When Unacceptable Becomes Predictable

December 10th, 2013 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Denise Tessier

Gov. Susana Martinez took Albuquerque Journal columnist Leslie Linthicum’s advice. Or maybe it just looks that way.

According to this morning’s Journal (Dec. 10), the governor finally commented on a now-fired State Policeman’s use of deadly force against a woman and her five children during an October traffic stop near Taos.

Linthicum’s column ran more than two weeks ago, but readers who remember it likely chuckled when reading “Gov. supports firing of officer in van shooting” on today’s front page . The reason for amusement is in the drop-headline, which ran in the print Journal and the Journal’s ABQpaperboy email news alert. It’s likely the headline writer got a kick out of writing that drop head, which said:

Martinez says shooting at vehicle full of kids is ‘unacceptable’

For those who might have forgotten, Linthicum’s UpFront column (Nov. 24) was even headlined, “State cop van debacle: Call it unacceptable.”

The column headline had a double meaning. “Call it unacceptable” was a memo to readers, as the van incident – the disturbing cop-cam recording of which went viral nationally – was, as Linthicum pointed out, “a nightmare for the Tourism Department and a black eye for us all.”

But it was also a direct appeal to the governor, who at that point had not weighed in on the incident. Linthicum wrote that the governor should at least come out and say that the behavior of the State Police was “unacceptable.”

It wasn’t a stretch for Linthicum to suggest that, because, as the columnist pointed out — devoting the entire last half of the column to a summary of past instances — the governor repeatedly has used the term  “unacceptable”  to describe events and problems facing the state. Linthicum wrote:

New Mexico’s annual death toll from drunken driving, the state’s high school dropout rate, third-grade reading proficiency, the state budget deficit she inherited, a child dying of heatstroke after being left in a hot car – Martinez has called them all out as “unacceptable.”

Linthicum said the governor also used “unacceptable” when quoted about:

  • state prison conjugal visitation policy that allowed a convicted murderer to father four children he is not around to support;
  • the radioactive waste that needs to be cleaned up at Los Alamos National Laboratory;
  • the trouble returning veterans are having finding jobs;
  • the delay in getting heat turned on in northern New Mexico one cold winter.

As Linthicum noted in her column:

One of Martinez’s strengths as a politician is that she spent her life as a prosecutor and so she sees things in black and white and expresses herself plainly, as though she’s making an argument to a jury.

We like things simple, and Martinez’s habit of identifying things that most people would find unacceptable and calling them out probably plays a factor in her enviable in-state approval rating and out-of-state buzz.

But at the time, Martinez – who is also the wife of a career law enforcement officer – hadn’t yet weighed in on the Taos incident. As Linthicum wrote:

She’s been much more cautious on this one, even though the chain of command for the State Police goes through the Department of Public Safety and then to the Governor’s Office. I’d like to hear the governor weigh in on State Police officers screaming at a woman with a car full of kids, busting out the window of a car full of kids with a baton, aiming Tasers at children, and then shooting at a car full of kids when it drives away – all over a speeding ticket.

I’d hope she calls it what it is: “completely unacceptable.”

When Martinez did comment, it was at a news conference on another matter, and she was asked about the firing of State Police officer Elias Montoya, a 12-year veteran.

According to the Journal story by Andy Stiny and Deborah Baker, the governor said of Montoya:

Firing his weapon at the tires thinking that would be a manner in which to stop someone – yeah, it’s unacceptable, especially when there are five children in the car.

Granted, unacceptable is a perfectly good word for the governor to overuse. But as Linthicum has pointed out, it’s also become quite predictable.

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