It was sweet and even touching to meet Gov. Susana Martinez’s disabled sister, Lettie, in a Fox News feature last night. The problem is that Martinez is important because she’s a governor, not a good sister, and this fawning political coverage is consequential, sad and creepy.
Why must coverage of Martinez be so slobberingly saccharin? What are you, if when you interview a prominent public figure you only talk about the good things she wants to talk about? Cheerleader? Press agent? Overzealous stenographer?
The Fox News interview was stunning. The host, Greta Van Susteren, focused heavily on the biographical tidbits that make Martinez politically appealing, like her job as a young woman working nights for her father’s security business. We met her brother, still manning the store, and her sister, whose smile can charm even the staunchest Martinez cynic.
Martinez hit all her talking points, like that she sold the state’s jet and fired her chefs. She said she balanced the state budget without raising taxes. (Actually, Van Susteren said so, and Martinez agreed.) She got to explain to Van Susteren what “exempt” employees are, and why it’s good she canned so many of them. The shots at Bill Richardson were accompanied by video of the former New Mexico guv.
All that stuff sounds so great, and it makes the governor look like a brilliant executive. But there are many very important questions this governor doesn’t want to answer. What, for instance, is corruption?
Seriously, what is corruption? Is hiring your friends and family to state jobs corruption? Because that happens all the time under Martinez. Is manipulating a contract evaluation so it benefits your (Louisiana) campaign donors corruption? There are multiple investigations going on, right now, into the Martinez administration’s involvement in the huge state-fair contract awarded to her political supporters.
Maybe using millions from out-of-state oil companies to finance shadowy attack-ad campaigns in Democratic primaries so you can stack the state legislature with like-minded ideologues is corruption. That’s a little more vague, but someone should at least ask.
I know it’s easy to criticize other journalists’ reporting, but I got fired from the Albuquerque Journal for asking Congressmen about corruption. I’ve asked many, many times for an interview with Martinez, and her office is never going to respond to me. It’s up to the people who actually have a shot at some face time to take seriously their responsibility as cogs in the democratic system – informing voters and holding highly paid, powerful politicians accountable for what they do.
This corruption question needs to be asked, but reporters just want to talk racial politics and personal backstories with the governor. If the question is on something like Medicaid, she responds with an empty talking point and moves on. This weak coverage helps no one but her.
News came out this week from the U.S. Census Bureau that New Mexico has the second-highest percentage of people living under the poverty line, behind only Mississippi. We’ve also just learned that New Mexico’s dropout rate for high schoolers is second-worst in the country (63 percent), behind Nevada. New Mexico is running a streak of five consecutive months of job losses. We also claim the highest income inequality of any state, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. We have the fourth highest percentage of population on food stamps, and the highest income equality of any state.
These are all things the governor should be working on, right? And speaking about?
I don’t know. Perhaps Jason McCleskey was behind Van Susteren’s camera as this interview took place, stroking his long, thin black beard and looking on with approving, unblinking black eyeballs. What do you do if black magic’s at play? Sorcery is a sword without a hilt, as George R.R. Martin wrote.
Do you know the governor’s husband, Chuck Franco, went on a hunting trip with some state police to Louisiana at the same time as those big-time Louisiana businessmen were bidding on a giant contract with New Mexico? Did you also know the governor’s office has refused to provide even the New Mexico Attorney General’s office with the details of that trip?
This corruption and cronyism ties in directly with the economic problems in our state, because the people with power to enact change are staying busy by helping themselves. They should have to answer for that. Instead, we meet Martinez’s sister and move on to some other non-issue. Political accountability is a myth.