Sad Susana, with a boast on the way out

January 6, 2019

The 2018 election had already been over for well more than a month when some New Mexicans began receiving a slick, glossy, full-color mailer with the smiling face of a prominent politician — the now former governor, Susana Martinez.

Yes, it looked a lot like a campaign mailer. And in fact, at least a couple of the pictures have been used in her old campaigns from 2010 and 2014 — happier days for Martinez for certain. And it contained all sorts of stock Susana brags that she’s been pounding for years and years. She fixed a budget deficit without raising taxes! She sold five state planes, including the jet bought by her predecessor, Bill Richardson!

But this mail was not about any election — at least I don’t think it was. Technically, Martinez could try a comeback in 2020. Maybe a run against U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat who is up for re-election that year. But I doubt if Susana could win a statewide election then, any more than Richardson could have accomplished a political resurrection in 2012. Both governors were polling miserably at the end of their respective terms.

It’s obviously those rotten poll numbers, not some future election, prompted this mailer.

The mailer was produced and sent by a mysterious nonprofit called New Mexico Legacy. Actually, it’s not that mysterious. The address on the mailer, as well as on the website set up by Legacy, in Albuquerque’s northeast heights is the same as McCleskey Media Strategies, the domain of Martinez’s political strategist, Jay McCleskey.

It’s not clear who is funding New Mexico Legacy. It only shows up in one campaign finance report — a $3,000 contribution from Car of New Mexico, a political action committee for automobile dealers, in December 2017. It’s not surprising that there isn’t more money showing up for Legacy. After all, it isn’t a campaign PAC. They’re about repairing the image of a politician.

Basically, it’s a political vanity project — although you could argue that every “positive” political advertisement is a vanity project for some politician.

Like others, I just became aware of the existence of New Mexico Legacy a few months ago when the group sent a fund-raising email. While it listed most of the Susana talking points found in the recent mailer, the email was a little more pointed and overtly partisan.

“She rankled liberals on issues like ending the Sanctuary State Policy her first year and having the courage to fight to repeal the dangerous law that gave driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” the email said. The mailer says nothing about “rankling” liberals.

I suppose I should fact-check some of the breathless claims of New Mexico Legacy — though many of these “facts” have been fact-checked to oblivion.

“She turned the largest deficit in state history into a $2 billion surplus,” the flyer says. (As my colleague Milan Simonich has pointed out I don’t know how many times, the Legislative Finance Committee had come up with a proposed budget plan to deal with the projected deficit well before opening day of Martinez’s first legislative session in 2011. That basic plan, with a few tweaks, was adopted. As for that “$2 billion surplus,” last month state officials said the surplus would be about $1.1 billion.)

Legacy brags that Martinez lowered taxes. It’s true that with the help of compliant Democratic lawmakers back in 2013, she passed a major tax bill. But in doing so, several local governments had to raise taxes because that legislation did away with “hold harmless” subsidies the state had been paying to cities and counties for years.

But my main takeaway from Legacy New Mexico doesn’t have anything to do with old controversies and tired disputes.

To me this mailer was really sad.

How many other governors — or senators or dogcatchers — in the past have spent time and money to send out glossy mail bragging about themselves and the glorious time they were in office?

It just seems like a desperate, last-gasp move from a governor who always was way too prone to hiding behind her image makers.

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