SANTA FE — New Mexico's general election is almost a year away, but already Gov. Susana Martinez and one of her challengers are maneuvering to inspect each other's emails.
Republican Martinez and Democratic state Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, have each made open-records requests to obtain emails from one another.
Morales filed his open-records request with 14 state agencies, including the governor's office itself. He has requested emails, letters, memos or other documents between people working in state government and Jay McCleskey, Martinez's political adviser.
McCleskey, who has been called the "shadow governor" by state Democratic Chairman Sam Bregman, was the subject of a recent story in the National Journal.
Morales said questions about McCleskey's role in influencing government operations have swirled for three years. They were heightened by the National Journal's piece, prompting the request for emails, Morales said.
"My role as a legislator is to take action so we are clear on how policy is being driven by people who are not part of state government," Morales said.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for Martinez, responded on behalf of her and McCleskey.
"The governor's office has been crystal clear that Jay McCleskey is an important member of the political team, is not paid with tax dollars and never had an office in the Roundhouse," Diaz said.
"Next, if Senator Morales' open records request isn't a stunt, and he is truly a champion of transparency, he will voluntarily release his office calendar so the public can see who he meets with each and every day during the (legislative) session, just as Governor Martinez has done, and Morales will make all his public business emails available for public inspection, just as Governor Martinez has done."
Diaz said he assumed that Morales would refuse, so Martinez's camp had filed an open records request covering his five years in the Legislature.
"... We call on him not to obstruct that request with the bogus rule he voted in favor of last session, which shields information from the public about what their elected officials are doing on the taxpayer's dime," Diaz said.
Morales said his calendar is already available to everyone. All of the Senate's committee meetings and floor sessions are announced publicly each day.
"They just want to shift the focus away from my request, and my concern that the actions by her political employees leak over into the policy side, the governing side," Morales said.
Another of Diaz's criticisms of Morales pertained to a resolution approved in March that exempted state legislators from providing their emails upon request. Only one of the 42 state senators, Democrat Pete Campos of Las Vegas, opposed the resolution.
Senators of both parties said they were part-time legislators and could not keep track of thousands of emails that pour in during sessions. In contrast, legislators said, fully staffed state agencies have records custodians to track and supply emails requested by the public.
Morales is not the only Democratic candidate for governor who has made an issue of McCleskey in the last week.
Lawrence Rael, of Los Ranchos, has begun referring to the executive branch as the "McCleskey-Martinez administration."
"It is no secret that Governor Martinez has allowed Jay McCleskey to exploit office space in the governor's statehouse suite -- space that is paid for by New Mexico taxpayers. New Mexicans expect and deserve that space to be used to do the people's business, not to further the politics of personal attack," he said.
Rael said he was asking state Auditor Hector Balderas to "immediately investigate the McCleskey-Martinez administration, and all the revelations of potentially illegal use of state resources to support blatantly partisan political activities that do nothing to create value for New Mexicans."
In response, Diaz said that Rael had violated the federal Hatch Act by campaigning for lieutenant governor four years ago while employed by a regional council of governments in the Albuquerque area.
"It's stunning that a politician who has been found to have violated federal law by mixing partisan politics and official government work would be launching these baseless allegations," Diaz said.
A letter in November 2009 from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington said it had "concluded that Mr. Rael's current candidacy for lieutenant governor of New Mexico is in violation of the Hatch Act." It went on to say that he was retiring from his regional government job "and we have no evidence that he willfully violated the act, we have decided not to pursue disciplinary action in this matter,"
Rael recently resigned from an executive-level job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture so he could run for governor.