Democrats assail Gov. Martinez over chopper flight

October 10, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is drawing fire from Democratic campaign challengers for flying on a state helicopter to Albuquerque to avoid missing a commercial flight to Texas to attend political fundraisers

Jim Farrell, the gubernatorial campaign manager for Attorney General Gary King, said Thursday that the governor “misused state resources to engage in prohibited campaign activity” and the Martinez campaign should reimburse the state for the helicopter flight in 2011.

The helicopter costs about $800 an hour to operate. State police provide security for the governor and usually drive her to events, including to the airport for out-of-state political travel.

Martinez campaign [auth] spokesman Danny Diaz defended the use of the helicopter. Martinez flew on it after staying until near the end of a State Board of Finance meeting, which ran several hours late.

“She used the helicopter in her official capacity as governor of the state in order to attend the Board of Finance meeting. As always, taxpayer funds were not used to pay for her political travel,” Diaz said in a statement.

The governor’s campaign or other groups pay for Martinez’s travel for out-of-state political events, but taxpayers cover expenses of the state security detail. That approach typically has been followed by other New Mexico governors.

Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, who’s also running for governor next year, questioned whether the helicopter use violated a state ethics law prohibiting the use of state resources for personal or private benefit.

Lopez said the “hypocrisy is astounding” because Martinez in her 2010 campaign criticized former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish for their use of state aircraft. Lopez said she would question State Police Chief Pete Kassetas about the helicopter flight when he comes up for Senate confirmation next year.

Martinez flew in the helicopter from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, where she took a commercial flight to Houston to attend Republican Governors Association meetings and private fundraisers the next day to benefit the group. The RGA paid for Martinez’s travel costs. The group helps elect GOP governors and was the top contributor to Martinez in 2010.

Richardson also faced questions about using state aircraft to attend political events when he was governor. A state jet picked up Richardson in Illinois in 2008 after he finished campaigning for then presidential candidate Barack Obama. After a brief stop in New Mexico, the jet shuttled Richardson to California for meetings with border state governors and film industry officials and to attend an Obama fundraiser.

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