SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who criticized her Democratic predecessor’s use of government aircraft and called a state jet the “ultimate symbol of waste and excess,” hopped on a state-owned helicopter to avoid missing an airline flight to attend political fundraisers in Texas.
The governor’s spokesman, Enrique Knell, said Martinez used the state police helicopter on Nov. 15, 2011, because it allowed her to attend a meeting of the state Board of Finance that ran late into the afternoon.
“It would have been by state car, if the meeting hadn’t lasted so long,” Knell said in a statement.
It’s about a 60-mile drive from Santa Fe to the airport in Albuquerque.
The Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/19yQhlp) reported that Martinez left the meeting about 20 minutes before it ended to catch a commercial flight from Albuquerque to Houston, where she attended private fundraisers the next day to benefit the Republican Governors Association — the top contributor to her campaign in 2010. The political group paid for her airline flight to Texas. A state police officer security agent was the only other passenger on the helicopter, which costs about $800 an hour to operate.
According to minutes of the meeting, the governor left near the end of a board discussion of a proposal to grant a 25-year lease to a horse racing track and casino at the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque. The lease was approved by the board a month later with the governor’s support.
A liberal advocacy group, ProgressNow New Mexico, criticized the governor for the helicopter trip and on Wednesday asked Democratic Attorney General Gary King, who is running for governor next year against Martinez, to determine whether she violated state ethics laws
“Plain and simple, this is an abuse of power and taxpayers deserve their money back,” said Pat Davis, executive director of the group.
Knell dismissed the group’s criticism as “just one more baseless attack from a discredited left-wing special interest group.”
When she ran for governor in 2010, Martinez criticized Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration for purchasing a $5.5 million twin-engine business jet and aired ads against her opponent, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, for use of state aircraft — what her campaign called “the perks of power at the expense of taxpayers.”
Davis pointed out that Martinez had said in “August of 2011 that she would ‘not use this state jet as a personal air taxi,’ but she used the helicopter six weeks later to shuttle to the airport for the flight to Texas fundraisers.
The helicopter flight to Albuquerque was one of three times Martinez has used the $6.7 million state police chopper, according to the Journal. She flew on it to attend wildfire briefings in June 2011 and to travel to a welcome home ceremony for National Guard troops in Las Cruces in December 2012.
Knell said Martinez’s policy is to use the helicopter or other aircraft in “emergency situations or when her schedule simply won’t easily accommodate traveling in any other way.” She has used a state twin-turboprop airplane 17 times since taking office in January 2011, with at least six of those trips related to wildfires in the state.
Richardson used a state helicopter for 40 trips from late December 2003 through October 2005, with half of those flights from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.