Monday, March 4, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Extravagant Lifestyles

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
March. 3 2013

‘‘It’s the lifestyles of the rich and famous … who is this high-class showboat? $5.5 million for a brand-new jet airplane … three personal chefs … travels with a large entourage of bodyguards and staff to places like Europe and Las Vegas … gets front-row seats to all the best events … and isn’t bothered by speed limits … is it P-Diddy? Britney Spears? …”

No, it was then-Gov. Bill Richardson. The state Republican Party was running radio ads ripping him for his “extravagant lifestyle at taxpayer expense.”

The ads ran here in New Mexico and, for a few days, on radio stations in New Hampshire, where Richardson had traveled to plant seeds for his 2008 presidential bid. (I was there, too, to report about the governor’s trip.)

It wasn’t the first of such humorous attacks on Richardson for his high-rolling ways, and it wasn’t the last.

Camp Richardson didn’t find it humorous. “This is a desperate, pathetic, partisan attack filled with lies and complete fabrications,” huffed a Richardson spokesman in response to the P-Diddy ad. Indeed, Richardson didn’t really have three chefs, and Bill looked nothing like Britney.

I thought about this ad last week when the story of Gov. Susana Martinez’s kitchen renovations broke. For those who didn’t catch that story, Martinez’s General Services Department spent about $100,000 on kitchen renovations at the governor’s mansion last summer. The makeover included $16,994 for new granite countertops, $10,617 for a granite slab, $9,400 for a new stove, and — most notoriously by now — an eye-popping $2,700 for a coffeemaker.

And this for a governor who made a big deal about firing Richardson’s chefs when she took office, joking about living off her husband’s bologna sandwiches.

And making it even worse, coffeemaker-gate broke just after the story in the Albuquerque Journal about our jet-selling governor flying a couple of Republican legislators in a state plane at state expense to a political rally and federal hearing. (The rally in Roswell was to protest the possibility of adding the lesser prairie chicken to the endangered species list. The chicken also was the subject of the hearing.)

Neither story is devastating. But both are at least smudges on Martinez’s image of fighting Richardson’s excesses.

So it was only natural that Democrats would have a little fun at the governor’s expense.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez took the opportunity to poke the governor over the new coffeemaker. At the start of the Senate floor session, he presented Lt. John Sanchez with a new Mr. Coffee.

“Ours cost less than $2,700,” Sanchez later told reporters. “It was $24.”

But even funnier is a fundraising effort on the website of the anti-Martinez PAC Progress Now New Mexico .

The PAC altered the striking black-background logo from Martinez’s old “Sell the Jet!” website used during her 2010 campaign. It now reads “Sell the Coffeemaker!” Beneath that is the message: “Someone Else for Governor.” This can be yours on a black T-shirt (modeled by a Photoshopped Martinez on the site) for a $50 donation.

I said this was funny. But I suppose if you’re a member of the administration, it’s probably a “desperate, pathetic, partisan attack filled with lies and complete fabrications.”

To be fair, everyone should remember that the kitchen renovations were in the public area of the mansion, not the governor’s private quarters, where, for all we know, first gent Chuck Franco still makes bologna sandwiches for the governor. So it’s not as if this spiffy new kitchen is Martinez’s personal playground, as some of her critics have implied.

Also, as top officials of the General Services Department laid out for me last week, the kitchen and adjoining areas had fallen into fairly serious disrepair — mold, asbestos, uneven floors, etc.

The controversial coffeemaker isn’t at the same level as a $5 million jet. But still, $2,700 for a coffeemaker is pretty steep.

And turnabout is fair play.