SANTA FE — Gov. Susana Martinez is racking up travel miles in the aftermath of this year’s legislative session, balancing a busy in-state schedule with frequent forays outside New Mexico that some say reflect a rising national political profile.
The newly elected state Democratic Party chairman accuses the Republican governor of schmoozing with out-of-state campaign donors at a time when the state’s economy is still sluggish, but Martinez’s spokesman says she travels out of state less often than many other governors around the country.
And, despite the recent travel flurry, Martinez’s out-of-state time pales in comparison to that of her predecessor, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, who spent much of 2007 outside New Mexico pursuing a long-shot presidential campaign.
“Since (the legislative session), the travel she has done has been for relatively quick trips so that she does not have to be away from New Mexico for an extended period of time,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.
“It hasn’t impeded her ability to govern the state, and her official duties always take priority to any political activities,” said Knell.
Martinez has also not taken a personal vacation since taking office in January 2011, Knell told the Journal.
The governor’s trip this week to Tucson for a business event and campaign fundraiser was the latest stop in a travel itinerary that has also included visits to Colorado, Nevada, Washington, D.C., and California — twice — in the past two months.
That’s in addition to a March trip to Rome as part of an official U.S. delegation, led by Vice President Joe Biden, that attended the inaugural Mass for Pope Francis.
In all, the first-term governor has spent all or part of 14 days outside New Mexico since the 60-day legislative session ended March 16, according to a Journal review.
Martinez has held fundraisers for her own 2014 gubernatorial re-election campaign on at least three of the recent trips. She has attended several out-of-state political events for Republican causes, including a fundraiser for U.S. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Longtime New Mexico political analyst Brian Sanderoff said Martinez’s travel schedule reflects a national stature that has grown following her high-profile speech to the Republican National Convention last year.
Martinez, the nation’s first elected Hispanic female governor, traveled out of state during her first two years as governor, though not as extensively.
“I think she’s beginning to spread her political wings,” Sanderoff told the Journal. “She’s taking advantage of her prominence in the Republican Party as a female Hispanic.”
Sanderoff noted that the New Mexico law that limits how much money statewide political candidates can accept from individual donors — the cap is currently $5,200 per primary or general election — makes it difficult to raise funds solely from in-state contributors.
“New Mexico, being a small state, there’s only so much you can raise for your campaign with the caps,” he said.
The Governor’s Office described many of the out-of-state trips as opportunities to represent New Mexico and said Martinez is highly selective about her travel.
“The governor is regularly invited to take part in out-of-state events, both official and political; nearly all of them are declined immediately,” Knell said.
Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman Sam Bregman criticized Martinez’s out-of-state travel, saying the governor should be focused on bolstering the state’s economy, which has legged behind neighboring states in terms of recent job growth.
“We need a governor focused on job creation, not on traveling out of state to raise money for herself and her political buddies,” Bregman said.
Martinez has spoken frequently about trying to make New Mexico more economically competitive with neighboring states. The goal has become a prominent part of her legislative agenda.
The governor touted changes lawmakers enacted earlier this year to the state’s tax structure — including a cut in the corporate income tax rate — in speeches to business groups on at least two of her recent out-of-state trips. Both of those trips also featured separate re-election campaign fundraisers.