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Gubernatorial candidates go head to head en Español

Democrat Gary King and incumbent Gov. Susana Martinez tangled Monday over New Mexico’s economic direction, an adequate minimum wage and each other’s track records during a KLUZ-TV Univision debate.

Moderator Ricardo Mendoza of Univision closes a Spanish-language gubernatorial debate Monday between Gov. Susana Martinez and Attorney General Gary King. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Moderator Ricardo Mendoza of Univision closes a Spanish-language gubernatorial debate Monday between Gov. Susana Martinez and Attorney General Gary King. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The Spanish-language governor’s race face-off had a unique format – Martinez responded to questions in Spanish, while King responded in English, using an earpiece with an interpreter. King’s responses were simultaneously translated into Spanish.

Despite the unusual arrangement, the two candidates launched familiar attacks from this year’s campaign trail.

Martinez, a Republican who is seeking re-election to a second four-year term, touted her administration’s attempts to diversify the state economy and avoid tax hikes.

“The problem isn’t that job numbers haven’t gone up here,” Martinez said in Spanish, referencing the state’s private sector job growth. “The problem is we’re the No. 1 state that depends on the federal government. When they’re cutting spending, the families of this state are suffering more than any other state in the United States.

“That’s why we have to change the type of jobs here in the state.”

King, the state’s two-term attorney general, countered by saying Martinez administration policies are largely to blame for the state’s sagging economy.

“The problem with that argument that our economy is bad because we’re losing federal jobs is that all of the other states around us that also rely on federal spending are still growing,” said King, who cited California and Nevada as examples.

King also called for more money to be spent on education and said he would seek to increase the state’s minimum wage – currently set at $7.50 an hour – during his first year in office.

He said the state’s wage floor should be set at the same level as Santa Fe’s – currently $10.66 an hour – or higher.

“The working people of New Mexico are going to benefit by increasing the minimum wage, not just those who work for a minimum wage, but (also others) because when they have a little more money they’re going to go to restaurants more and go shopping,” King said.

Martinez, who vetoed a 2013 bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, said she also favors increasing the minimum wage. However, she said state policymakers must be careful not to overreach and hurt small businesses.

“We have to be competitive with Texas, Colorado and Arizona,” she said. “If we don’t have that competitiveness, New Mexico is going to lose jobs to those states.”

Martinez criticized King for voting against a minimum wage while a member of the Legislature in the 1980s, saying, “Someone can’t hide from their record and how they’ve voted before.”

Martinez, who is the nation’s first Hispanic female governor, had a wide lead in the last Journal Poll and also has a sizable financial advantage over her Democratic opponent, according to recent campaign filings.

The Spanish-language debate, which was moderated by Ricardo Mendoza of KLUZ-TV Univision, was believed to be a first for New Mexico.

The state has the nation’s highest percentage of Hispanic or Latino residents – roughly 47 percent – and nearly one-third of the state’s population speaks Spanish, according to U.S. Census data.

In addition to economic issues, King and Martinez also exchanged jabs over public education issues and the 2003 law that allows immigrants in the country illegally to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses.

King, who supports the law, pointed out it was initially passed as a way to make the state safer, in part by making sure all drivers are insured.

Martinez, who has sought unsuccessfully to repeal the law, claimed it has made New Mexico a magnet for document fraud and undermined public safety. She also cited a recent Journal Poll that found 75 percent of those surveyed supported repealing the law.

“The Legislature is not doing the job for the people of New Mexico,” Martinez said.

On the subject of K-12 public education, King repeated previous criticism of Martinez and her Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, alleging a “corporate” style model has damaged teacher morale.

“The teachers are leaving at unprecedented levels. … We have to return to a system where professional educators in New Mexico are in charge,” he said.

Martinez responded by defending the effectiveness of her administration’s education initiatives, saying current education spending levels are the highest in state history.

Monday’s event was the second of three scheduled face-offs between the two candidates. Martinez and King have one other debate scheduled before the Nov. 4 general election, an Oct. 19 face-off that is sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal.

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