POLITICS

Spotlight-shy N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez finds herself in media glare

FILE - This Sept. 4, 2015 file photo New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks at a press conference Albuquerque, N.M. Martinez says she’s confident a close political adviser, Jay McCleskey, did nothing wrong and called allegations of fundraising violations “cheap shots.” The Republican governor told The Associated Press in a statement that she’s aware of complaints being raised and said they came from political opponents who have tried to attack her previously. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras,File)

FILE - This Sept. 4, 2015 file photo New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks at a press conference Albuquerque, N.M. Martinez says she’s confident a close political adviser, Jay McCleskey, did nothing wrong and called allegations of fundraising violations “cheap shots.” The Republican governor told The Associated Press in a statement that she’s aware of complaints being raised and said they came from political opponents who have tried to attack her previously. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras,File)

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is known for preferring to stay out of the spotlight.

Most Americans don’t know the sound of her voice – unlike many of her fellow politicians, she is not a fixture on Sunday morning news shows nor does she write provocative tweets that make headlines.

But that didn’t keep Martinez out of the crosshairs of Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, who has thrust the governor into the glare of national media by saying, “She’s not doing her job,” at a rally in her state.

For the most part, Martinez has avoided getting into a tit-for-tat with Trump, who, unlike the governor, loves a verbal brawl and manages to stay in the headlines constantly. 

Martinez’s spokesman has suggested that Trump is angry because the governor has not endorsed him and said she would not be “bullied” into doing so.

But Trump’s decision to take a shot at Martinez has focused attention on her controversial record in New Mexico, Roll Call reported.

Martinez, the first Latina chief executive of a state in U.S. history, has failed to turn around New Mexico’s struggling economy in the six years she has been at its helm. Neighboring states, by contrast, have bounced back better from the recession, Roll Call said.

Carter Bundy, political director for public employee union AFSCME, told Roll Call that Trump was not altogether wrong.

New Mexico’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate is twice Colorado’s rate. New Mexico also has the country’s highest child poverty rate, at 30 percent. The national average is 21 percent.

When reports of high schools across the United States at the end of last year showed them graduating students at an all-time-high rate of 82.3 percent, New Mexico lagged way behind, coming in dead last among the states with 68 percent.

Martinez made a politically risky proposition to address the poor academic performance in the state, calling for third-graders with low scores on standardized reading tests to be held back.

Roll Call said that one Catholic children’s organization criticized the Martinez administration for trying to lure tourists with a campaign in which “we celebrate our unique cuisine and turn a blind eye to our hungry children.”  

Martinez enjoys significant political achievements. She is the first Hispanic to lead the Republican Governors Association, and her PACs have raised millions of dollars in recent years, according to Roll Call. Martinez also got rave reviews for her prime time speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.

She’s also a perennial favorite among pundits who speculate about potential running mates for Republican presidential candidates. She was rumored to be on Mitt Romney’s short list in 2012, and her name was bandied about this year as well before Trump took aim.

In recent days high-profile Republicans have come to Martinez's defense. Former presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio criticized Trump for, in their view, picking on her.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a long-time buddy of the New Mexico governor and a supporter of Trump's presidential bid, has not said anything publicly.

Some observers expect Martinez, who has vowed not to support or vote for Hillary Clinton, to back Trump eventually in the interest of party unity.

Lonna Atkeson, a University of New Mexico political science professor, told Roll Call, “She is a leader in the Republican Party, and she can’t just stand on the sidelines."  

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