Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez may have a bumpy road ahead in her final two years as governor of a cash-strapped state, but she bolstered her bona fides on the national Republican stage in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election.
As chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association, Martinez helped GOP governors around the country reach their highest numbers since 1922.
“Gov. Martinez was instrumental in achieving these victories, and thanks to her leadership, the RGA is now an even larger and stronger organization,” RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said Thursday.
Meanwhile, she took the first step in thawing her relationship with President-elect Donald Trump, issuing a statement congratulating him on his “hard-fought” victory, adding that he was the better choice than his Democratic opponent. She did so after sharply criticizing Trump for some of his controversial comments during the campaign and Martinez’s decision not to endorse him.
“I may have taken issue with some of the rhetoric on the campaign trail, but I believe that President-elect Trump was a better choice than Hillary Clinton, and I congratulate him on his hard-fought victory,” Martinez, who voted for Trump, said in the statement.
She also attributed Trump’s win to general disenchantment among voters.
“(His) victory is a testament to the American people’s frustration with Washington, and a federal government that has left them behind and weakened America’s standing on the world stage,” Martinez said.
Martinez said last month that she would not endorse Donald Trump for president after a leaked 2005 videotape showed the GOP nominee boasting about kissing women and grabbing their genitals without their consent and getting away with it because he was a celebrity.
She did not attend either of Trump’s two campaign rallies in Albuquerque, and her remark in May that she was “really busy” and could not attend Trump’s first campaign stop in the state sparked criticism from the soon-to-be president during that rally and a quip that he might run for governor.
Is her olive branch and leadership of RGA enough to make New Mexico’s two-term Republican governor and the nation’s first Latina governor a candidate for a position in Trump’s Cabinet — if she even wanted one?
Longtime New Mexico political observer Brian Sanderoff said it makes sense for Martinez to soften her tone on Trump. But he said it’s still unlikely that she will land a Cabinet position in the Trump administration. However, he also said anything’s possible in the world of modern politics.
“Obviously, maintaining a contentious relationship with the next president would not be in the best interest of New Mexico, and I’m sure the governor realizes that,” said Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.
33 governors’ offices
Martinez, who has two years left in office after winning re-election in 2014, took over in late 2015 as chairwoman of the RGA, a deep-pocketed national group that enjoyed a successful Election Day.
Although New Mexico did not have a gubernatorial election this year, the outcomes in the 12 states that did left Republicans in control of at least 33 governors’ offices around the nation. They claimed wins in three states that went into the election with Democratic governors – Vermont, New Hampshire and Missouri – but faced a possible loss in North Carolina, where the race was still too close to call Thursday.
The overall number of GOP chief executives represents the most governorships for Republicans in 94 years.
Martinez, who was elected as RGA chair a year ago, was highly involved in the national gubernatorial elections, traveling to several different states to stump for GOP candidates and overseeing total RGA campaign spending of more than $50 million on gubernatorial elections.
The governor’s political adviser, Jay McCleskey, also played a prominent role in many of the gubernatorial races around the country.
McCleskey Media Strategies handled campaign mailers for the RGA in Vermont’s gubernatorial election, in which GOP candidate Phil Scott defeated Democrat Sue Minter, and was also involved in the New Hampshire race.
While some pundits had predicted Trump could hurt Republican candidates around the country, it appeared that didn’t end up being the case in most states, Sanderoff said.
Martinez’s tenure as RGA chairwoman is expected to end next week, as GOP governors will gather in Orlando for the group’s annual meeting. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, currently the RGA’s vice chairman, is expected to take over the group’s reins. RGA leadership terms generally last for one year.
Rough years ahead?
Despite Martinez’s success on a national level, she will enter her final two years as New Mexico governor with a diminished approval rating and Democrats holding a majority in both legislative chambers.
That’s because House Democrats picked up at least five and possibly six GOP-held seats to reclaim a majority from Republicans, who had won control of the 70-member chamber in 2014.
Martinez vowed Wednesday to work with Democratic leaders in the Legislature, and at least some Democrats expressed optimism that she might follow through on the pledge.
“It’s the governor’s last real chance to make her mark on legislative achievements,” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview earlier this week.
However, Martinez also said she hopes New Mexicans accept the presidential election results, even though Clinton won the state by a comfortable margin over Trump.
“I hope that New Mexicans will come together, as President-elect Trump urged us to do, and join me in wishing the very best for the future of our nation,” she said.