Gary King’s record as attorney general – or lack thereof – has led the media to judge him harshly and gives Republicans lots to hammer him with. That’s largely why many Democrats view the gubernatorial candidate as unelectable.
“Attorney General Gary King had one of the worst years of any elected official in New Mexico in 2011. The criticism was widespread (and included me), and it covered a range of issues including allegations that his office was “ineffective” in dealing with cop discipline cases, that it trailed those responsible for Medicaid fraud recovery in almost all other states, that he thumbed his nose at campaign contribution limits, that he gave Jerome Block Jr. an overly lenient plea deal, that he was playing fast and loose with Southern New Mexico’s water, that he declined to investigate bribery allegations against a state official the feds later indicted, that his office violated the Inspection of Public Records Act, and that he had a serious conflict with a corruption case his office was prosecuting.
“King has long faced criticism for his handling of corruption cases, but the condemnation of the job he’s doing was deafening in 2011. The Santa Fe New Mexican said King should consider resigning. I slammed King after he attempted to damage my credibility and intimidate me into silence by suggesting that I colluded with Republicans to deflect criticism away from the governor and onto him.”
The criticism has continued this year. King and his office were in the news for downplaying how long they had known about allegations of embezzlement from a Santa Fe hospital. The Elephant Butte Irrigation District accused King of a “sinister” and political motive – “there are more votes north of Elephant Butte Lake, which could come in very handy in a statewide political race” – for his lawsuit that seeks to void an agreement dividing water between Southern New Mexico and El Paso. The Albuquerque Journal called King’s record as AG “woefully inadequate.”
And, finally, the Federal Election Commission ruled that King and his 2002 campaign for Congress broke federal law and FEC rules by using an electronic signature of a one-time campaign treasurer on finance reports that treasurer didn’t review.
What does that add up to? Many Democrats were slapping their foreheads when King announced on Tuesday that he’s running for governor in 2014. The comments I heard from many ranged from “Are you kidding me?” to “He’s going to have a very difficult time.”
Lots to hammer King with in TV ads
King certainly has his supporters. But, time and again, King has disappointed those in the Democratic Party who believe it needs reform. Many Democrats see a candidate who isn’t electable.
The media (including me) has judged King harshly, and that isn’t likely to change. In addition, with his record – or lack thereof – as AG, King has handed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her political adviser, Jay McCleskey, lots to hammer him with in TV ads.
Martinez has been bogged down lately by her own controversy about use of personal e-mail for public business and whether the Public Education Department used state resources for political purposes. But before that, her approval among voters had been well over 50 percent for her entire tenure as governor, and sometimes into the 60s. That’s almost unheard of for a Republican governor in this left-leaning state, at least in recent times.
There’s plenty of time for Martinez’s approval to evaporate or King’s record to improve before voters actually go to the polls in 2014. But King has had five and a half years to fight corruption and build up the impressive résumé an AG can… and in recent months the state’s two largest newspapers have accused him of doing the opposite.
Sure, King still has time to win some of the big public corruption cases he’s been investigating or have been awaiting trial for years. He could improve Medicaid fraud recovery. But one Democrat I said that to last night laughed in response.
King has focused much of his tenure as AG on fighting human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children, but he may have a difficult time distinguishing himself from Martinez – a former prosecutor who put rapists and child killers in prison – on those issues.
Positioning himself with Democrats
The timing and venue of King’s announcement was questionable. He first confirmed to the public radio station KANW 89.1-FM in Albuquerque that he was running. Then he talked with some other media outlets after they heard about the radio interview.
King says he didn’t plan it. From The Associated Press:
“News of King’s gubernatorial campaign first surfaced Monday when he was asked whether he would run during a radio interview with KANW. King said he had to answer the question directly, but that his intention wasn’t to ‘take any thunder away’ from candidates currently vying for office.”
Regardless, the reality is that King announced in July – a month in which few are paying attention to politics – without a news release or news conference. He didn’t get a lot of media attention.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque TV on Tuesday gave a lot of time to the extradition of a child killer from Mexico, and most stories mentioned Martinez helping with the extradition. Even as governor, Martinez is still building a reputation as a crime fighter. Martinez, not King, won the media battle on the day King announced his gubernatorial campaign.
Then again, for King, getting into the race early probably isn’t about winning over the public. It was about positioning himself early with Democrats. King is likely to face a tough primary before he even has the chance to fight the public battle with Martinez.
Will Democrats be convinced? Time will tell.