ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) — The gloves are off in a state Senate race, but it's not a fight between the two eastern New Mexico candidates. Instead, it's the Senate president taking aim at the governor's office.
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, is running for his 10th term against Republican farmer Cliff Pirtle, also from Roswell.
Jennings rolled out a new ad campaign featuring a
now-infamous secret recording of the governor's chief of staff Keith Gardner talking to a friend who taped the phone call.
"I hate this town, I hate this school district," said the friend, referring to Roswell.
"Look, I'm 100 percent with you," said Gardner, whose hometown is also Roswell.
The recording was made shortly after the September special session of the Legislature
. The session was called to redistrict the House and Senate, but
Gov. Susana Martinez added numerous issues including repealing a law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
Jennings said he had no choice but to turn negative in response to pressure from outside influences, specifically the governor's political action committee.
Martinez's PAC, Reform New Mexico Now, has been funneling money and sending mailers on behalf of Pirtle to unseat Jennings, who is one of the governor's biggest obstacles in repealing the law on driver's licenses fot illegal immigrants.
Jennings said Reform New Mexico Now recently sent a mailer tying the senator to Manny Arag n, a former Senate president who is currently in federal prison and has become the
poster child for New Mexico corruption.
"They have no right whatsoever to tell someone that I'm corrupt. None," Jennings said. "And by God, if they got something, either put up or shut up. As a prosecutor, (Gov. Martinez) should be able to do that."
Last month, the same secret recording made headlines when Gardner was heard hurling foul-mouthed insults at Jennings.
"I hate those (expletive). I hate (expletive) Tim Jennings so bad right now," Gardner is heard to say. "He's a (expletive) son of a (expletive)."
Jennings said he kept quiet after those rants surfaced but said he had enough with the latest mailer from the governor's PAC.
"I am not going to sit here and let people slander me forever," said Jennings.
The governor's office declined to comment. Jay McCleskey, the governor's political strategist who runs Reform New Mexico Now, also refused an on-camera interview but said Jennings' record will speak for itself.
"Tim Jennings is supposed to represent his constituents and they have a right to know his record, especially when he sends a letter to a judge asking for leniency for Manny Arag n and when he leads the fight to continue giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," McCleskey sent in a written statement.
Pirtle said he takes offense at Jennings' new ads, which portray him as a puppet. Pirtle call the ads misleading and a diversion tactic.
"They never say that Cliff Pirtle is not on this recording. They never clarify who is in this recording," said Pirtle. "I'm in the race to talk about the important issues, not to talk about some secret recording of two guys over a year ago."
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.