March 16, 2017

Republican senator trades barbs with governor’s camp


New Mexico State Senate.

Republican state Sen. Sander Rue didn’t take kindly to a nasty tweet by one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s political committees, sent shortly after the Senate approved Rue’s bill to shine a light on how the governor spends her contingency fund.

The tweet was sent Wednesday by Advance New Mexico Now, which is run by Jay McCleskey, political adviser to Republican Martinez. McCleskey’s group said Rue sponsored the transparency bill on the governor’s expenditures because Martinez vetoed a legislative pension bill.

Rue, a veteran senator from Albuquerque, then sent a written statement to The New Mexican.

Related: Guv’s office doesn’t keep financial records of contingency fund

“It is telling that a political action committee linked to Gov. Martinez has attacked my ongoing efforts to create more transparency about how New Mexican taxpayer dollars are spent,” Rue said. “In the spirit of full disclosure, I do harbor hurt feelings that I was not invited to her `pizza party.’ It must have been a heck of a shindig if the police were called out to break it up. By the way, it was paid for from the governor’s contingency fund; SB 27 would require an accounting of how that taxpayer money is spent.”

The party Rue referred to was staged by Martinez in December 2015 at the Eldorado Hotel. Employees of the downtown Santa Fe hotel received complaints of noise in a room where Martinez and friends were socializing. Recordings made by police capture the governor demanding to know who had complained and telling the Santa Fe Police Department to call off its officers.

Martinez’s speech seemed slurred, and she denied a report that members of her entourage had thrown bottles from a balcony on the hotel’s fourth floor. Martinez’s approval ratings have declined since the party, though the state’s protracted economic slump may have as much to do with that as her conduct at the party.

Political combat between Martinez and Democrats in the Legislature has been common during her six-plus years in office. But now she is fighting with Republicans in the Senate, too. Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, this week led a Senate override of a bill that Martinez vetoed, prompting her to say she had spiked unnecessary legislation.

Rue was among the senators who voted to override her veto.

Related: Gov’s office kept unused party cash, review finds

Then the Senate on Wednesday voted 27-2 to pass Rue’s bill, which calls for an annual audit of what are known as contingency expenses. Those expenses are supposed to related to the governor’s duties, but they are exempted from audits.

Rue’s bill also would require the Governor’s Office to submit monthly spending reports. The reports would itemize expenditures to make sure the contingency fund is not used to supplement the governor’s salary.

Martinez and her predecessors in recent decades have used the money for such expenses as entertaining at the governor’s mansion in Santa Fe’s foothills.

Current law specifies that the governor’s contingency fund is not subject to audits. The law only requires the governor to submit an annual report.

As for the tweet by McCleskey’s organization’s, it wasn’t clear what bill it was referring to when it mentioned a veto by Martinez.

Rue in December filed the bill to audit the governor’s contingency fund. That was nearly a month before the legislative session began.

The New Mexican has made public records requests for all receipts and invoices related to Martinez’s governor’s residence expenses. Her office sent quarterly reports and some invoices, but it has never provided requested details of the individual purchases, including most invoices or vendor names.

Rue’s bill is awaiting hearing in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexica­ Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexica­­tics.