By Steve Terrell
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, speaking on the opening day of the New Mexico Legislature, made a plea for bipartisanship at the end of her State of the State address. However, many of the issues she brought up in her 47-minute speech already have attracted wide opposition from Democrats.
“Let’s continue to choose reform over the status quo,” the governor said.
“With great challenges come great opportunities,”she said. “To seize these opportunities, we must come together — Republicans and Democrats, the Legislature and the governor. … While we won’t agree on everything, and there will certainly be spirited debates, I am committed to working with you to find common ground, just like we have in the past, because the people of New Mexico deserve nothing less.”
But by the reactions of Democratic legislators both during and after the speech, it appeared that common ground might be hard to find on many key elements of Martinez’s agenda — especially on issues that have been fought in previous sessions, such as the proposed repeal of the law that allows the state to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, and educational issues like Martinez’s third-grade reading initiative, teacher evaluations and merit pay.
As often is the case with the president’s State of the Union address to Congress, during Martinez’s speech, the only lawmakers who responded to the obvious applause lines on controversial issues were members of her own party. Almost all Democrats remained quiet as their GOP colleagues applauded.
Asked about this, Public Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera said, “From the vantage point of folks clapping or not clapping, I think shame on us as adults if we can’t come together and find the compromise that we need to set our kids up for success.”
Some of the five Democrats who want Martinez’s job sent emails and tweets criticizing some of Martinez’s proposals. Less than 10 minutes after the end of the speech, the gubernatorial campaign of Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, sent potential supporters a lengthy email saying, “What disappoints me the most is how similar each speech has been year after year.”
Also quick to respond to the governor’s speech was Marcela Díaz of the immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
In her speech, Martinez said, “I’ve put forward a strong compromise to repeal this law and still allow driving privileges for [young immigrants brought to the country as children]. It’s time to act. The Legislature should do what the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans are demanding — repeal this dangerous law.”
Diaz responded in a written release: “The governor is doing a terrible disservice to New Mexicans by forcing the driver’s license issue for a fifth time while our state falls deeper into poverty and our children continue to suffer the tragic consequences of a broken education and child welfare system. It’s unconscionable for the governor to put her own political cash cow ahead of New Mexico’s families. She is wasting legislators’ time on this non-issue when they should be keenly focused on solving the state’s real problems.”