Column: Martinez makes her spin the air we breathe

Heath Haussamen
The Daily Times

Politicians often have sophisticated spin machines. Former Gov. Bill Richardson's was formidable. But Gov. Susana Martinez takes it to a new level.

After a judge slapped the Public Education Department with a fine for failing to respond to a records request in a timely manner, the Martinez administration was, as usual, on message.

The public-records fight is part of a war over the governor's controversial teacher-evaluation system, which relies heavily on student test scores. Martinez has repeatedly said we needed a new system because the old one found 99 percent of teachers effective.

The National Education Association sought documents to back up the 99-percent figure. PED took months to respond, then referenced a study it didn't release.

PED spokesman Robert McEntyre changed the subject. "The fact remains that under the old, broken system, 99 percent of teachers were rated effective even though only half of our kids were proficient in reading and math," McEntyre said, according to a quote in the Albuquerque Journal.

The problem? PED can't back up that alleged "fact."

The 99-percent figure "came from a study done by the University of New Mexico," a letter from PED to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government states. But PED "no longer has a copy of the study," the letter states.

The sunshine group's Susan Boe said it best: "When public officials cite statistics in official speeches or comments, they should be prepared to quickly produce the facts that back up their statements."

Too many politicians spout superficial talking points and dodge transparency. Richardson claimed in 2010 to have no records related to 59 exempt employees he fired. The attorney general called that "implausible."

The Martinez Administration more effectively infuses its spin into our collective consciousness.

Martinez's Human Services Department insisted in 2013 that federal regulations required it to freeze Medicaid funds to 15 behavioral health agencies during an investigation.

New Mexico In Depth, or NMID, where I was working, showed that the state could have chosen to not abruptly halt funding. The freeze threw into chaos a system that aids tens of thousands of vulnerable citizens.

The Martinez administration continued blaming the feds. Many news organizations continued spreading the spin without question.

Meanwhile, Human Services refused to answer many questions. NMID filed dozens of records requests as we sought to understand the agency's actions. Some requests remain unanswered to this day.

It's difficult to keep up with a politician whose messaging is clear, consistent, firm and well-funded — even when it's disingenuous and superficial.

The Martinez administration knows this. So it repeats lines over and over. The spin becomes part of the air we breathe.

People deserve government that engages in substantive discussion to help them form educated opinions and act accordingly.

When government hides information and spins, as the Martinez administration has done, we have something closer to social control.

Haussamen runs NMPolitics.net, a news organization devoted to hard-hitting, fair exploration of politics and government.