Former New Mexico Governor Talks Career, Bipartisanship

Susana Martinez, the first female governor of New Mexico and first female Hispanic governor in the United States, said she would much rather be a leader than a politician because being a leader involves staying true to one’s word. 

“You can be a politician,” Martinez said. “A lot of people can be politicians and say whatever you want in order to get yourself elected. Or, you can be a leader, and say what you mean and what you intend to do.” 

In a Chambers Lecture held by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics on March 16, Martinez discussed her path to politics, emphasizing the importance of bipartisanship and strong leadership. 

Initially, Martinez said that she wanted to be a mayor, but her English teacher encouraged her to think bigger.

“I had said we don’t have any real examples of other women and other women who, you know, have been a mayor or maybe a county commissioner,” Martinez said. “She says, ‘why not governor?’”

After graduating college, Martinez attended law school at the University of Oklahoma and became an assistant district attorney, where she said she could be the voice for crime victims, especially abused children.

“Well, it was actually an honor of a lifetime to be the voice of those children,” she said.

Martinez discussed her decision to run for district attorney, where she ran against the man who fired her. 

“The guy that fired me … I beat him by a landslide,” Martinez said. “But I was determined to do a really good job, just as I had done before, and continue to be the voice for those that didn’t have a voice” 

At age 50, Martinez said she decided to run for governor. Though she is a registered Republican, Martinez said she decided to reach out to all political parties during her campaign. 

“I did not go to places to ask for the vote of those of my party and only my party,” she said. “I wanted the vote from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. I wanted the vote in support of all of them. And so what I had to do was travel every corner of this state.”

Martinez said she encouraged people to vote for the candidate whose ideas they thought would best support their families.

“Sometimes we [Republicans] have candidates that aren’t the greatest, and sometimes you all [Democrats] have candidates that aren’t the greatest,” Martinez said. “And that’s the beautiful thing about when you vote, you get to go back and forth and choose the best person.” 

Staying true to her campaign promises, Martinez said she was able to balance New Mexico’s budget without increasing taxes. Also under her tenure, she said New Mexico’s economy changed drastically as they attracted more businesses. 

“So we ended up making sure that we had a foundation that told those businesses ‘you can come here, it is less expensive for your employees … the cost of doing business here, it’s cheaper,’” she said. “We’re open for business.”

When asked about her thoughts on the recent COVID-19 relief bill, Martinez said only 9 percent of the bill was related to COVID-19 relief. 

“ … You swallow the bullet and you say okay, it’s 1.9 trillion,” she said. “And yet, 9 percent of it is dedicated, only 9 percent, to COVID relief. You know, think about it. That’s a debt that you and I are gonna pay.”

Near the end of the event, Martinez addressed the large political divide in the United States. She emphasised the importance of bipartisan work and communication between political parties. 

“The division in America comes from the unwillingness to communicate with one another and to discuss the problems and the issues in front of us,” Martinez said.

Featured Image by Nicole Vagra / For The Heights

March 27, 2021

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