If you remember the painful ending to the great movie Jules et Jim — watching with Jules from a helpless distance as the car with his best friend Jim and his wife Catherine, the 2 of them former lovers, heads for its fatal dive into a lake — you’ll have some sense of what it’s like being a citizen of New Mexico these days.
The state has long been one of America’s poorest, but it, too, seems headed for a new and deep dive into the financial depths. Our Governor Susana Martinez is a perfect Catherine. Just as Jeanne Moreau’s character is rebuffed by Jules in the movie when she tries to re-start their affair, Martinez was rejected by the voters in 2016, who returned both houses of the Legislature to Democratic control. Her response, like Catherine’s, is to drown her sorrows by making everyone suffer.
Over the past few weeks she has dealt out an astonishing 145 vetoes, killing more than half the bills passed by the Legislature, including many which Republicans in both houses had approved. Not content to kill the $6.1 billion proposed state budget, because it contained $350 million in new taxes and fees, she also killed the bills which appropriated operating funds for education and the Legislature itself.
She’s calling for a Special Session for which her prescription isn’t even, “My way or the highway,” but like Catherine’s, “My way or the lake.”
Either way looks like death for New Mexico.
For 6 and a half years now, Martinez has stuck like the Grim Reaper to the old G. H. W. Bush mantra, “No new taxes.” She has done this as the crash in global oil and gas prices has starved the state of revenues, and as the budget has taken cut after cut after cut.
Her classic Republic logic is that jobs are created by racing to the bottom of the tax charts and ostensibly luring bottom-feeding employers to New Mexico. She has done this even after survey after survey of potential employers has revealed that even the bristleworms and halibut of business shun this state because of its pathetic public education, which produces an inferior workforce and no places for relocating managers to school their kids.
Her latest vetoes went from less funding for schools,to none at all. This is just a political gesture, but indicative of the Governor’s values, which include eschewing taxes in favor of taking more money out of state employees’ paychecks. This will add more instability to an already high-turnover workforce.
You do have to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for the Governor. Like so many of us, she thought the idea of a President Trump was not just obnoxious but inconceivable. So when he first shot off his mouth about Mexico sending us its “rapists and criminals,” Martinez, the child of Mexican immigrants and the leader of an all-minorities state whose largest minority is Hispanic, denounced him.
Thus, when Trump won the White House, and the Democrats seized control of both Houses of the NM Legislature, she had nowhere to go.
A more compassionate or Party-loyal President might have offered her an olive branch and a Federal job, but that’s not Donald Trump. So Susana Martinez is stuck in Santa Fe with nothing to say but “No!” and her Republican Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez, who would have loved to succeed her even short-term, is stuck in obscurity, as the likelihood of a Democratic Governor and Lieutenant Governor and even bigger Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature after 2018 looks close to inevitable.
Her mostly mindless and often unexplained vetoes have left some of her once-closest Republican allies scratching their heads and fearing for their political futures. Bills that would have taken guns out of the hands of violent spouses with restraining orders against them, that would have reformed the state’s chaotic rules on capital spending, that would have allowed for the creation of a non-intoxicating hemp industry, that would have restrained the use of solitary confinement of children, pregnant women and prisoners known to be mentally ill — all bills passed with solid bi-partisan majorities — are dead, almost certainly till 2019 when Gov. Martinez will be ex-ed out.
But for the next 2 years the vehicle of state will by driven by a frustrated and vengeful woman with almost all of us citizens either trapped inside the car, or watching helplessly for the splash and the sinking.
***We’ve got some compelling material this week on HERE & THERE. On Monday, Tony Cheng, an old colleague from Al Jazeera English, is just back from Mosul, Iraq, where’s been covering the battle to oust the Islamic State from its biggest city, the second or third largest in Iraq (some say Basra is #2, others say Mosul, in normal times, has more people). Tony’s detailed report notes the importance of US air power to the Iraqi forces on the ground, and painstaking but not always successful attempts US Air Force commanders take to minimize civilian casualties.
On Tuesday, another hot issue, the Trump Administration’s understanding of ethics. By and large, laws on ethics are weak, but there are commonly understood, usually well-observed rules of ethical behavior. Investigative reporter Justin Elliott of Pro Publica has talked to experts on Whit House ethics in the abstract, and some veterans of monitoring actual practices of past Administrations. Let’s just say they don’t show the Trump team much admiration.
Wednesday we’re off as KSFR covers the Santa Fe City Council meeting live. On Thursday, we talk with the Acting President of the University of New Mexico, Dr. Chaouki Abdallah. We spoke before the University fired its men’s basketball coach (absorbing a huge million dollar buyout) and before Governor Martinez temporarily made the school’s 2017-18 budget disappear. But no one knows yet what the outcomes of either event will be. Lead time can be a real bastard.
Each of our stories features graphic enhancement by Amy Marash.