Senator says he has no ill will toward governor's chief of staff
In 33 years as a state senator, Tim Jennings has been criticized many times by many people.
But Jennings, a Democrat, said in an interview today that he was surprised the Republican governor's chief of staff, Keith Gardner, called him profane names in a secretly recorded conversation.
Gardner, speaking to a purported friend named Brian Powell, launched into a rambling tirade against Jennings. Gardner said he was angry with Jennings, right, for unspecified issues during a special legislative session in September 2011.
In a statement that will live on through YouTube, Gardner also called Jennings a "C--sucker."
"It's not true," Jennings said, making light of Gardner's rough locker-room language.
Turning serious, Jennings said of Gardner: "Quite frankly, I was extremely disappointed. And yeah, I was surprised he said those things.
"He's got nice kids, and over the years we'd come to be good friends. Sometimes, you get into a new position and, well, I guess you can say things in the heat of battle..."
Gardner, right, is in a relatively new position, but he was not in any battle when he called Jennings names.
Gardner talked with Powell for 73 minutes about a range of topics, including a sex-abuse case in Roswell involving a 47-year-old male teacher and a student.
Gardner's sniping about Jennings was part of his accounting of legislative battles that had angered him.
Jennings said he had not heard from Gardner since the tape's release, and that he would be surprised to receive an apology.
"I don't see that happening," Jennings said. "I'm not waiting for it."
Still, he said, he had no ill will toward Gardner.
Jennings and Gardner both represented Roswell as legislators. Gardner resigned from his seat in the House of Representatives in 2011 to become Gov. Susana Martinez's chief of staff.
Conversations between Jennings and Gardner became less frequent after that, but Jennings said he knew of no bad blood between them.
"To be frank, I don't know what I did to him," Jennings said. "His kids would come over to the office, and we always got along.
"I'm the sole Democrat from down here (in the legislative delegation), and I always have told my voters that I would work for the interests of the area and for the people, not be caught up in partisan politics.
"That was my oath to the state. I believe it, and in the Senate we do make an effort to get along and to do what's right for the people."
Actually, Democrats control the Senate 28-14, and typically can block any Republican initiative. This causes considerable frustration for Republican senators. One of them, Bill Payne of Albuquerque, once said GOP senators were like the Washington Generals, the team that was humiliated in every game it played by the Harlem Globetrotters.
Pressed on Senate relationships, Jennings said that two Republican senators, Rod Adair of Roswell and John Ryan of Albuquerque, had been the most contentious and engaged in squabbling that he considered beneath the body.
Jennings also said a Democrat or two had occasionally sunk to that level. But the Senate by and large was a part of government trying to solve problems, not one engaging in internal disputes or mean personal attacks, Jennings said.
He said his good relations with the rival party were evident this week.
"Probably more Republicans than Democrats have called me (since the tape's release)," Jennings said.
Asked what he will say to Gardner the next time they meet, Jennings said: "I'll tell him hi, and I'll ask how his family is. Whether he cares for me or not, his family is very nice and I like them a great deal.
"We can all dwell on hate or we can all get over it. I don't have time to live my life in hate," Jennings said.
In his recorded talk with Powell, Gardner says Jennings was so extreme in the special session that even the Democrats' floor leader, Sen. Michael Sanchez, had to tell him to tone down.
Jennings said he knew of no fact or foundation for Gardner's statement. Sanchez never admonished him, Jennings said, and Sanchez has no recollection of any such friction among Democrat leaders.
Jennings is president pro tem of the Senate, though it is Sanchez who sets the agenda as to which bills will be heard in floor debate.
If he had to guess, Jennings said, he would say that Gardner was angry with him over comments about state fair board members. Jennings said even strong appointees to the fair board were in the dark about contracts and expenditures in the millions. This was tantamount, Jennings said, to university trustees having no understanding of campus projects or budgets.
Jennings, 62, is seeking re-election in November. He is being challenged by 26-year-old Republican Cliff Pirtle, a farmer.
On the tape, Gardner expressed interest in another Republican, Chad Hamill, as someone who could mount a challenge to Jennings. But Hamill lost a primary to Pirtle by 10 votes, a race so close that it required a recount.
RESPONSE FROM GOV. SUSANA MARTINEZ'S OFFICE
We asked Scott Darnell, the governor's press secretary, if Keith Gardener was going to apologize to Sen. Tim Jennings. Darnell replied this evening:
"Keith Gardner, Tim Jennings and their families have all known each other for years. The two have been able to work together, even though there have been heated disagreements in private over various policies.
"Keith is not proud of his language, but this particular private conversation took place a year ago and the two have talked and worked together since then on multiple occasions.
"Just like when the governor has been disparaged or called names by legislators ('Go to hell' by Rep. Chavez, 'the Mexican' on the 4th floor by Rep. Stapleton, '(She) would kick you in the kidneys' by Rep. Alcon, etc.), we are moving on and won’t allow that to distract us from doing the work the people of New Mexico expect and deserve."
Our note: To be clear, state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton publicly and personally apologized to the governor.
In addition, Jennings did not learn of Gardner's insults and profane comments until this week.