Monday, September 17, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Candid Tape Recorder

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Sept. 16, 2012

Keith Gardner’s secretly recorded, hour-and-13-minute conversation with an erstwhile friend definitely was the talk of the Roundhouse this week.

Gov. Susana Martinez & Chief of Staff Keith GardnerBlogger Joe Monahan — who posted the entire recording on YouTube this week — predicted it would go down in New Mexico “political folklore.” I suspect he’s right.

In that recording, Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff expressed his unfiltered hate for state Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings, offered to find state jobs for his friend and his friend’s wife, told how he never used state email and other issues.

Gardner’s friend was Brian Powell, an official with the Roswell Fire Department — and a Republican who says he voted for Martinez.

Powell has said he recorded his friend because he thought Gardner might be trying to prevent “crucial testimony” by a witness at an upcoming preliminary hearing involving Powell’s daughter, who had accused a coach of improper sexual conduct. The witness, a relative of Gardner’s, had “suddenly expressed reluctance to testify,” Powell said in a written statement.

You kiss your mother with that mouth? The reactions of some people to the recording reminded me of 1974 when President Nixon was forced to turn over the White House tapes to Watergate prosecutors.

No, I’m not comparing Keith to Tricky Dick. My point is that lots of people seemed far more concerned about Nixon’s deleted expletives than the content of the tapes. The same is true with reactions to the Gardner tape, which is saltier than 10 pounds of pretzels.

It’s a “family newspaper,” so I won’t list all the dirty words Gardner used in the course of his meeting with Powell. Anyway, it would be shorter to list the ones he didn’t use.

I can understand why Jennings doesn’t enjoy being called a laundry list of nasty names. And the vitriol he had for Jennings is somewhat surprising considering Gardner’s normally amiable demeanor. (Is it not amazing that Gardner, at least at the time I’m writing this, has not publicly apologized to Jennings?)

But I’d be a gosh-darned hypocrite to come down too heavy on Gardner’s vocabulary itself. I hope this doesn’t shock anyone, but that’s how guys — at least guys I know — talk to each other in private.

Fortunate son: In the recording, Gardner even bragged about mouthing off to a police officer who stopped him for a traffic violation.

“Either write me the ticket or leave me alone,” Gardner said he told the cop. “You know if you write the ticket I’ll get it dismissed because my dad is the judge, so write the [expletive] ticket, I don’t care.”

I can’t help but wonder what all those cops who lined up in that TV ad for Martinez in 2010 think about that little anecdote.

Santa Fe boosterism: In talking about finding a state job for Powell, Gardner said, “We’ve got enough idiots out there. We could always replace one of them.” That sounds like a great new motto for the State Personnel Office.

And here’s a modest proposal: The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce could use another part of the Gardner recordings for radio spots promoting our city.

When Gardner and Powell are talking about the possibility of Powell getting a state job, Gardner, who moved to the capital city after Martinez named him chief of staff, has only positive things to say about Santa Fe. “Best move we made, Brian,” he said.

Gardner, who represented a Roswell district in the state House of Representatives before the governor hired him, didn’t disagree when Powell said of Roswell, “This town is evil.” Gardner replied, “It was sucking the life out of us.”

Powell said he hated Roswell so much he would even consider taking a job in Alamogordo. “Don’t do anything rash,” Gardner joked. Both men laughed heartily.

This reminded me of something Sam Pick once said at a City Council meeting shortly after he was elected mayor in 1986. The city of Alamogordo was trying to get the state to move the Law Enforcement Academy from Santa Fe to their town.

“If I knew I only had one year to live, I’d want to move to Alamogordo,” Pick said. Why? “Because it would seem like an eternity.”

Pick later apologized to the mayor of Alamogordo, who didn’t find the humor in the joke.