OPINION

Opinion: Is the GOP paying attention to Governors Sandoval & Martinez? It should

Gov. Sandoval during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Gov. Sandoval during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.  (2012 Getty Images)

Leading the GOP’s nuclear election returns last November were Hispanic incumbent governors — Brian Sandoval of Nevada with 70 percent of the state’s vote and Susana Martinez of New Mexico with 58 percent. Both are Mexican-Americans.

Note: Mexican Americans are two-thirds of the 54 million national Hispanic population. They are substantial voter percentages in California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico (40 percent) and in Arizona. Substantial means they can tilt a state one way or the other if properly motivated by candidates.

Question: Were Sandoval’s 70 percent vote and Martinez’ 58 percent vote in the two states that voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2012 politically significant considering these two are Republicans? Yes.

One can wager the kids’ college fund that the Republican Establishment is paying close attention to these two. Are they reserving the nomination for Vice-President for Governors Sandoval or Martinez?

- Raoul Lowery Contreras

In Sandoval’s case, though he had a Democrat legislature during his first term, both houses were flipped when he romped in November. For the first time since 1929, Republicans hold the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature in Nevada.

In his first term, Sandoval found schools and schooling near the bottom of American education. Terrible high school graduation rates plagued not only the large Hispanic population but the entire state. He single-handedly set out to correct that educational and social Black Hole. In his second inaugural speech he proposed a tax increase with much of the new revenue targeted to education.

He also proposed making more kindergartens full day and more charter schools; and more funds for special education, English as a Second Language programs and for gifted students.

He proposed paying for all this by making temporary “Recession” taxes permanent and a new state business license fee ranging from $400 for small business to $4 million for large corporations.

Legislators condemned and praised the proposal. Senate Majority Leader (R) Michael Roberson supported the proposal and State Assembly Speaker Designate (R) John Hembrick said, “The Governor is going to have his work cut out for him.”

Lining up against Governor Sandoval are the usual suspects, especially as he is proposing to eliminate collective bargaining at the local level. Read: teachers unions beware. Public employee bargaining is permitted at the state level but not mandatory. Shades of Governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that “Union leaders applauded Sandoval’s promise to increase school funding but recoiled at the thought of losing collective bargaining.”

By virtue of his 70 percent reelection romp, his crusade to better education and his being Hispanic, Governor Sandoval is on the Republican national radar. If he is successful in pushing education reform and upward progress, he is a man to watch.

Matching Governor Sandoval’s educational improvement campaign is New Mexico’s charming Republican Governor Susana Martinez.

In her 2015 $6.29 billion dollar budget – announced at an elementary school – she proposed an increase of $141 million budget with almost half targeted at education.

She proposed a $2,000 annual pay increase for new teachers raising the pay from $32,000 to $34,000. New funding of $68 million for classrooms and students was also proposed, as well as another $1.5 million for recruitment and retention of teachers.

Both Nevada and New Mexico suffer low high school graduation rates. Low reading and math test levels are endemic to both states with large “minority” populations. High poverty rates bedevil both governors, rates they inherited that increased greatly during the recession.

Both governors have targeted education; that is good. Both have targeted job creation, that is good as Nevada was hit very hard by recession-caused unemployment and New Mexico’s job market is mostly government — thus Martinez’ drive to create more private economy jobs.

Sandoval has the good fortune of working with a Republican legislature while Martinez has the misfortune of working with Democrats. But, even in Democrat New Mexico, a Republican carrying the state with 58 percent of the vote means something.

New Mexican Mark Weber wrote in the Albuquerque Journal, “The morning after the inauguration ceremony of Governor Susana Martinez, I was watching a Democratic supporter on the news. She complained that we are last in education and jobs, and going nowhere, and that it is Susana’s fault. Really? The Democrats have been in power in the legislature for 60 years. They have fought fervently for the status quo in the state since Susana won in 2010.”

Despite split government, Susana Martinez is like a 275-pound fullback AKA “The Bus” plowing through high school linebackers. Just last week, the Democrat-dominated New Mexico State Supreme Court rejected a petition to overturn a judicial appointment of hers. Yes, even the Supreme Court reads election returns.

Is anyone noticing Martinez and Sandoval?

One can wager the kids’ college fund that the Republican Establishment is paying close attention to these two. Are they reserving the nomination for vice president for Governors Sandoval or Martinez?

Both are from six Presidential electoral vote states, true, but their presence on a GOP ticket may very well sway many Hispanic votes in Illinois, Colorado, Florida and Nevada. Enough perhaps, to elect the President of the United States in 2016.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a political consultant. He was formerly with the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate. Contreras's books are available at Amazon.com

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