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Martinez chief of staff talks leadership, administration successes

Keith Gardner, chief of staff to outgoing New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and a former Roswell resident, speaks Tuesday to 22 different organizations at the 69th annual All Civic Club Luncheon at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center. (Alex Ross Photo)

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The chief of staff to outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez talked about leadership, praised volunteers and touted the administration’s achievements in laying the ground for New Mexico’s future successes Tuesday during a speech in Roswell.

Kevin Gardner was the featured speaker at the 69th annual All Civic Club Luncheon hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Roswell. The event was held at the Roswell Convention & Civic Center. Dina Jenks, member of the Kiwanis Club, said after the luncheon that 22 civic organizations were represented at the event.

Gardner is a former Roswell resident for 17 years where he owned and co-operated a sports rehabilitation clinic. He was a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives for six years, where his district included portions of Chaves, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt counties.

Gardner, a Republican, eventually became the House Minority Whip. He has been chief of staff Martinez in 2011 when she first took office.

Martinez, whose second term expires Dec. 31, was unable to seek re-election due to term limits.

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In his 35-minute speech, Gardner praised the volunteers of the constellation of organizations at the luncheon for sacrificing their time, energy and money for a cause greater than themselves. He lauded those who give of themselves to make a difference in the lives of others.

“You are here today because you give on a daily basis of those most important talents given to you by our most supreme being,” he said.

Gardner talked about the accomplishments of the Martinez administration.

He said when she took office in 2011, the state faced a deep budget crisis, soaring unemployment and a reputation for corruption in government.

He said that eight years later, things have improved in New Mexico. The state, which had budget problems — now has a surplus.

Martinez on the campaign trail had vowed to fix the state’s budget and do so without raising taxes, a promise she has kept.

Gardner said Martinez was reluctant to raise taxes because when government is struggling, it means taxpayers are also under strain.

“That is something government sometimes forgets,” he said.

Years later, the state had extra money and unemployment has dipped.

Gardner said the better economy is sometimes thought to be because of a boom in the oil and gas industry, but the numbers tell a different story.

He said just 32 percent of that new growth has come from oil and gas, while 66 percent has come from elsewhere.

The base economy is doing better because in the last eight years, work has been done to make the state a more appealing climate for investors and for businesses to thrive. New Mexico has also been able to present itself as an attractive alternative to other states, something it could not do before.

He cites deals in recent years from companies like Facebook. The social media giant invested $1.2 billion in the state as part of a deal.

Gardner said it has taken ample time for New Mexico to become a state competitive in attracting business and there is still work to be done, but that he is excited that New Mexico is again competitive.

Gardner also defended his boss. He said critics often think Martinez, a former Dona Ana District Attorney, is too inflexible and comes across as too much of a rigid prosecutor.

“I would say it’s nice to work with someone who knows the colors black and white and right and wrong. Knows the line that can not be crossed,” he said.

Gardner said the administration is working to ensure there is a smooth transition of power from the Martinez administration to that of Gov-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.

Lujan Grisham defeated Republican Steve Pearce in the Nov. 6 race for governor 57 to 42 percent. Gardner said he looks forward to the new administration even though he will not be a part of it.

Leadership is about more than achieving and holding onto power.

“Leadership is not about becoming a king or a monarch or a queen. That’s not leadership — we call that dictatorship. It’s about getting something, being in charge of something and leaving it better than when you took it,” Gardner said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.