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Longtime legislator faces challenger in Senate District 5 primary

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

After being convicted of aggravated drunk driving and reckless driving in December 2019, Senator Richard C. Martinez, who represents District 5 in the New Mexico Senate, faced pressure to resign. He did not leave the Senate, but did step down from his positions as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-chair of the Courts, Corrections & Justice Interim Committee. He still serves on the Senate Conservation and Senate Judiciary committees.

In the Democratic primary, Martinez, who has held his seat since 2001, is facing opposition from Rio Arriba County Commission Chair Leo Jaramillo. Ironically, Jaramillo has also been convicted of DWI, albeit 25 years ago when he was 18 years old.

The last time Martinez, 67, of Ojo Caliente, was challenged in the Democratic primary was in 2012, when Alfredo L. Montoya ran against him. Martinez ended up winning 58% of the vote.

Martinez served a four-day sentence and 85 days of probation for the drunk driving charge.

Martinez’s sentence drew criticism from some New Mexicans for being too lenient, as Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office had asked that he serve the maximum 180 days in jail for the two charges he was convicted of.

At his sentencing, Martinez tearfully apologized for his actions, while also saying he has been sober for six months and is seeking help for a drinking problem.

Since his sentencing, Martinez hasn’t spoken much about his DWI conviction.

Martinez initially agreed to be interviewed by Journal North, but then did not answer his cellphone at the appointed time, nor several times after that.

During an online candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters earlier this month, Martinez said in his opening remarks that he hoped the questions would not be “personal.” He was not asked about the drunk driving conviction that night.

He did talk about other issues, saying New Mexico should work to become less reliant on oil and gas, and move toward developing more renewable energy.

“We have plenty of sun,” he said.

He also said that the state should continue its work on tax reform.

Martinez mentioned the bill he sponsored during the 2019 legislative session, later passed into law, that expanded background check requirements for gun purchases.

“You need a background check to apply for a job at the laboratory. You need a background check when you accept an appointment from the governor,” he said. “So why not have one when you transfer guns?”

Jaramillo, Martinez’s opponent, also has deep roots in the Española Valley. He is currently chief of staff/administrative officer for the associate laboratory director of facilities and operations at Los Alamos National Laboratories. But Jaramillo is probably best known locally for his time as a cheer coach at Española Valley High School, his alma mater. In 2009, he was named Spirit Coach of the Year by the New Mexico Activities Association.

Jaramillo recently came out of coaching retirement to choreograph a cheer tribute to Roger Montoya during a watch party at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in December. That was when Montoya was honored as one of CNN’s Heroes of 2019 for his community work at Moving Arts Española. Montoya is running for the District 40 seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

Jaramillo’s routine brought together cheerleaders from Pojoaque, Española Valley and McCurdy high schools, which have long had strong rivalries. During an interview, Jaramillo stressed that creating alliances is his life’s work, both inside and outside the gymnasium.

“That’s what we need: one cohesive northern New Mexico District 5 where we look at the issues affecting all of us and we look at resolving them,” Jaramillo said.

The district, which encompasses parts of Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties, has contrasts in socioeconomic conditions, ranging from the wealth of Los Alamos, where laboratory employees routinely pull down six-figure salaries, to Española, which has been hit hard by the opiate crisis and where children are sometimes raised by grandparents because their parents have been lost to drugs.

Despite working at the lab and being surrounded by the wealth of Los Alamos, Jaramillo is well aware that the state as a whole has been devastated by the downturn in oil and gas revenues due to a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, as well as by the loss of tourism due to the coronavirus crisis.

He cited the need to diversify the state’s economy, and to protect drinking and irrigation water as his main issues during a telephone interview.

Although he has been a member of the Rio Arriba County Commission only since 2019, Jaramillo said he was approached to run for the District 5 seat prior to Martinez’s “incident.” “I think people are ready for a change and I have my finger on the pulse of this community,” he said.

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