GOP governors, then and now — little in common

August 27, 2017

They’re both from Las Cruces. They have both served as governor of New Mexico. And they’re both Republicans.

But if you’ve been reading the news lately about New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, you might get the idea that there’s little love lost between former Gov. Garrey Carruthers and current Gov. Susana Martinez.

The issue is that the Board of Regents of NMSU — four out of five of whom were appointed by Martinez — did not offer to extend the contract of Carruthers, who is chancellor of the university. And last week, Carruthers confirmed what many had suspected all along: that the regents made it known to him that they don’t want to keep him on.

No, neither Martinez nor Carruthers have engaged in any name-calling, hair-pulling or eye-gouging against each other over the situation. But the governor’s press office has gleefully attacked Southern New Mexico legislators — all of whom are Democrats at least at this point — who are calling for Carruthers’ retention. “These are just shameless politicians trying to delay a potential search in a transparent attempt to ensure that the next chancellor is chosen by regents appointed by the next governor,” a Martinez spokesman said.

Shameless politicians. They’re the worst kind.

It’s not the first time Martinez and Carruthers have been in conflict this year. The former governor was not a fan of the current governor’s vetoes of the entire higher education budget after the regular legislative session this year. On March 7, the day that veto occurred, he issued a statement saying, “As you may have already seen, earlier today Governor Martinez vetoed all funding for higher education in the state of New Mexico. I’m concerned that NMSU and the state’s other universities now appear to be caught up in a political strategy.” His statement was quoted in a Washington Post story about the vetoes.

During a special session in May, Carruthers testified at a committee hearing that the vetoes had damaged enrollment, faculty recruiting and accreditation reviews. He said the situation was “not good for the image of New Mexico.” (The funding was restored during the special session.)

But long before the vetoes and the chancellor contract, there were tensions between Martinez and Carruthers.

In 2014, when she was seeking re-election, Martinez vigorously attacked her Democratic opponent, Gary King, for voting for “the biggest tax increase in history” while King was in the Legislature.

This took place in 1987 when King was a freshman representative. There actually were two votes, one for a bill raising the state gasoline tax from 11 cents to 14 cents a gallon, the other, a measure suspending tax rebates on food and medicine for two years. Martinez lambasted King for this in broadcast ads and mailers

But King wasn’t alone in his support for these pieces of legislation. Both bills passed the Legislature with bipartisan support and were signed into law by the governor — you guessed it — Republican Garrey Carruthers.

Members of the Martinez team, of course, focused only on their opponent, King, and never mentioned Carruthers’ role in the tax hikes. They never directly answered my questions about whether Carruthers erred in signing the bills aimed to fix a budget crunch that year. But the implication was clear: Susana Martinez would never do such a horrible thing.

In contrast to his relationship with Martinez, Carruthers got along famously with her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson. Richardson named the Republican as co-chairman of a task force that recommended ethics and campaign-finance reform legislation. In 2005, the two taught a class together at New Mexico State University, where Carruthers at the time was dean of the business school.

After a September 2006 Richardson news conference that Carruthers attended, I asked him whether he was backing Richardson for re-election.

Carruthers seemed kind of perturbed at my question, telling me indignantly that his ballot is secret.

But he added, “I will say, though, I’ve never voted a straight party ticket in my life.”

Whatever you think about Carruthers, you have to admit he’s an independent old cuss.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexica­n.com. Read his blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/roundhouse_roundup.