Martinez, the nation’s first female, Hispanic governor, responded: “I know what’s in my heart” – and a University of New Mexico political science professor said some could view King’s comment as “race baiting.”
King made the remark Saturday in Belen while speaking at a $60 per person fundraiser for the Valencia County Democrats.
A 20-second film clip of King’s comments was published Tuesday on the website of the Republican-leaning magazine “The Weekly Standard.”
Martinez, who speaks Spanish, grew up in El Paso and spent most of her professional career as a district attorney in Las Cruces. When elected in 2010, she was backed by nearly 40 percent of New Mexico’s Hispanic voters.
King, in the filmed comments, said voters should not support Martinez simply because of her Hispanic name. He quoted recent remarks by national labor activist Dolores Huerta in New Mexico.
Huerta “said you can’t go out there and just vote for somebody for governor because they have a Latino surname,” King said in the film clip. “She said you have to look at them and find out if they have a Latino heart.”
“And we know that Susana Martinez does not have a Latino heart,” King added.
Martinez on Tuesday said she was not sure she understood King’s remarks in the film clip from the Valencia County event.
“I’m not sure what Gary King meant by what he said, so I’m not going to accuse him of racism,” Martinez said in a prepared statement. “We certainly have different views on the issues, but I know what’s in my heart and I won’t question what’s in his.”
King told the Journal in an emailed statement that he was quoting Huerta’s remarks in an effort to show that Martinez has different political values than most other New Mexico Hispanics.
“I think it points out in an important way that Governor Martinez does not share the same value system as most New Mexico Hispanic families do, such as increasing the minimum wage and supporting our professional educators in the teaching of our children,” King said.
King’s campaign later Tuesday released an extended clip of King’s remarks to offer context. After King’s criticism of Martinez, King added: “I have a New Mexico heart, and I care about each and every one of you.”
University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said King made a valid point in saying voters should look beyond a candidate’s last name when casting a vote.
But the remark about Martinez’s lacking a “Latino heart” – which failed to use the proper term “Latina” in reference to a woman – could be cause for offense coming from an Anglo politician, Sanchez said.
“That might have a small backlash effect, where some Latino voters say, ‘Hey wait a minute, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that. That sounds a little bit like race baiting.”
“…It could be that they look at this and say, ‘I was thinking about voting for King, but you know what, I’m not comfortable with him challenging her ethnicity like that,” Sanchez said.
King’s comment fails to consider that all Hispanic voters do not share the same views on political issues, Sanchez said.
“Clearly, a pretty sizable segment of this Latino electorate here is in line with her policy views,” Sanchez said, noting Martinez support from nearly 40 percent of Hispanic voters in her 2010 election.
An Aug. 12-14 Journal Poll found Martinez leading King the governor’s race 50 percent to 41 percent statewide. The survey found 36 percent of New Mexico Hispanics favored Martinez for the November election compared to 56 percent for King.