ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With Tuesday’s election behind her, Martinez begins work to prepare for taking office Jan. 1
With a historic election behind her, Republican Gov.-elect Susana Martinez faced the daunting task Wednesday of assembling a team to run state government and deal with a looming budget shortfall when she takes office in less than two months.
Martinez spent the day after her victory in planning meetings and starting to reach out to legislative leaders and other elected officials.
“My focus has now turned to addressing the challenges we confront and putting in place my administration,” Martinez said in a statement.
To help during the transition, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson pledged his cooperation to help Martinez “hit the ground running” on Jan. 1. He named his chief of staff, Brian Condit, as the administration’s point man in working with Martinez.
Martinez defeated Democrat Diane Denish by receiving 54 percent of the vote Tuesday night, according to unofficial returns. She became the first woman elected as governor of New Mexico and will be nation’s first female Hispanic governor.
When Martinez takes office, she’ll find a Legislature populated with more Republicans to help carry out her agenda of smaller government and rolling back some policies implemented by Richardson.
Martinez opposes a law that allows illegal immigrants to get a driver’s license. She advocates reinstating the death penalty and repeal of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program.
Republicans are poised to pick up eight seats in the House, based on unofficial returns with several races still very close. If that holds, Democrats will retain a fragile 37-33 majority but Republicans will occupy more seats than they’ve had in recent political history.
Since the House went to 70 seats in 1967, Republican numbers peaked at 30 in 1999-2000. Republicans held a 37-12 majority in 1929.
Senators were not up for election this year. Democrats have a 27-15 advantage in the Senate although moderate-to-conservative Democrats have a strong voice in the chamber and sometimes are allied with Republicans.
“It’s a new ballgame for us,” said House GOP Leader Tom Taylor of Farmington.
Republicans, he said, will have a greater voice in determining the outcome of legislation.
“It certainly puts the governor in a very good position. It puts us in a good position,” said Taylor.
Richardson called Martinez on election night to offer his congratulations on her victory, according to Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the governor.
“As she will soon find out, being governor of New Mexico is one of the most demanding jobs anyone can have,” Richardson said in a statement.
The governor was a target of much criticism from Martinez during the campaign and often was a centerpiece of her television attack ads against Denish, who has served as lieutenant governor since 2003.
“Despite the heated rhetoric during the recent gubernatorial campaign, the state of New Mexico is in a great position to take advantage of a rebounding national economy,” Richardson said, defending his administration’s efforts to increase spending on public education, highway construction and economic development projects such as a commercial spaceport.
One of the biggest problems facing Martinez is the state’s sputtering economy and weak finances. The state is nearly 5 percent, or $260 million, short of what’s needed to maintain current services and programs in the next budget year, which starts in July 2011.
The Legislature will convene Jan. 18 and the budget will be a top assignment for Martinez and lawmakers.
Martinez vowed during the campaign to protect schools and Medicaid from budget cuts. Those programs account for about 60 percent of state spending. She also has pledged not to increase taxes. The challenge for Martinez is whether she can follow through on those promises and balance the budget.
Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said Martinez will be tested immediately.
“Normally in transition, you just get your feet wet and understand how things work,” he said. “In her transition she’ll be trying to work out a deal with legislative leadership that, come the session, they can remedy our budget deficit situation.”