With governor and her staff, transparency is a campaign slogan, not reality

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Danielle Prokop

Gov. Susana Martinez exiting the House chambers after her State of the State address.

Reading New Mexico In Depth’s 2018 Special Legislative Edition, you might notice a glaring hole in our reporting: There is no comment or perspective from Gov. Susana Martinez or her spokespeople.

It wasn’t for lack of trying by New Mexico In Depth.

Our organization sought comment from Martinez in person at a December event in Rio Rancho and in writing to her press office. As of press time, we have received no response.

The lack of comment is sadly not surprising headed into the final year of the governor’s tenure as the state’s chief executive, one that began with her promise on the 2010 campaign trail to run an open and transparent administration if elected. It also belies the Martinez administration’s repeated claims that it is the most transparent administration in New Mexico’s history.

What we in the media have learned over the years is that promise in 2010 was mostly a campaign slogan. Despite her staff’s protestations to the contrary, Martinez hasn’t followed through on her pledge. The New Mexico press corps’ skepticism, which has been growing, can be measured by the numerous lawsuits filed against her office and state agencies for public records.

So, no, I’m not shocked by the silence from Martinez or her staff in this edition. Just disappointed.

Like some politicians Martinez seems to have given in to the temptation to want stenographers and acolytes rather than respectful but skeptical inquisitors. Journalists aren’t stenographers. We’re not acolytes, either. At times, we ask tough questions, not because we are out to get elected officials but because the public has a right to know what they’re doing and why they mess up when they do.  

At the December event, I went to ask Martinez’s opinions on several issues, including whether or not she would lobby the Legislature to repeal and replace a constitutional bail amendment more than 80 percent New Mexicans approved in 2016. She posted on Facebook in October that she thought the bail amendment should go.

The governor waved me off, promising to announce her legislative priorities later. Taking her aides’ words to heart, NMID then sent a list of questions to Martinez’s spokespeople. As I said above, NMID got no response.

I can only speculate as to why the governor brushes off reporters’ questions when they show up to events they learn of through her office’s media advisories. I suppose no one enjoys being questioned — grilled even — by a gaggle of news reporters who are taught to nurture their   skepticism while sniffing out dissembling, hollow promises and hypocrisy.

As annoying as it might be to answer questions from pesky reporters, making yourself available for questioning has been the price public officials pay in return for representing their constituents in American democracy. It’s baked into who we are as a nation.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington in 1787, “… were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter, but I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.”

I write this not out of defensiveness in an era when American media, as imperfect as it is, is a whipping boy.

I write it because I believe it to be true.

My belief that those in power should answer questions from the public doesn’t make me a troublemaker. It makes me a journalist.

NMID Executive Director Trip Jennings

As I told one of her aides at the December event, if you invite the media, then you better expect questions whether the governor wants them or not. What I should have added is the salaries of the governor and her media aides are paid by the public. (I said the same words to Gov. Bill Richardson’s representatives more than once; some of our conversations growing antagonistic.That said, Richardson was more willing to take reporters’ questions, even ones that made him squirm, than Martinez.)

My hope is whomever New Mexicans elect governor this November will embrace a vigorous free press. This goes for the new mayor of Albuquerque as well as every New Mexico state lawmaker and every public official out there.

We are not your cheerleaders. And, yes, at times we’re going to ask you tough questions. It comes with the job description.

If you’re not up for that, then maybe you should ponder whether you belong in the public eye.

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