Martinez campaign pushes immigrant license issue

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By Patrick Malone The New Mexican February 22, 2014--With camera flashes popping, TV cameras rolling and reporters’ recorders on Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez reflected on the legislative session that had just concluded. But she didn’t mention the defeat of legislation that aimed to overturn the law that allows undocumented immigrants to get New Mexico driver’s licenses.

Reporters opened the door for Martinez to discuss the issue by asking her about the session’s disappointments, but she still didn’t mention the failed license law repeal.

Where Martinez the governor was silent, however, Martinez the candidate was not.

Her re-election campaign’s Facebook account pushed out a message to followers Friday touting her position that New Mexico should repeal the immigrant driver’s license law.

A New Mexico immigrant rights group accused Martinez of politicizing a question that’s already been settled in order to raise money for her campaign.

“The verdict is clearly in, with more and more states following New Mexico’s lead on immigrant driver’s licenses,” said Marcela Díaz of Somos un Pueblo Unido. “We stood up to [Martinez’s] political bullying for three years, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious to the Legislature and hopefully to voters that this is nothing but a political game. She is trying to raise money on the backs of immigrants, and she’s trying to appeal to an anti-immigrant base. It’s a great wedge issue that she’s using as a fundraising ploy. All of this is really shameful. We’re tired of it, the Legislature is tired of it and I think the voters are, too.”

Legislative attempts to overturn the law failed for the third straight year, and Díaz says political will behind that movement has faded, except among immigration hard-liners, who she says are seen by the Martinez campaign as potential donors.

A spokesman for Martinez’s campaign contends support for repealing the immigrant driver’s license law is greater than immigrants’ rights groups let on. Danny Diaz said the governor is simply reiterating her long-held position that the law should be repealed, a stance he says she has never shied away from.

“Since she was a candidate for governor in 2009, until now, her fourth year as New Mexico’s chief executive, Susana Martinez has spoken to the dangerous consequences of giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” said Danny Diaz, no relation to Marcela Díaz.

Martinez had emphasized her preference to overturn the law during her State of the State speech in January. And apparently, she will beat that drum again on the campaign trail.

“This fall, voters will have a choice,” Danny Diaz said. “Do they support a candidate who believes giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, creating a well-established public safety threat, is a good idea, or do they support the candidate who has fought against it?”

The Martinez campaign’s Facebook profile recommends to its followers a link associated with the Susana Martinez for Governor website.

“Stand with me as I fight to repeal the law that gives driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants,” the Facebook post says. “Sign the petition!”

It features a nondescript law enforcement cruiser partially blocking a road surrounded by desert landscape, with mesas in the background; the words “Protect New Mexico” and “sign the petition” are stripped across the sky.

Aside from a new photograph, Martinez’s campaign recycled the message from a post on its Facebook page dated Feb. 5, the week before Democrats blocked legislation that would have taken driver’s licenses away from 85,000 immigrants in New Mexico who lack proof of citizenship status.

Instead of the twice-mentioned petition that you might expect to find, clicking on the link posted Friday ushers Facebook users to the Republican governor’s re-election campaign website, susanamartinez.com. It is paid for by Susana for Governor, the candidate committee that has sopped up more than $10 million in donations.

That website includes a link to the Twitter account @gov_martinez, associated with Susana PAC, the governor’s political action committee that formed less than two years ago and has spent more than $1.2 million on candidates’ campaigns, operatives and political activities.

The Martinez campaign’s Facebook page has more than 82,000 fans, and Susana PAC’s Twitter feed has more than 11,000 followers.

“We believe social media is a great way to engage New Mexicans,” Danny Diaz said.

Another Twitter feed, whose origin is not apparent, alludes to even grander aspirations for Martinez than the 2014 New Mexico gubernatorial race. The biography associated with the account, @martinez4prez, reads: “Our mission is to raise awareness of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, a solid conservative who can beat [Democrat] Hillary [Clinton] in 2016.” More than 31,000 Twitter users follow the account.

In its email response Friday to The New Mexican’s questions, Martinez’s gubernatorial campaign did not answer whether it has any ties to that account.

Martinez is running unopposed for the Republican nomination for governor. A field of five candidates is pursuing the Democratic nomination to challenge her.

Contact Patrick Malone at 986-3017 or pmalone@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @pmalonenm.