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Editorial: Senator should send right message on DWI, resign

The police lapel video showing state Sen. Richard Martinez performing poorly on sobriety tests after a two-car wreck June 28 is just plain ugly. (View it here.)

Footage released by the Española Police Department shows the longtime Democratic senator dazed, confused and a bit cantankerous with police officers after he allegedly rear-ended a Jeep carrying two people in his hometown late that night. At one point in the video – when the officer interviewing Martinez has stepped away from his side – a second officer asks whether the senator’s speech was slurred.

“Oh, bro,” the interviewing officer responds. “He didn’t even do his finger dexterity or counting backwards.” The video shows Martinez unable to complete the sobriety tests of touching each of the fingers on his left hand to his thumb or counting backward from 30 to 14. Oh, bro, indeed.

Martinez has been charged with – and pleaded not guilty to – aggravated DWI in Rio Arriba Magistrate Court. And while he will have his day in court, his days representing New Mexicans in the Roundhouse should be over. The 66-year-old should focus on his court case and get the help he needs – not continue to serve as the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As Journal reporter Edmundo Carrillo wrote July 2, that role acts as gatekeeper to criminal legislation.

Failing to resign hurts the legitimacy and authority of the state Democratic Party and the Legislature. For those who would cry political bias, the Journal made the same recommendation after then-Rep. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque got a DWI last year. She refused but lost her reelection bid.

Youngblood was a rising Republican star and had pushed tougher drunken-driving laws. She was criticized not only for her offense but for comments to officers about her pro-police work as a legislator – comments the state Attorney General’s Office believed violated the Governmental Conduct Act.

That doesn’t appear to be an issue here, although Martinez alternately uses a religious epithet and begs officers not to arrest him, as well as says he had “like a beer or two,” then “two couple of beers,” then “like two or three, maybe,” then three glasses of wine and no beer. Like Youngblood, he refused the Breathalyzer, making his DWI aggravated DWI.

But there are difference between Youngblood’s DWI arrest and Martinez’s that make his more serious: Youngblood was not in an accident, Martinez was – and is lucky nobody died. He allegedly rear-ended a vehicle at an intersection, his air bag deployed and the video shows significant damage to his vehicle. The two people in the car he hit were taken to a hospital. One officer says “I’ll tell you this, he was traveling way too fast, not wearing a seat belt.” And remember Martinez is a retired magistrate judge and once sat behind the bench he will appear before. He enforced the laws the Legislature passes. If he isn’t expected to obey the law, who is?

It’s true Martinez has been a powerful and effective representative of his district for 18 years. He’s been re-elected four times. And our legal system says he is innocent until proven guilty. But the fact he refused to take the Breathalyzer strains any notion of innocence beyond reasonable doubt. Alcohol abuse is a serious issue in New Mexico; in 2017, more than 1,400 people died from alcohol-related causes – about twice the national rate, according to an April 30 Journal story. Through May of this year, 33 people have died in alcohol-related wrecks – more than one a week. We deserve leaders who have the strength of character to craft meaningful fixes to this deadly problem, then abide by the laws of the land.

Unfortunately, Martinez – despite his long career in public service – has lost the right to lead that charge.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.