June 2, 2016

Martinez’s army of silent spokespeople

Screenshot of video showing Gov. Susana Martinez not answering reporters' questions.

A report by the Santa Fe Reporter delved into something that has troubled local reporters for some time: how unresponsive public information officers under Susana Martinez have been.

The highly-paid positions are usually well above twice the median salary of the state.

From the report:

Emails, phone calls and text messages to the public information officers are often ignored. Even program managers more often than not refuse to go on the record or discuss policy plans and objectives. Many claim they’ve been instructed not to talk to the press.

Not all inquiries are ignored. SFR asked Christopher Sanchez, Martinez’ $80,799-a-year communications director, if there is a policy to block certain reporters or news organizations’ access to state agencies or the governor herself. His one-word reply: “No.”

The descriptions are largely normal, at least in the experience of reporters at NM Political Report. That Sanchez even responded to independent reporter Peter St. Cyr is atypical in our experience—Sanchez and Michael Lonergan, the two-person communications team at the governor’s office, do not respond to emails, phone calls or texts from NM Political Report.

Sanchez directs press conferences and when NM Political Report does attend, does not call on our outlet.

Some spokespeople have responded to requests for comment, such as Allison Majure at the New Mexico Environment Department.

Others follow the lead of Sanchez and Lonergan and do not respond to emails or phone calls, such as Kyler Nerison at the Human Services Department or Benjamin Cloutier at the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department.

In a recent case, NM Political Report traveled to Las Cruces to cover a federal court case involving allegations of impropriety with how HSD handled SNAP benefits applications. Nerison attended the hearing, along with cabinet secretary Brent Earnest. After the hearing, Nerison did not answer any questions and instead asked NM Political Report to send the questions via email.

Nerison did not respond to multiple emails requesting comment that afternoon or evening.

See the full report, including a breakdown of the salaries of the PIOs, on the Santa Fe Reporter website.