By Steve Terrell / The New Mexican January 22, 2014
SANTA FE - 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."
Diaz pointed out that eight states last year passed legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to drive. Those states are Colorado, Nevada, Maryland, Vermont, California, Connecticut, Oregon and Illinois. Also, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., passed similar laws.
Martinez began her speech talking about the recent school shooting in Roswell, where two students were shot, one suffering critical injures. The governor introduced two guests: John Masterson, the soccer coach and social studies teacher who talked the shooter into surrendering his gun, and Kevin Hayes, a security guard who provided help to one of the victims despite being injured himself in the shooting.
"No human being is gifted with the knowledge of why such tragedy occurs," Martinez said. "But we are thankful that in the face of it, people like both of you display the courage required to help all of us get through."
However, Martinez didn't mention proposed gun control legislation, such as Rep. Miguel Garcia's House Bill 44, which would require background checks for all firearms sales at gun shows.
Asked whether Martinez, who supported a similar bill last year, plans to send a message to allow Garcia's bill to be considered during this session, her spokesman, Enrique Knell, said, "We haven't made any final determination about issues that would be added to the governor's call, or made any final decisions about all the separate and various issues that individual members would like to have messaged."
Martinez, in her speech, endorsed one bill being pushed by the Santa Fe think tank Think New Mexico. Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, would create an online "one-stop shop" for small businesses to get state permits and other assistance.
And the governor called for legislation to prohibit former legislators from becoming lobbyists for at least two years. She's backed such bills before, but legislators on both sides of the aisle have been cool to the idea.
There was one unscripted moment when Martinez was talking about expanding "parent portals" -- websites where parents can monitor their students' grades and assignments. Several years ago, she said, she was checking up on her stepson on his school's website when she noticed several A's on certain dates. At first she assumed these were grades, but on further investigation, she learned that "A" stood for absence.
"I knew I had to have a talk with him, but not the kind of talk I'd originally planned," Martinez said.
New Mexican staff writer Patrick Malone contributed to this report.
Contact Steve Terrell at email@example.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.