Milan Simonich

If one word could sum up the primary election season that ends Tuesday, it’s insincerity.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez head the list of politicians who reverse themselves depending on the moment, the mood, the polls or plain old opportunism.

Trump, for all his brashness and name-calling, deserves the title of Mr. However.

He savaged Martinez during a recent speech in Albuquerque, saying her job performance was so bad that he might have to run for governor to improve state government. Then last week, nine days after attacking Martinez, Trump phoned The New Mexican’s Robert Nott to say he wanted Martinez’s endorsement because he likes and respects her.
Trump did something Martinez and her staff almost never do by responding quickly and directly to a question. Even in the middle of a national campaign, Trump made time to phone Nott to announce his newfound affection for the governor, a flip-flop of the highest order.

How seriously can you take a candidate who calls Martinez a failure, then veers 180 degrees to say he respects her? Trump’s career as an entertainer included participation in professional wrestling, where phoniness is a way of life. He’s brought the same approach to politics.

Trump has nothing on Martinez when it comes to insincerity. She skipped Trump’s campaign appearance on a Tuesday night in Albuquerque because she said she was “really busy.” Martinez found time in March to travel to Kansas and Florida to campaign for Sen. Marco Rubio after she belatedly backed him for president. Rubio quit the race soon after, when Trump crushed him in Rubio’s home-state primary in Florida.

Martinez had criticized Trump because he says he would build a wall on the Mexican border to better enforce immigration law. But in her recent, carefully recited comments about Trump, Martinez has kept open the possibility of endorsing him. She says she’s waiting to hear Trump’s commitment to funding New Mexico’s national labs and military installations. Martinez has not asked Trump to back down on the border wall as a condition of her support.
Like Trump, Martinez has scapegoated immigrants to win points with her political base. She said the state driver’s license law for immigrants brought human traffickers to New Mexico, a false claim that she stopped making after being criticized for it in January. Archbishop John C. Wester, of the Santa Fe Catholic Diocese, was among those who said Martinez’s account of the driver’s license law causing human trafficking was nonsense. Two months after that, Martinez signed a bill that continued driving privileges for undocumented immigrants.

In New Mexico, Martinez has been as quick as Trump to denigrate immigrants, even using the term “illegal aliens” because she knew it rankled Democrats in the Legislature. When traveling outside New Mexico, Martinez typically offers a more moderate view on immigrants. Her own inconsistencies might be one reason she hasn’t made an enlightened border policy a condition for her to endorse Trump.

Democrats also have a candidate who stands out for her insincerity in this primary election. She is state Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena of House District 21 in Albuquerque.

As recently as Friday, Lechuga-Tena falsely claimed that she had been endorsed by Conservation Voters New Mexico. The organization a week earlier had asked Lechuga-Tena to issue a statement admitting that she had not received the endorsement.

Lili Castillo of Conservation Voters New Mexico contacted me about Lechuga-Tena’s tactics. “I wanted to flag an issue for you,” Castillo said in an email. “CVNM & CVNM Action Fund did not endorse in the HD 21 race.

However, Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena has claimed our endorsement on a mailer. We hope to set the record straight.”
Lechuga-Tena told me that she had corrected her “mistake,” even as she still listed the endorsement on her Facebook page. She didn’t remove her false claim from Facebook until I had contacted her twice Friday to interview her. Only when caught and confronted, by the organization and then by me, did she stop listing a phony claim.

Lechuga-Tena’s alibi is that she’s new to campaigning. “I errored (sic) in sending a mail piece to my constituents saying I had been endorsed by CVNM,” Lechuga-Tena said in an email. “I sent the same constituents a new mail piece that showed I had been conservation qualified by CVNM. I am proud to have their support.”

She never stops. Lechuga-Tena doesn’t have the organization’s support. Conservation Voters said that Lechuga-Tena and one of her opponents, Debbie Sariñana, would be acceptable. It didn’t endorse either of them.

Lechuga-Tena has a pattern of wrongdoing. She voted in two elections in New Mexico before becoming a U.S. citizen. An honest mistake, she said. She sent out campaign ads asking voters to “re-elect” her, even though she was appointed to office late last year in a 3-2 vote of the Bernalillo County commissioners. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” she said, as if she didn’t know the difference between an election and an appointment.

New Mexico can do better than Lechuga-Tena, a candidate who’s full of excuses, all of them insincere.