An earned education can never be taken away, Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez said during a speech about her life Monday at Eastern New Mexico University.
Martinez, the Republican candidate for governor in the upcoming general election, was a speaker in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month at the Campus Union Building.
While Martinez was attending Riverside High School, two teachers gathered a group of girls, including her, for a weekend and asked them about their plans for the future. Martinez knew she wanted to go to law school and work in public service, but the teachers led her to think even beyond that.
The weekend had a large impact on her, Martinez said.
After high school, Martinez earned a criminal justice degree from the University of Texas-El Paso, and then worked for two years in her family’s security guard business before going to law school at the University of Oklahoma, where she was one of about a dozen Hispanic individuals in her class.
After finishing law school, Martinez returned to New Mexico and needed to take the state bar exam. The two months before the exam were the hardest she’d had in a long time, even though in law school she sometimes questioned whether she wanted to or could finish, Martinez said.
Martinez took the bar exam in an agriculture building in Albuquerque.
“I think they had taken the cows out the day before, because there were a million flies,” she said. “So what they did is hand us a No. 2 pencil and a fly swatter.”
She passed the exam and took a job as a Dona Ana County assistant district attorney soon after, in 1986.
After 10 years as an assistant district attorney, Martinez ran for district attorney and has now been elected to the position four times.
She is running against Diane Denish, the current lieutenant governor, for governor. Current Gov. Bill Richardson is term-limited.
In closing, Martinez told listeners not to let the lack of money keep them from attending college, even if it meant getting loans. Martinez said the education makes people smarter, better and able to get a better job, and the loans will go away.
“No one can take away at the end of the day what you’ve learned through that process,” she said.
Association to Help Our Race Advance, a Hispanic advisory group at the college, protested Martinez being cast as a role model during Hispanic Heritage Month. Martinez didn’t address the protesters, who booed or called out near the beginning and end of her presentation.
AHORA faculty sponsor Geni Flores has said the group doesn’t believe Martinez is an appropriate role model because she calls all undocumented immigrants criminals and doesn’t support such policies as the DREAM Act, which offers higher education or military service as a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have grown up in the U.S.
Director Multi-Cultural Affairs Diana Cordova said Martinez was invited based on her achievements as a Hispanic woman and district attorney, and presentation organizers weren’t aware of her political affiliation or candidacy for governor when they sent an invitation.