Saturday, November 06, 2010
Meet N.M.'s First Gentleman
By Susan Montoya Bryan
Chuck Franco will soon be a household name in New Mexico.
As the husband of Gov.-elect Susana Martinez, he will become the state's first first gentleman when she takes office in January.
He's been there every step of the way, from the long car rides between rallies to the huddles with his wife's campaign managers, to the debates and the news conferences. If Martinez is around, that stocky southern New Mexico lawman with the big black cowboy hat is likely not far behind.
And, yes, he plans to be standing right there when his wife gives her historic inauguration speech. Martinez is not only the first woman to be elected governor in New Mexico, but she's also the nation's first female Hispanic governor.
"We're excited, and now it's time to roll up our sleeves and go to work," Franco told The Associated Press. "It's broken, and we want to fix it."
Franco's talking about New Mexico — from its large state government and reputation for corruption, to its stagnant economy and poor education rankings.
The incoming first couple have the backing of the majority of New Mexico voters. Unofficial returns from Tuesday night show Martinez, a Republican, earned nearly 54 percent of the vote to beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.
While Franco isn't sure what his role will be as first gentleman, he said he's used to high-pressure situations. He has spent more than 30 years in law enforcement and is the undersheriff in Doña Ana County. He has also been a big proponent of youth mentoring programs in Las Cruces, where he was born and raised.
What's certain, he said, is that he's ready to help New Mexico any way he can.
"I've told Susana to use me wherever she needs me. My passion is hunting and fishing and horses. Anything I can do along those lines, I would love to do it," the 55-year-old said. "But it doesn't matter; wherever she needs me, I'll help out."
Franco, who also worked as a state game warden and with Las Cruces police, plans to retire from his post with the Doña Ana Sheriff's Office at the end of the year.
It was Franco's job as an undercover investigator that led him to meet Martinez, an assistant district attorney at the time. The two have been married nearly 20 years.
Because they work in law enforcement, Franco said, it's easy to share thoughts and bounce ideas off each other.
They are both headed into uncharted territory now. In fact, they've never even laid eyes on the Governor's Mansion, the single-story Territorial-style house on a hilltop north of Santa Fe where they will live for at least the next four years. It offers views of the city and the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Franco said he has heard the home is beautiful.
"We didn't want to jinx ourselves, so we never drove by to see it," he said.
So how did the decision to run for governor come about?
"It was a joint decision," Franco said. "We had been discussing it but never were serious about it until we saw the Obama situation and we looked at how the Richardson administration was behaving. We thought, 'Whoa, they need our help now.' "
Aside from traveling to New Mexico's farthest corners to meet voters, Franco said the hardest part about being on the campaign trail was hearing what he called "cheap shots" from Martinez's political opponents. Franco looks like he can be tough, but he chose to bite his tongue.
"I didn't want to go there," he said. "I just let Susana address it, and she did, and she did so professionally and properly."
The best thing about getting out and seeing parts of New Mexico he had never seen — Franco didn't know there was such a place as Miami, N.M. — was meeting the people.
"You can tell a lot from a handshake and from an answer to a question or the way you talk to people and look at them. It means a lot to people," he said.
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