In State Of The State Address, N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez Urges Action On Jobs, Education

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez appealed on Tuesday to state lawmakers to reach across the political aisle to work on improving education and the economy.

In her State of the State address, the governor also reiterated her determination to repeal the law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license.

Martinez outlined her legislative priorities in her address after lawmakers convened for a 30-day session that's limited to the budget, taxes and proposals placed on the agenda by the governor.

The session opened against a tragic backdrop, a week after a shooting at a Roswell school. A seventh-grader opened fire in a crowded gym, wounding a 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl.

During her speech, the governor introduced a Roswell social studies teacher, John Masterson, who talked the shooter into dropping his weapon, and Kevin Hayes, a security guard who was injured but helped care for the wounded boy. The school workers received a standing ovation.

"No human being is gifted with the knowledge of why such tragedy occurs. But, we are thankful that in the face of it, people like both of you display the courage required to help all of us get through," Martinez said.

Several lawmakers want the state legislature to consider gun restrictions, but Martinez hasn't signaled whether the potentially divisive issue will be added to the legislative agenda.

A measure failed last year that would have required criminal background checks of more people who buy firearms at gun shows. The governor backed the proposal but it died in the state senate as time ran out in the session.

The governor focused her speech on initiatives she's outlined recently for economic development and to improve public schools, including extra money to help students who are struggling to read in early grades.

She renewed her push for a measure to require schools to hold back third-graders who can't read proficiently. Educational groups and many Democrats oppose the measure.

"Let's not play games," said Martinez, urging approval of the measure to end a practice known as social promotion, in which students advance to the next grade regardless of whether they've mastered reading and essential skills.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Democrat from the town of Belen, questioned the governor's own willingness to compromise. In her speech, Martinez appealed to Republicans and Democrats to work together.

"Working together. Interesting? I wonder where we are working together. Let's hold her to her word," said Sanchez.

Martinez also said New Mexico must attract more private industry and reduce its reliance on federal spending at national laboratories and military installations.

"Our charge this session is to build an economy as diverse as the state we are proud to call home," Martinez said.

She's proposed expanding a tax incentive for startup companies as well as research and development. She asked lawmakers to earmark more money for water projects in the drought-plagued state.

Sen. William Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, called the governor's speech "gimmicky" and criticized Martinez for not addressing the state's poverty rate, which is among the highest in the country.

"We all know that one of the main problems we have in New Mexico is poverty. Poverty affects our schools. It affects our businesses. It affects our economy," said Soules.

The legislature and governor are likely to clash over educational policies.

Democrats are pushing a proposed constitutional amendment — opposed by the governor — to use a state permanent fund to provide a dedicated source of money for early childhood programs.

Constitutional amendments, if approved by the legislature, go to voters for a final decision. The governor can veto bills approved by lawmakers, but not a proposed change in the state constitution.

As for the driver's license for immigrants, Martinez said, “I’ve put forward a strong compromise to repeal this law and still allow driving privileges for [young immigrants brought to the country as children]. It’s time to act. The legislature should do what the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans are demanding — repeal this dangerous law.”

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Marcela Díaz, of the immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, responded in a written statement, “The governor is doing a terrible disservice to New Mexicans by forcing the driver’s license issue for a fifth time while our state falls deeper into poverty and our children continue to suffer the tragic consequences of a broken education and child welfare system."

"It’s unconscionable for the governor to put her own political cash cow ahead of New Mexico’s families," Díaz wrote. "She is wasting legislators’ time on this non-issue when they should be keenly focused on solving the state’s real problems.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.