplished and the third now seems impossible.
Something good could come out of this. Martinez could start putting forward some of the “bold change” she so loudly promised when first running for governor instead of showcasing stale, dead-on-arrival proposals like right to work.
She could, but those Eldorado tapes don’t offer us much hope that she will.
Joe Monahan is a veteran of New Mexico politics. His daily blog can be found at joemonahan.com.