Senator says outsiders, dirty tricks led to website 'They hate Roswell'
The committee to re-elect state Sen. Tim Jennings is at once taking a bare-knuckles approach to his campaign.
Today it unveiled a website called "They Hate Roswell," a slap at Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's chief of staff, Keith Gardner. The Senate district of Democrat Jennings includes Roswell.
In a secretly recorded conversation with a former friend, Gardner raged against Jennings in the vilest terms.
At another point in the rambling 73-minute talk, Gardner boasted of bygone days when his father, who was judge, stood ready to fix a traffic ticket for him.
Gardner was a model of incivility, to be sure. Now Jennings' camp hopes to turn the foul words Gardner spoke against Republicans.
One audio clip on the website is about Gardner's buddy saying he hated Roswell and wanted to move away. Gardner replied: "I am 100 percent with you."
Gardner represented Roswell for six years in the House of Representatives before becoming Martinez's chief of staff in 2011.
We asked Jennings if he personally approved the website, which contains direct quotations of Gardner's guttersnipe language. Jennings said: "We talked about it. Where else do I strike back?"
He said a political action committee, Reform New Mexico Now, with out-of-state donors, is doing dirty politicking for Martinez and Gardner. The PAC has targeted Jennings and Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen, the leader of majority Democrats, for defeat in next month's election.
Jennings was most angry about PAC mailings that he says show doctored photos of him and former state senator Manny Aragon, who was convicted of corruption in a scheme to defraud the state of $4.4 million.
In 2009, before Aragon was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in federal prison, Jennings was among a number of prominent people who wrote letters of support for the tarnished senator.
Even so, Jennings said, he committed no crimes, yet the Gardner-Martinez forces want to smear him with phony pictures.
"Do you just lay back and let them say anything they want, just because they have unlimited money? I don't deserve all this stuff," Jennings said.
He said the PAC also had distorted his voting record, especially on taxes.
Republican Cliff Pirtle, 27, this fall is challenging Jennings, a 62-year-old who has been in the Senate since 1979.
Pirtle months ago said his main issue against Jennings was the senator's support for a law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver's licenses. Pirtle now is spending his afternoons knocking on doors, asking Roswell residents to send a new senator to Santa Fe.
Jennings had mostly ignored Pirtle until recently.
"I haven't said anything bad about Pirtle, have I?" Jennings asked. "I'm just exposing what they (PAC operatives) say and do."
Gardner and Jennings crossed paths recently in Roswell, Jennings said. By Jennings' account, they had a brief conversation that touched on state business.
Jennings said he prided himself on civility in the Legislature and had always gotten along with Gardner. Now, Jennings said, he sees himself as a truth teller and Gardner as something else.
"He says he hates Roswell," Jennings said of Gardner. "The people should know he said it. They should be aware that he hates the place he was elected to represent for those six years."
Jennings said he had been through tight elections but never a hostile one.
"My 93-year-old mother shouldn't have to hear about (Gardner) calling me a c---sucker," Jennings said.
For the record, Gardner phoned Jennings to apologize about the mean name-calling. But Jennings said Gardner's effort was half-hearted.
"What was it, eight or nine days after the tape became public that he called?" Jennings said.
But what bothers him most, Jennings said, is that Martinez is more than happy to bring Washington-style politics to New Mexico.
"They have outside people coming into New Mexico, trying to dictate our elections. They're getting money from the outside. All I'm doing is saying what they do," Jennings said.
From the website of Jennings' campaign committee:
They Hate Roswell
This website is paid for and authorized by the Tim Jennings Re-Election Senate Campaign Committee.
Senator Jennings has always run positive, issue-oriented campaigns. He feels the unprecedented attacks by his Republican opponent not only affect him, but this community. This website is his response.
The recording that you will hear is unedited and has been made public by newspapers and political blogs throughout the state. The conversation is between two individuals, one of whom is a chief architect of Reform New Mexico Now. This is the independent campaign committee that is filling the airwaves and mailboxes with negative and misleading advertisements regarding Tim Jennings. The vast majority of money being spent by this committee is from out-of-state special interests!
We hope that you will take time to listen to the entirety of the tape and make your own judgments regarding Tim Jennings' opponents.
The website is theyhateroswell.com. Be warned, it contains rough language that you might hear in a locker room or a shipyard.