Several new Republican governors have assumed office since President Obama's election, with Tea Party hopes that waves would be made. New Jersey's Chris Christie has been hard to top for showmanship, and the Blue State victories of Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Paul LePage in Maine were surprises. But perhaps none of the new state executives matched the first-week splash made by New Mexico's Susana Martinez.
Inaugurated on New Year's Day, the former state "Prosecutor of the Year" -- known for focusing on cases involving public corruption and child abuse -- set about cleaning house from outgoing Democrat Bill Richardson's administration. And facing a $450 million deficit, she began to fulfill her campaign promise to cut government spending.
"We have experienced, in the last eight years, huge spending way beyond our means," Martinez told a local Fox affiliate. "I talked about it for 15 months as I was running for office. I was going to get the exempts [political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the governor] to resign or be fired, and then we're going to cut back the number of exempt positions we have to what is necessary. It has nothing to do with politics."
Well it may be a little more than "nothing," but in the case of Richardson's roughshod running over business on behalf of environmental extremists in the state, that's all right. In her opening days Martinez took immediate steps to correct her predecessor's policy blunders.
In addition to the usual good-government directives that are often issued on governors' opening days, Martinez addressed her other top priorities in her initial executive orders -- namely, the economy. Her first froze "all proposed and pending" rules until a small business task force could "identify red-tape regulations that are harmful to business growth and job creation in New Mexico."
Also, true to her law-and-order reputation, she rejected proposed legislative cuts to the state's corrections system and instead recommended a cut to the New Mexico Environment Department, from $14.2 million to $11.2 million.
But the step that perhaps best illustrated her intentions to rein in environoiac excess was in her terse firing of the state's Environmental Improvement Board. The unelected panel, filled with Richardson appointees, was riddled with conflicts of interest and pushed a Schwarzeneggerish cap-and-trade agenda for the state. EIB Chairman Gregory Green, for example, served while simultaneously lobbying for environmental organizations that signed a petition under consideration by the board. A similar conflict afflicted the previous chair, Gay Dillingham.
The bluntness with which Martinez canned the EIB members was refreshing, as she telegraphed her seriousness about rolling back environmental overreach by including her chilly letter language in her press release! :
Thank you for your service to the State of New Mexico by serving on the Environmental Improvement Board. This letter is to inform you that I am removing you as a member of the Environmental Improvement Board. Your removal is effective immediately.
But she more clearly spelled out her reasons for their dismissal in the release as well:
New Mexico has recently suffered from an anti-business environment exacerbated by policies which discourage economic development and result in businesses setting up shop across state lines. Unfortunately, the majority of EIB members have made it clear that they are more interested in advancing political ideology than implementing common-sense policies that balance economic growth with responsible stewardship in New Mexico.
The actions of the EIB could not have been sleazier, as James Taylor of the Heartland Instititute reported:
The EIB…conducted controversial global warming hearings in the summer and fall of 2010. State legislators and consumer advocates accused the EIB hearings as being little more than a kangaroo court run by environmental activists with a predetermined agenda to impose costly and restrictive carbon dioxide rules on the New Mexico economy. EIB was widely criticized for blocking the testimony of citizens and experts who sought to testify regarding the high costs and limited environmental benefits of EIB's proposed carbon dioxide restrictions.
EIB was also widely criticized for the timing of its formal announcement that it would impose the controversial carbon dioxide restrictions. EIB waited until Election Day to formally announce its decision, which conveniently kept the highly unpopular restrictions from being a decisive election issue. At the same time, by making its announcement prior to the new governor taking office, EIB put Gov. Martinez in a potentially sticky political situation of blocking a regulation already supported an approved by EIB.
To top it off on the environmental front, Martinez nominated former astronaut and U.S. Senator Harrison "Jack" Schmitt -- a Harvard-trained geologist and known skeptic of global warming alarmism -- as Secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. That ought to frost the hindsides of self-styled eco-groups everywhere in the Land of Enchantment.
Other inspirational actions in Martinez's first fortnight included a Christie-like request for state workers to contribute more to their retirement plans; a $25-million cutback of the state's film incentive program; and cuts to cabinet salaries and at the governor's residence.
It's refreshing to see a governor not cowed by politically correct environmentalists or by advocates of previously untouchable government programs. Let's hope two weeks lasts several years, and that it's contagious.