State Rep. Ken Martinez – a former House speaker, like his father before him – plans to leave the Legislature at the end of next year to focus on a new job: Bernalillo County attorney.
Martinez, a Democrat from Grants, won bipartisan support from Bernalillo County commissioners Friday as their top pick to serve as attorney.
If negotiations are successful, Martinez will become county attorney immediately and serve one more 30-day session in the Legislature, starting in January. His term ends Dec. 31, 2016, and he doesn’t plan to seek re-election.
“It just seems like the perfect place for me at this point in time,” Martinez said of the county legal department. “I enjoy policymaking, so drafting legislation, whether it’s city or county ordinances, that’s really fascinating to me.”
Martinez would succeed County Attorney Randy Autio, who retired Friday. Autio was known for his even-keeled, nonpartisan approach to the job.
Commissioners say they were impressed by Martinez’s deep background in the law and local government.
Martinez’s law firm – shared with his sister and brother – has served as the city attorney in Grants and he has been a legislator for 17 years.
“Mr. Martinez brings a wealth of litigation experience and public policy expertise to this position,” said commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins, a Democrat. “We are lucky to have him.”
The commission still must negotiate a contract with Martinez, setting his salary and other employment conditions. Friday’s vote was unanimous.
What isn’t negotiable is that Martinez step down from the Legislature at the end of next year, said Commissioner Wayne Johnson, a Republican. Commissioners want someone who can dedicate full attention to the job.
But “I think it’s only fair to his constituents that he be able to finish out his term and his commitments,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Art De La Cruz, a Democrat, said Martinez’s legislative experience, in any case, would be an asset to the county.
“Counties are an extension of the state, operationally,” he said. “That knowledge is invaluable.”
Martinez represents a heavily Native American district that covers parts of six counties.
He spent eight years as House majority leader and was elected speaker in 2013. He didn’t seek a leadership post in the Democratic minority after Republicans won control of the House ahead of this year’s session.
His father, the late Walter K. Martinez, served as House speaker from 1971 to 1978.
Martinez said the tone of the Legislature has changed a bit since his election in 1998. Third-party groups now spend heavily on mostly negative advertising, which can create “war wounds,” he said.
The Legislature itself, he said, seems a little more partisan each year.
“When I was first elected,” Martinez said, “we’d have these huge debates all night long, and then we’d go out and have dinner together. I think there’s less of that.”