Battle brews between Senate leader, Governor over Los Lunas therapy pool

LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – A valuable community resource is being closed for good, but who’s to blame?

The most powerful Democratic lawmaker in New Mexico says the Republican governor is unfairly blaming him and he says an audio recording backs that up.

The new spat is all over the future of the state-owned and operated warm-water therapy pool, located at the site of the old Los Lunas Training School campus.

As KRQE News 13 first reported this week, many residents are now learning that the state has no plans to reopen the pool, due to concerns over high maintenance and operational costs. Initially, residents were told that the warm water therapy pool would only be closing temporarily for repairs. The pool was last open in late 2015.

Senator Michael Sanchez of Belen believes he’s now being dragged into a blame game for the pool’s closure, and that the Office of Governor Susana Martinez is spreading lies by placing the blame on Sanchez.

Meanwhile, Governor Martinez’s Office calls Senator Sanchez’s claims, in part, a “silly stunt.”

Senator Sanchez points to a telephone call recording as part of the proof to his claims.

News 13 obtained a copy of the recording, which is said to be between an employee of the Office of Governor Susana Martinez, and another person inquiring about the status of the Los Lunas therapeutic pool.

The call starts with an employee identifying themselves.

“Office of the Governor, this is Mindy,” says the employee.

The caller responds, saying, “I wanted to see if I could get some answers on … about a closure for a therapeutic pool in Valencia County?”

The caller continues, asking, “I just wanted to know… I guess why it was closed and why the services are being terminated there?”

The employee responds, “Is this the one in Los Lunas?”

After the caller confirms that she is asking about the Los Lunas therapeutic pool, the employee responds, saying, “That is because the legislators denied that funding.”

The caller then asks for “specifics,” asking, “Was there a specific legislator? So that I can contact them? Because the services are needed.”

The Governor’s Office employee then states, “Yes, that is Mr. Michael Sanchez, and let me give you his number.”

ll sen sanchez letter to gov pic
Senator Sanchez sent this letter to Gov. Martinez in late April inquiring about the blame he says he’s getting about the pool closure.

Senator Sanchez says he has heard from at least three people who say they were told roughly the same thing: that Senator Sanchez is to blame for the Los Lunas therapeutic pool’s closure, due to a lack of funding.

After hearing about the response being offered by employees in the Governor’s Office, Senator Sanchez says he wrote a letter to Governor Martinez on April 22, equating the statements to lies, and calling them “misinformation.”

READ: Sen. Sanchez’s letter to Gov. Susana Martinez about Los Lunas therapeutic pool >>

“There’s no rhyme or reason for anyone in the governor’s office to make those kinds of statements,” said Sen. Sanchez in an interview with KRQE News 13 on Friday, April 29. “I’m very disappointed to say the least.”

The Senate Majority Leader represents Belen and Los Lunas, the same district where the pool is located. He points to an attempt to keep the pool open, through a state Capital Outlay funding request that passed the legislature and was signed into law by the Governor.

According to the 2016 New Mexico House Bill 219, the state Department of Health received $1.5 to “plan, design, demolish, construct, renovate, improve, furnish and equip department of health facilities statewide, including the purchase and installation of equipment for the scientific laboratory and for repairs to the therapeutic pool at the Los Lunas campus in Valencia county.”

“It’s basically in their hands at this point in time whether or not to use that money there, or somewhere else as indicated in the bill,” said Sen. Sanchez.

In his letter to the Governor’s Office, Senator Sanchez also wrote that he “only recently learned that the decision to permanently close the pool was made by your Department of Health in November, although it was not disclosed to me or the public.”

The Department of Health and the state’s General Services Department chose closed warm water pool late last year, saying it needs more than one million dollars in repairs.

News 13 requested an on-camera interview with a spokesman for Governor Martinez’s Office, but they declined. They offered this statement:

“Michael Sanchez’s silly press stunt has backfired on him and now he has been caught red-handed in a lie. He should apologize to his constituents.”

–Office of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.

The Governor’s Office says Sanchez is the one who is lying, pointing to a Department of Health letter that was hand-delivered to Sanchez’s office in Los Lunas on Christmas Eve 2015. According to the letter, the state notified Sanchez of the pool’s closure due to costly repairs.

ll pool doh letter to sanchez pic
In response to Sen. Sanchez’s claims, Gov. Martinez’s office provided this letter from the DOH, claiming the Senate Majority leader knew of the pool’s closure in Dec. 2016.

READ: Department of Health’s Dec. 24, 2015 letter to Sen. Michael Sanchez about pool closure >>

The fighting has caused Joseph Morse nothing but pain.

“I can’t walk a mile … if my life depended on it now,” said Morse, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and arthritis.

Morse says the pool has served to help with his strength training for the last two years. A self-proclaimed “staunch Republican,” Morse says he doesn’t care whose fault it is, he just wants this community resource back open.

“The reality is that is non-partisan for us, this is people’s health and their well-being that we’re concerned about,” said Morse.

In the meantime, Valencia county residents are gathering signatures now with hopes that the effort will convince the state to reopen the pool.

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