Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Susana's New Campaign

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 24, 2011

Hands down, the biggest buzz around the Roundhouse on Wednesday was Gov. Susana Martinez’s three-pronged public-relations attack to rouse public support for legislation to stop undocumented immigrants from getting driver’s licenses.
Gov. Susana Martinez
There are radio ads paid for by Martinez’s campaign funds. There are videos of a Saturday committee hearing — where the bill Martinez is backing was tabled — posted on the governor’s state website. And there are robocalls, paid for by the state Republicans, which allow recipients to press a telephone button and immediately call their legislators.

All are aimed beyond the walls of the Capitol, where Martinez believes public sentiment is on her side regarding this issue. They are attempts to get the public to contact the Legislature and demand a floor vote on the driver’s license issue. But the grumbling that the efforts caused among lawmakers just might be the first sign that the honeymoon with the new governor is on borrowed time.

On the radio: “New Mexico is attracting people from all over the world. China, Poland, Brazil,” a female voice, the kind you only hear in negative political ads, warns. “But they’re not coming to ski or for the Balloon Fiesta. They’re illegal immigrants coming for driver’s licenses.” Before the 60-second ad is over, we learn about a criminal gang from El Salvador that came to the state to commit robbery and murder. “And two gang members had driver’s licenses.”

One immigration-rights group on Wednesday denounced the radio spots as illegal and asked the attorney general, the Santa Fe district attorney and the secretary of state to investigate. Marcella Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said in a news release, “We are shocked to learn that the Governor, in an effort to push her anti immigrant political agenda, would direct her campaign committee to misuse left-over funds to intimidate legislators and interfere with the legislative process.”

In a letter to Attorney General Gary King, Diaz argued that the state Campaign Reporting Act restricts the spending of campaign funds after an election to “payment of campaign debts, donations to charities or the state’s general fund, contributions to other candidates or political parties and refunds to the contributors.”

“Immigrants who live, work and pay taxes in New Mexico are complying with our state laws by getting driver’s licenses, buying insurance and registering their vehicles,” Diaz said. “We would expect that our governor would also comply with state laws that regulate the use of campaign funds.”

The Governor’s Office referred a reporter’s question about the ads to Danny Diaz, a Washington, D.C.-area consultant who worked for Martinez’s campaign and has no relation to Marcella Diaz.

“It’s ironic that a radical special-interest group that believes illegal immigrants have a right to New Mexico driver’s licenses does not believe the Governor has a right to free speech,” Danny Diaz said. “We disagree.”

A spokesman for King said the secretary of state would be the first agency to look at the complaint.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran said Thursday that her staff researched the issue and determined that the radio ads were an allowable expense under the law.

Smile, you’re on the governor’s camera: Several Democratic senators were upset about Martinez posting videos from recent committee hearings. Most of the videos — 10 of them — are from Saturday’s meeting of the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

On the governor’s website, Martinez praises those who voted for the bill and expresses disappointment at those who voted to table it.

Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, complained on the Senate floor, “This is campaigning going on here.” He said it shouldn’t appear on a government site.

Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said the videos represented “a slanted effort to get her message out while (taxpayers) are footing the bill.”

Martinez on Wednesday defended the videos, telling reporters, “My biggest promise was that I was going to bring the people to the process, and there was going to be more transparency with what was goes on in the Roundhouse. And that includes the committee hearings.”

In  a decision that was partly fueled by the governor's videos, the Senate voted to restrict webcasting, photography, and video or audio recording of Senate committees by the public unless there is permission from a panel’s chairman and ranking minority-party member. The rule was adopted on a 35-3 vote.