Embattled state Sen. Richard Martinez could not have been happy with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference last week.
The governor didn’t haul off and call for her fellow Democrat to resign over his recent car wreck in his hometown of Española, for which he was charged with drunken driving.
But her message was loud and clear: “This is a really good opportunity for someone in his position to think about his position,” she told reporters Tuesday. “What are his conflicts if he’s the chair of the judiciary committee? What message does this send to our community that is besieged by crime related to alcohol and drugs?”
Martinez, as an elected official, should be “held to the highest possible standard,” the governor said.
My first reaction when reading this was to wonder why the governor didn’t just cut to the chase and say, “This guy’s got to go.”
Granted, this was far stronger than anything Lujan Grisham’s law-and-order predecessor Susana Martinez (no relation to Richard) said last year after her fellow Republican Monica Youngblood — one of Gov. Martinez’s strongest allies in the Legislature — got arrested for drunken driving in Albuquerque. Martinez, as was the case with all other Republicans in power at the time, exercised her right to remain silent.
Contrast that with state Republic Party Chairman Steve Pearce, who almost immediately called for Richard Martinez’s resignation. I guess you could argue the senator’s arrest was worse than Youngblood’s because he actually crashed into another vehicle. Still, it seems like the message from the state GOP is, “Your drunk drivers are worse than our drunk drivers.”
And Lujan Grisham’s subtle scolding was far stronger than the mealy-mouthed statement released by Sen. Martinez’s fellow Democrats in the Senate. “Sen. Martinez is a valued member of our caucus and is entitled to the process afforded him under the law. DWI continues to be a very serious issue for our state. This is a developing matter and we have no further comment at this time.”
Though I would have liked to have seen a stronger statement from Lujan Grisham, stopping short of calling for Martinez’s resignation might have been good for strategic reasons.
Plus, being heavy-handed could easily backfire.
The good people of Rio Arriba County can be pretty darn forgiving.
Remember, back in 2005, then-Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Tommy Rodella, a former state police officer, to a Rio Arriba magistrate judge post. Later that year, after news stories about Rodella driving to the Tierra Amarilla jail to spring a friend who’d been arrested for DWI, Richardson called Rodella to his office and Rodella resigned before the end of the meeting.
But the next year, Rodella ran for the magistrate position and won handily. The state Supreme Court removed him from that position in 2008 for alleged ethical lapses. Then two years later, voters in Rio Arriba elected him sheriff. (Rodella is in federal prison now over a 2014 road rage incident.)
Sen. Martinez may be tempted to run for re-election next year and — like Tommy Rodella did in 2006 — portray himself as a victim of the evil powers that be in Santa Fe. “Sure, I made a mistake but those conniving politicians in the Capitol wanted to bring me down anyway because I stand up for the hardworking, decent people of this district. They don’t care about people like us. …”
It’s an old trick, and maybe it wouldn’t work this time. After all, Rio Arriba voters dumped Rodella in 2014 — before his conviction in federal court. Then last year, they threw out his wife, Debbie Rodella, who had been a state representative for decades.
But being able to make the governor the villain could be a lifeline for Richard Martinez
Rereading Lujan Grisham’s statement about the senator reminded me of someone: my late mother.
Sometimes when I messed up when I was a kid, instead of yelling at me or immediately punishing me, my mom, in a stern but gentle voice would say, “I want you to think what you have done.”
That was devastating in its own way.
And sometimes it actually made me think about what I’d done.