SANTA FE – Approaching the last regular legislative session of her first term, Gov. Susana Martinez thinks she has good working relationships with Democratic legislative leaders and is encouraged by bipartisan budget deals in recent years.
The Republican governor told the Journal in a pre-session interview that, at the same time, she’s often frustrated by a legislative system that has bottled up some of her most high-profile initiatives.
But she added: “I think it’s always going to be frustrating. It doesn’t matter who the governor is.”
Martinez, touted nationally as a rising GOP star, expressed particular irritation that some of her administration’s education initiatives have been stymied in the Democratic-controlled Legislature without full floor votes being taken.
The governor plans to renew her push for some of those measures during this year’s 30-day legislative session, including a proposal that would require third-graders who cannot read proficiently to repeat the grade level.
“If they weren’t afraid, they’d put it up for a vote and be done with it,” Martinez said. “But they don’t want people to know how they would vote because it’s a political year – it’s an election year.”
The governor appeared to be directing her comments primarily at the Senate and the Democratic majority floor leader, Michael Sanchez of Belen, who won re-election in 2012 despite being targeted by Martinez’s political committee.
Sanchez, a six-term lawmaker who plays a key role in determining when legislation is debated by the full Senate, dismissed Martinez’s recent remarks.
“I don’t think she’s a member of the Senate,” Sanchez said of the governor. “We act in a way we feel is appropriate and in the best interest of the state.”
Sanchez also said Martinez might be “afraid” of having a constitutional amendment on this year’s general election ballot that would, if approved, earmark funding from the state’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs.
Martinez is running for re-election this year. She is seeking to become the state’s third consecutive two-term governor, and would face off in the general election against the winner of a five-way Democratic primary battle.
During the recent interview, the governor told the Journal more needs to be done to bolster the state’s economy, which has failed to keep pace with neighboring states in certain job-creation measures.
One of her bipartisan successes on that score was approval of a massive tax package on the last day of the 2013 legislative session. The package included several provisions sought by Martinez, such as a decrease in the state’s corporate tax rate.
“We’re constantly trying to grow the private sector, so that when we do get hurt by the federal government (losses), it’s not so impactful,” she said.
For the coming legislative session, which begins Tuesday, Martinez identified public education and the economy as her top priorities.
She has proposed expanding several existing tax breaks in an attempt to improve the economy, while also throwing her support behind a range of initiatives aimed at addressing the state’s shortage of health care workers.
The governor, who has touted her administration’s record of fiscal responsibility, said passing a budget will be the “foundation” for all other action taken during the 2014 session.
Budget votes have been largely bipartisan in recent years, as the 2012 spending bill passed the House of Representatives via a unanimous vote and the 2013 spending measure got uniform backing in the Senate.
Entering this year’s session, Martinez said she has a good relationship with both Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and House Speaker Ken Martinez, a Grants Democrat.
As for Sanchez, she said the two do not meet often and frequently disagree on issues. But she said, “At least I know where he stands – that’s a plus.”
Asked whether she feels she still has more to prove as New Mexico’s chief executive, Martinez gave a philosophical answer.
“I think there’s always room to grow, there’s always room to improve,” the governor said. “Everyone in every profession has room to grow and improve, and I see it as no different than that.”