Sunday, June 23, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Trust Us ...

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
June 23, 2013

Trust us.

That’s basically what Gov. Susana Martinez’s spokesman said when refusing to identify the people who put up Gov. Susana Martinez’s husband, Chuck Franco, and two state police officers guarding him on that 2011 alligator hunting trip to Louisiana.
Chuck Franco

It wasn’t anybody who is doing business with the state, the governor’s spokesman, Enrique Knell, said. It wasn’t anybody involved in New Mexico politics.
How do we know that?

Trust us.

Some of the governor’s political enemies seem to be convinced that the hunting trip, which took place in early September 2011, is somehow connected to the awarding of a lucrative 25-year contract to operate the racetrack and casino at the state fairgrounds. The “evidence?” Two of the three principals in The Downs at Albuquerque live in Louisiana. The trip took place between the time the company submitted their bid and the time the company was awarded the contract.

Of course, millions of other people live in Louisiana. A supporter of the governor wryly pointed out to me that the son of state Democratic Chairman Sam Bregman lives there, too. (Ah, the plot thickens …)

Asked specifically if Franco’s hosts were connected with The Downs, Martinez spokesman Knell said no. I tend to believe him — if it’s not true, it would be incredibly damaging to Martinez when the names of these mysterious hosts finally are known. And I believe that eventually, one way or another, those names will be known.

Of course, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that there is no connection between the hunting trip and The Downs, because state officials won’t reveal the names.

The thing is, assuming there is no deep dark hidden secret here, this whole mystery could have been nipped in the bud months ago had the administration just come out with all the information when people first started asking for it.

But from the start they resisted. At first, all information was denied because of “security.” In December, Attorney General Gary King ordered the state Department of Public Safety to release documents like time sheets and gasoline expenses for the trip. A few months later, those documents were released.

But then, when newspapers requested food and lodging receipts, once again the administration played the security card, based on a decision of the Texas Supreme Court.

Even though the names of the two officers who accompanied Franco on the trip were made public when the Department of Public Safety released its documents, one of the reasons given for withholding the food and lodging receipts was because it would identify the officers.

The name of this alligator has been
withheld for reasons of security
“Disclosure of such information could compromise the physical and identity security of the governor or her family, thereby compromising the governor’s and her family’s right to be free from physical harm,” said the letter denying the release of the requested documents. I wondered how a 2-year-old receipt from, say, a Taco Bell in Lake Charles, La., could endanger anyone.

But it turned out there weren’t even any receipts, at least not for the out-of-state expenses. Last week, after months of this cat-and-mouse game, the administration finally admitted that Franco and the officers didn’t pay anything for food and lodging.

Feeling insecure? As anyone who has followed the whole National Security Administration scandal knows, governments can invoke “security” to hide a multitude of sins.

Remember when then Gov. Bill Richardson kept getting in trouble for making his state police drivers go 100 mph on the highway? At one point, Richardson’s public secretary claimed the reason for one of those incidents was because of “security concerns.”

“Security” also was a reason why in the early days of the Richardson administration, his office refused to release information on who was providing the governor with private jets for all those out-of-state trips he was making. (Although to his credit, in 2009, Richardson’s office, in response to a records request, did release several months worth of expense records for his security team showing hotels and restaurants where the officers had been.)

“Legit or not, ‘security’ is becoming a standard administration answer for questions the governor doesn’t like answering.”

I wrote that in this column in 2003. The governor has changed, but it’s still true today.

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