COMMENTARY: It’s never appropriate for a person with power in our government to use her position to influence, pressure, or intimidate law enforcement.
And yet, Gov. Susana Martinez did just that a week ago, after the front desk at a Santa Fe hotel asked police to remove a noisy group from a room where Martinez and others were gathered.
You can listen to the entire conversation between Martinez, a dispatcher, and a police commander, but it can be summed up with Martinez’s beginning and ending comments:
“Hi, this is Gov. Susana Martinez,” she said. “… There’s no necessary — no necessity for your officers to be here. Thank you. You can call them off. Goodbye.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen such an abuse of power. Former Gov. Bill Richardson justified speeding in violation of traffic laws. Former House Minority Whip Terry Marquardt, R-Alamogordo, convinced a judge to dismiss two speeding citations against him because he was a legislator.
And former Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, used her official position to haul officials from Santa Fe to a meeting in Mesilla, at taxpayer expense, where she and others accused them of Gestapo tactics after her bar was cited for serving an intoxicated person.
Richardson, Marquardt and Garcia all acted inappropriately. So did Martinez. But, while the others never gave New Mexicans the courtesy of apologizing for their abuses of power, Martinez spent Friday doing the right thing.
“I apologize to the people of New Mexico for having done that,” Martinez was quoted by KOB-TV in Albuquerque as saying. “I should have never talked to central dispatch the way I did. Um, and I own it. It’s my responsibility and I apologize to the people of New Mexico for the way I handled it.”
She repeated the apology in interviews with several other news organizations.
The severity of Martinez’s transgression is amplified by her own rhetoric. In a 2010 commentary for NMPolitics.net, during her first campaign for governor, she complained that “Some in state government feel they are above the law. They have abused their positions and the public trust and left our state weakened and vulnerable in pursuit of personal gain.”
Martinez set the bar high. She promised “bold change.”
Many will argue we haven’t seen the change Martinez promised. I’ll leave that debate for another time.
For now, I want to be clear: Martinez’s actions were wrong. I’d hammer the governor if she hadn’t owned up to her abuse of power and publicly apologized. I don’t expect perfection from my elected officials, but I do expect apologies when they make mistakes.
This New Mexican accepts Martinez’s apology.