'Honest' Martínez rises in ranks to House leadership - Albuquerque Journal

‘Honest’ Martínez rises in ranks to House leadership

House Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, walks through the tennis courts at Mesa Verde Park in the neighborhood where he grew up. After growing up in Juárez, Mexico, he spoke only Spanish when he arrived in Albuquerque at age 7. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Sitting at a picnic table covered in graffiti, a few feet from an abandoned syringe, Javier Martínez points to the block where his political career almost got its start.

He recalls launching a campaign for City Council 19 years ago in the Albuquerque neighborhood of La Mesa, east of Louisiana and north of Central, where he grew up, then finishing sixth in a field of seven. Martin Heinrich, now a U.S. senator, won the race.

Martínez hasn’t lost much since.

He won election to the state House in 2014, representing Downtown Albuquerque, near North Valley and Barelas.

But he is moving into one of the highest-profile jobs at the Capitol this year, serving his first regular session as the majority floor leader in the House. It’s a post that involves coordinating debate in the chamber, helping manage the flow of legislation and communicating with Republicans leaders.

He succeeds Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a fellow Albuquerque Democrat who resigned last summer amid a criminal investigation.

At the Capitol, Stapleton was a commanding, sometimes combative force.

Martínez, by contrast, is described by Roundhouse insiders as even-keeled and friendly, even while advancing liberal priorities through some of the most contentious debates of the last five years.

“I see him as an honest broker – someone both sides can approach,” said Rep. Jason Harper, a Rio Rancho Republican who has clashed with Martínez on tax legislation.

Martínez, for his part, said he’s always been interested in public service.

He was born in El Paso but lived in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, until he was 7 – an upbringing he’s mentioned in Roundhouse debates touching on the war on drugs and cannabis legalization.

He spoke only Spanish – other than what he’d picked up in cartoons – when his family moved to Albuquerque. His dad worked in construction, and now both of his parents do some janitorial work.

“Growing up in Juárez, in Mexico, politics can be a life-or-death game,” Martínez said during an interview at Mesa Verde Park, where he played as a kid. “I was always intrigued by the power of public servants.”

Martínez, now 40, has put his growing influence to use.

He has successfully carried bills on tax policy, early childhood education and the legalization of cannabis, navigating the politics of not only his own chamber but also the personalities of the state Senate, where Democrats are less likely to stick together.

Taking on such disparate bills, he said, “stems from that drive to do right by working people. Working people don’t live their lives in silos.”

‘A jolt’

Martínez, an attorney, joined the Capitol at a tumultuous time, in 2015, after Republicans seized a narrow House majority. Republican Susana Martinez, no relation, was the governor, giving the GOP rare control of two of the three major power centers in the Roundhouse.

Republicans were in the middle of a multiyear push to repeal a New Mexico law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses – the dominant debate, Javier Martínez said, as he came of age politically.

“Being in those committee rooms, seeing the process play out or not, was really what motivated me to take the plunge,” he said.

As someone who’s lived on both sides of the border, Martínez said, he sees the international boundary as a transient place, not “these rigid lines that people want to talk about.”

He is now executive director of the Partnership for Community Action, a nonprofit group that works with immigrant families.

Joining the Roundhouse as a member of the minority party, Martínez said, was an asset in some ways. He wasn’t expected to defer to senior lawmakers.

“It was sort of a jolt, I think, for the Democratic caucus to have been in the minority for those two years,” Martínez said, “and it really gave way to a new generation of leadership.”

House Majority Leader Javier Martínez crosses his arms inside the House chamber near the end of a special session last month. His Democratic colleagues selected him as majority floor leader in August, and this year’s 30-day legislative session is his first regular session since taking the post. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Harper recalls meeting with Martínez when the Democratic freshman was a minority member of what was called the House Ways and Means Committee. Harper, then the chairman, described Martínez as intellectually honest and focused on policy.

In something of a role reversal, Martínez would later serve as chairman of the renamed House Taxation and Revenue Committee, with Harper in the minority.

“There are times when we’d work together on tax policy,” Harper said, “and there are times when we’d lock swords on tax policy, but it was always professional. I appreciated it was never the usual ‘attack each other based on stereotypes.'”

J.D. Bullington, a prominent lobbyist whose clients have included the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, offered a similar assessment. He described Martínez as someone who genuinely cares and tries to be helpful.

“One of his standout personality traits is that he is always even-keeled when situations become testy or contentious,” Bullington said. “He maintains his poise and self-control during very trying circumstances.”

Personality aside, Martínez has been at the forefront of progressive priorities at the Capitol, emerging as key player and joint sponsor of:

• Legislation raising New Mexico’s top income tax rate for high earners and expanding tax breaks for low-income and working families.

• A proposed constitutional amendment to withdraw more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs.

• Bills legalizing marijuana for adults and expunging cannabis-related charges from court records.

Procedural role

Martínez is now the second-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, a step below Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe.

It will put him at the center of procedural conflicts and other debate by the full chamber.

Retired state Rep. Rick Miera, an Albuquerque Democrat and former House majority leader, said the post helps coordinate debates in the full chamber, playing a role in which members of the caucus stand to debate on a bill and in what order.

The majority leader also discusses broader scheduling with the minority party, which is generally empowered to push debates to three hours on each bill, creating deadline pressure for the majority in a time-limited session.

Miera said a floor leader should be ready to meet with members – of any party – to discuss their priorities and be an advocate for the chamber when House bills are heard in the Senate.

“We have to know how to listen,” he said. “To me, that was important.”

Martínez, coincidentally, now represents Miera’s old Albuquerque district in the House, having succeeded him seven years ago.

Miera said the Democratic caucus’ selection of Martínez “says an awful lot about him as a really good leader.”

His personal touch, at least so far, has sometimes extended across the aisle.

Former Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, said Martínez was the first legislator he heard from after retiring last month.

“Javier is a very conscientious person and also a very conscientious legislator – definitely fights for his causes and his community,” Baldonado said.

Alicia Sanasac, a classmate of Martínez at the University of New Mexico law school, said Martínez was well-respected in classroom discussions and had a knack for wearing down people’s resistance to hearing different points of views, skills she said should translate well to his leadership post.

“Early on, it become apparent he really had an innate talent to connect with people,” Sanasac said.

House Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, sits at a picnic table at Mesa Verde Park. Martínez supports a diverse range of issues, which he said “stems from that drive to do right by working people.” (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)


Martínez downplays talk of his political future, though others have described him as ambitious.

He is certainly persistent. He ran for floor leader once before, losing in 2016 to Stapleton. He later rose through the ranks to become a committee chairman.

In four consecutive years, one of his priorities – the proposed constitutional amendment on early childhood education – was blocked in the Senate after passage in the House. It made it through last year and heads next to voters.

Whatever tasks lie ahead, Martínez said, he will try to tailor his approach to what’s necessary – pragmatic, idealistic or somewhere in between.

“Even though some of these debates are heart-wrenching and very difficult, at the end of the day, we’re all there to represent our communities,” Martínez said, “and we are all there to solve problems. If we’re screaming at each other, or if we are attacking each other, it’s really hard to problem solve.”

And perhaps Martínez – who is married and has a 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter – will add some humor to the Legislature’s work, intended or not.

Amid the stress of the pandemic, participants chuckled as a ball bounced off Martinez’s head during a remote committee hearing last year, a delivery from his son as they worked from home.

Home » From the newspaper » ‘Honest’ Martínez rises in ranks to House leadership

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

Inn at Rio Rancho will reopen as apartment complex
ABQnews Seeker
Panorama Apartments will feature 102 units, ... Panorama Apartments will feature 102 units, major renovations
APD investigating homicide in NE Albuquerque
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque police suspect foul play in ... Albuquerque police suspect foul play in the death of a person at an apartment complex off of central near Tramway NE early Sunday morning. ...
Burnout victim: ‘I cannot participate in the hustle culture’
ABQnews Seeker
Dear J.T. & Dale: I'm in ... Dear J.T. & Dale: I'm in my late 20s, single, and I struggle with several chronic illnesses. I cannot participate in the hustle culture. ...
Lobo hoops notes: Schedule nearly complete, staff movement, Maluach ...
ABQnews Seeker
The Lobos's 2022-23 schedule is nearly ... The Lobos's 2022-23 schedule is nearly complete, UNM is getting a new video coordinator, former Lobo Makuach Maluach's new team...
Clovis antique store to close doors after nearly 40 ...
ABQnews Seeker
The Prairie Peddler, an antique store ... The Prairie Peddler, an antique store in downtown Clovis, is closing after being a fixture in the community since 1983. The store is closing ...
Journal Poll: Ronchetti enjoys big lead over GOP rivals ...
2022 election
Strong name recognition puts ex-meteorologist at ... Strong name recognition puts ex-meteorologist at top of primary pack
State removes breakthrough case data from COVID reports
ABQnews Seeker
Move comes as vaccinated people comprise ... Move comes as vaccinated people comprise greater share of infections
ABQ resident donates grand piano to Easter Island
ABQnews Seeker
Loralee Cooley gifts her beloved Steinway ... Loralee Cooley gifts her beloved Steinway to the School of Music and Arts of Rapa Nui
Two Democrats vie for District 1 Bernalillo County Commission ...
2022 election
Primary winner will take on uncontested ... Primary winner will take on uncontested Republican