Monday, October 8, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Keith Gardner Talks Dirty for Tim's Campaign

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Oct. 7, 2012

Senate President pro-tem Tim Jennings, faced with his first serious election challenge since — I dunno, the dawn of civilization? — has an unusual campaign surrogate.

His name is Keith Gardner. He works as Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff. You can hear his voice in new ads for Jennings.

Remember that secretly recorded tape in which Gardner was calling Jennings every cuss word in the book? Jennings has turned that tape into campaign radio, television and newspaper ads, a mailer and a website called

The broadcast ads, naturally, bleep out all the obscenities, while the newspaper doesn’t even refer to the salty language. The mailer also contains none of the dirty language, though one side of it is photo of the inside of a decrepit “They Hate Roswell and think it is a …”

But the website contains the entire hour and 13 minute recording of Gardner and his erstwhile friend Brian Powell, a fire department official in Roswell. No expletive is deleted. And, apparently for the hearing impaired, several key quotes, all uncensored, are printed.

Jennings’ Republican opponent Cliff Pirtle, a 26-year-old rancher who I assume loves Roswell, was not part of the Gardner tape. But in that conversation, recorded about a year ago, Gardner bragged about raising half a million dollars to run someone against Jennings. And now Jennings has been the target of attack mailers by Reform New Mexico Now, a Martinez-associated political action committee.

“This web site is paid for and authorized by the Tim Jennings Re-Election Senate Campaign Committee,” says a message on the site’s home page. “Sen. Jennings has always run positive, issue-oriented campaigns. He feels the unprecedented attacks by his Republican opponent not only affect him, but this community. This web site is his response.”

Gov. Martinez and Keith Gardner
The controversial recording was released last month to reporters by Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman, an active Democrat who won’t confirm or deny whether he’s considering running for governor. In the conversation, which took place about a year ago.

Powell says he is a Republican who voted for Martinez.

I Hate This Town: The part about “hating Roswell” was brought up by Powell, talking about the hard time his daughter was having in school. “I hate this town, I hate this town. I hate this school district, I hate this town,” Powell said. “I’m with ya, I’m 100% with you,” Gardner, a former legislator who represented a Roswell district, replied.

Jennings’ web site surprisingly doesn’t quote a later part of the conversation in which Powell says, “This town is evil.” To that, Gardner replied, “It was sucking the life out of us.” (Gardner moved to Santa Fe after Martinez appointed him chief of staff.)

Attacking the attackers: Jennings is taking a page from Clovis Republican Pat Wood, who survived a bitter primary in June after making Martinez’s political director Jay McCleskey, his opponent’s campaign manager, an issue. McCleskey had unleashed attack mailers on Woods.

“Reform New Mexico Now was created by an Albuquerque political consultant who is renown for running negative campaigns,” Jennings’ mailer says. Some of his ads identify Gardner as an “architect” or “leader” of Reform New Mexico Now, which probably isn’t technically true — though he did boast about raising money to defeat Jennings.

Jennings also noted that Reform New Mexico Now is funded by out-of-state special interests. That’s true. According to the most recent campaign finance report filed last month, the biggest contributor to the PAC is Republican State Leadership Committee, which gave $250,000. Texas developer Marcus Hiles kicked in $25,000 while Las Vegas, Nev. airline executive Maurice Gallagher donated $5,000.

Speaking of campaign contributors, Jennings had a one that might be surprising. His latest report included $2,000 from an oil company called The Jalapeno Corporation, whose chairman is Harvey Yates, a recent chairman of the state Republican Party. The corporation’s former business manager was one Ryan Cangliosi — who now is Gov. Martinez’s deputy chief of staff.