Monday, February 4, 2013

Meet Susana Martinez

Name: Susana Martinez

Position: Governor of New Mexico

Party: Republican

Age: 53

Career arc:

a. Student body president of her high school.

b. Graduated from The University of Texas at El Paso with a degree in criminal justice.

c. Gets law degree from University of Oklahoma.

d. Assistant District Attorney for 3rd Judicial District in New Mexico.

e. Promoted to Deputy District Attorney.

f. Elected District Attorney in 1996, won reelection three times.

g. Elected governor, 2010.


Looking at her professional and political career, it's not a surprise that Susana Martinez's great-grandfather was Toribio Ortega.

If you're having trouble placing that name, he was the guy who supposedly kicked off the Mexican Revolution by firing the first shot.

He passed that heroic and somewhat bellicose spirit to his descendants.

Susana's dad served with the Marines in Korea, spent time coaching boxing, served as a deputy sheriff, and founded a security guard firm. None of those things is terribly emo.

Susana's mom also worked at the security firm, and Martinez seems to have inherited her dad's outward toughness (she would be "out there guarding parking lots" at Catholic Church bingo nights) while inheriting her mother's considerable bookkeeping skills that translated well to academia.

An old childhood friend tells The Santa Fe New Mexican that Martinez wasn't just content to be high school president of her student body, instead she'd tell people, "I'm going to be the first female president!"

After graduating from college at the University of Texas at El Paso, she moved to Oklahoma to pick up a law degree, which suited her both personal temperament and wonky side (Not surprisingly, her grandmother had often called her "La Abogadita" which means "the little lawyer", growing up).

Once she was done with law school, she moved to New Mexico, where she became an assistant district attorney and, over the years, worked her way all the way up to state District Attorney.

In a Fox News interview, she said that her roughly 25 years of working as a prosecutor taught her  "how to advocate" and "how to debate" -- the latter of which is particularly important in presidential primaries.

And during that time, she did a ton of impressive stuff on battling everything from child abuse to violent felonies. In fact, Heart Magazine named her "Woman of the Year" in 2008 for her efforts on behalf of children.

But her time as DA wasn't totally sanguine.

She was hit by some conflict of interest charges -- most of which stemmed from the fact that her husband worked as an undersheriff.

One such came when her husband was involved in the review of police officers who'd shot and killed a suspect. The review exonerated the officers and then went to Martinez, who got to make the final call and affirmed her husband's review.

There's nothing damning about the ultimate verdict, but obviously, it would be weird for Martinez to reject something her husband had, along with others, been involved in affirming.

That led to this pseudo-cringe inducing quote from Martinez during the time: "If the decision to shoot was improper, I would say so regardless of where my husband works."

Ah, well, whew. She'd say so!

And there were more than just a few similar cases -- NM Politics notes that, while DA, Martinez's office "prosecuted many cases Franco [her husband] investigated."

That doesn't mean her calls were compromised, but it didn't exactly quell her opponents' accusations.

Now... behind every story, it's important to zoom out, take a look at the big picture, and see what it's telling you about the person.

In Martinez's case, she clearly didn't blush too much over the accusations about conflicts of interest, and that's both good and bad in a politician.

On the good side, it means you don't back down or wilt.

On the bad side, it suggests that you might be just a bit too sure of yourself and your ability to navigate things that can spiral out of control very quickly -- regardless of whether you're right or not.

The takeaway isn't that Martinez proved herself to be unethical in any way. I'm sure she made good decisions in those cases.

It's that she probably should have been more circumspect and self-aware about the situation, and that tells us something about her political being.

New Mexico: Some of it sucks, but some of it is like this [photo: Audubon Society]


It's a strong one.

The Daily Beast's Andrew Romano laid out the accomplishments last year -- $150 million in spending cuts, preserving and extending corporate tax breaks, streamlining regulations on small businesses, increasing local control of schools and turning around the state's budget situation.

In fact, when she came into office in 2010, New Mexico faced the largest structural budget deficit in history -- the severity of which had been obscured by the outgoing governor's administration (Bill Richardson, no surprise on that one).

But in 2012, New Mexico boasted a $250 million surplus.

The unemployment rate has also declined substantially.

In 2010, it hit 8% -- the highest rate in over 20 years. Now it's down to 6.4% -- below the national average.

As for her other efforts, Martinez has focused fairly heavily on education, although she hasn't done as much as she'd like and plans on pushing more reform, in the future.

"We need reform, not just money," she told The Economist.

As for healthcare, she's taken a more pragmatic approach to ObamaCare.

Unlike some of her other potential 2016 rivals (Bobby Jindal, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie), she plans on setting up its controversial, state-based health insurance exchanges.

In her state of the state speech, she explained:

"I didn't support ObamaCare, but it's the law of the land. The election is over and the Supreme Court has ruled. My job is not to play party politics, but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico."

As for immigration, Martinez has the kind of record and rhetoric that defies easy categorization or stereotype.

She's been critical of Arizona's immigration law and was downright derisive of Mitt Romney's now-defunct "self-deportation" Eureka moment, but she's also undertaken a spirited quest to keep illegal immigrants from getting drivers licenses in the state.

(And about that push to keep illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses in the state -- you're going to read some of the most leftish elements of the Hispanic community bash Martinez on it, but the status quo really seems broken.

It's estimated that about 35% of calls made to New Mexico's MVA are from out-of-staters who want to set up an appointment to get their driver's licenses in New Mexico. It doesn't take too much to connect the dots on why. That's flagrant abuse).

All-in-all, she's approached immigration on a component-by-component basis, which is both more realistic and more frustrating for those who'd like to lump her into the "conservative", the "moderate", or "progressive" camp on the issue.

She's also pushed Medicaid expansion as governor -- a cause that's been informed considerably by her experience helping raise her developmentally-disabled sister.

Despite inheriting a $450 million deficit, Martinez managed to wring an additional $6 million in Medicaid money out of the New Mexico legislature during her first year as governor. Her latest budget upped the ante to $45 million. “Lettie is on Medicaid,” Martinez explains. “So I believe in providing services to adults and children who can’t take care of themselves.”

The vast majority of national Republicans, including Romney, support Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity, which would decimate federal spending on the poor and sick. Martinez thinks they should reconsider. “Sometimes Republicans engage in number-crunching analysis that doesn’t always take the neediest into account,” she tells me. “We have to factor them in before we start proposing these cuts.”

In other words, she's broadly supported conservative goals (lower taxes, fewer regulations) while making nods toward the middle.

Considering all that, then, it's not surprising that New Mexicans have rewarded her with an unbelievable 69%17% approval rating in a deeply blue state.

Even 56% of Democrats approve of the job she's doing.

If you can govern as a conservative while getting 56% of Democrats to approve of the job you're doing, there's a good chance you'll be bandied about as a presidential contender.

SPOUSE: Chuck Franco

Future first man? Martinez's spouse, Chuck Franco

She met her first husband in law school, but their marriage only lasted three years.

As for her current husband, Chuck Franco, here's their "awwwww" story, which she recounts in this video and is pretty awesome.

Martinez had just picked up her first job in New Mexico, and chanced upon a guy in the office hallway who was sporting a woven hairnet that "sometimes Mexican gang members will wear" (her words; not mine), as well as a "muscle shirt and khakis and tattoos and an earring. He looked like a bad guy," she said.

Martinez then quickly hopped over to a coworker's office, and complained "I thought we had security. I've got a bad guy in my office. We need to call the police."

That's when her coworker told her that the "bad guy" was actually a good guy who was undercover, and it turned out that he was such a good guy that she actually agreed to marry him.

As for the family, Martinez doesn't have any biological children of her own.

Why the empty nest?

She says she decided to pass on reproducing when she was 16 years old. Her sister is developmentally-disabled and since their mother died, Susana's been her legal guardian.

"In a way, I saw myself as already having raised a child."

She does have a 23 year-old stepson, Carlos.


Here's what you should pay attention to when her reelection race gears up in 2014 -- will a majority of Hispanics support her?

Last week, I wrote about the fact that she didn't exactly wow things up with the demo in her 2010 race, winning only 38% of the Hispanic vote.

Why was that particularly underwhelming?

Because her non-Hispanic, white colleague, Dianna Duran, won her race for Secretary of State by winning 37% of the vote.

In other words, Martinez didn't really win any Hispanics that Duran -- a non-Hispanic, white -- was winning.  Which means that her appeal with Hispanics might be somewhat overrated.

Let's see if Martinez can crack 50% with Hispanics in 2014. Sure, they approve of the job she's doing. But can she actually get this overwhelmingly Democratic constituency to vote for her?



Here are a few reasons why, and then a couple, potential stumbling blocks.

Since last November, conservative thought leaders have talked relentlessly about adopting political language and ideas that are new, fresh, and less menacing than Romney's 47% comments.

Martinez is a part of the new wave, and as far back as May of 2012, was mocking the way national Republicans communicated.

“I’m so tired of the rhetoric. ‘Lower taxes,’ you know. ‘More opportunity.’ Da da da. It’s this five-liner of nothingness. There have to be some distinctions for people to latch onto.”

Then, post-election, she hammered the GOP approach to the Hispanic vote, telling Fox News.

"Blaming the reason we lost is gifts -- that is rhetoric that we need to get rid of. We have not taken a time to develop a relationship with the Hispanic population. We visit them when it comes time for an election, and then we walk away."

In that same interview, she also blasted "ignorant comments that are being made about women that we should immediately condemn" and then confirmed that, yeah, the offending parties were Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

And as I noted earlier -- in true, gubernatorial form -- she hasn't chained herself to dogmas the way you have to if you're a national legislator; thus, she'd come into a race without a paper trail that could box her in.

That's a huge bonus.

Then there's the fact that she's the Demographic Holy Grail -- a Hispanic, female governor. If politics were a video game, you'd fight with friends over who gets to be Susana Martinez.

Another bonus for her -- right now, Marco Rubio has, rather courageously, decided to spend a hefty portion of his political capital on immigration reform. If things turn out well for him, he'll reap the benefits. If they don't, they could very well destroy his bid for president.

The GREAT thing for Martinez is that she can watch all of this from afar, and gauge how prepped the GOP is for immigration reform and, as importantly, how to engage on immigration at the national level.

In other words, Marco Rubio has essentially turned himself into a guinea pig (a rather talented, promising one, one no doubt, but still a guinea pig), and Martinez can study all the experimental results without risking her political neck.

Another strength for Martinez -- her toughness, which isn't as brittle as Sarah Palin's turned out to be.

In fact, Martinez is often compared to Palin for obvious reasons -- tough, reform-minded fighter who becomes the first female governor of a slightly obscure state, gets insanely popular, and drives her opponents mad.

But here's something Martinez has that Palin didn't-- roughly 25 years of experience as a prosecutor, absorbing, defending, and parrying political blow-after-blow.

Palin, frankly, wilted in her second term. From the sound of it, Martinez hasn't wilted even once in her life. In fact, at one point, she was fired; then ran against the guy who fired her and won by double-digits.

In fact, check out this unbelievable How to Defend Yourself from an Opponent's Attack in 2010 (Romney could've really used something like this in Ohio, circa spring of 2012).


The national stage can be tough, but Martinez has navigated tough political headlines and controversies her entire career.

Now....... having said that, Martinez does seem to have a particular knack for attracting political opponents. Often, that's a good thing, because entrenched corruption doesn't like threats and tends to react badly when cornered.

But there've been plenty of adroit reformers who've managed to stay relatively above the fray. Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell certainly have opponents in their respective states, but for the most part, their antagonists don't play with the same kind of ferocity as Martinez's.

My hunch is that Martinez's somewhat abrasive personality doesn't do much to soothe vanquished foes, and that she doesn't really suffer fools because, after all, she thinks they're fools.

But she's going to need a bit more dexterity when the national stage comes calling. She can't just be tough. She has to be tough and intuitive at the national level. Frankly, she didn't seem terribly intuitive as DA when it came to handling her husband's relationship.

Martinez is running for reelection in 2014 and currently sports extraordinary approval ratings. But as the left takes a longer look at her, nationwide Democrats will ratchet up their attacks, and let's see if Martinez has more than one speed of defense.

So were the prior 9 or 10 paragraphs just a long-winded way of saying that her greatest strength could be her greatest weakness? Yup.

Finally, does she even want to run for president?

Well, she famously ruled out a potential Veep bid in 2012 because she said felt indebted to her state and worried about moving her sister to D.C., but that was 2012 and 2016 might be a bit different.

In fact, she deflected the '16 question a few months ago by telling Greta Van Susteren:

"No thoughts on that. I am running for reelection for governor of New Mexico. I want to make sure that I fulfill the promises I made to New Mexicans.... right now my focus is on New Mexico."

In other words, yes, she's thinking about it.

If you're reading tea leaves, let's also see if she writes a memoir in the next, few years. All the raw material is there -- inspiring story and historic firsts aplenty. But, so far, there's no sign she's working on a book.

Finally, here's a famous clip of her requalifying for her concealed and carry....

.... And her universally-praised 2012 RNC speech.