Smoothing the transition
Martinez focuses on historic succession of fellow Latina Lujan Grisham, not on GOP’s losses
Outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez didn’t want to talk about politics Friday, brushing aside a question about the landslide losses of her party for what she described as a historic moment. In a brief, congratulatory news conference with Democratic Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham, Martinez spoke of the enormity of one Latina passing leadership of the state to another.
“It is a momentous day when two Latino women are able to stand together having been elected to the highest office of this wonderful state,” Martinez told reporters in the lobby of her Capitol office. “It is long overdue [that] we have greater representation of Hispanic women in elected office right here in New Mexico.”
Martinez was the first woman elected governor of
New Mexico and the first Latina elected governor of a state. But her low approval ratings in her second term might have helped Lujan Grisham easily win the governor’s office for the rival party.
As to what Republican gubernatorial nominee Steve Pearce’s 14-point loss to Lujan Grisham on Tuesday represents for the Republican Party, Martinez said it was hardly a day to talk about politics.
But plenty of other Republicans were focusing on that topic, and not just because of Pearce’s defeat. The GOP lost elections for every statewide office and all three of New Mexico’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In addition, Martinez’s candidates for the state’s highest appeals courts all lost to Democrats. And Republicans, already the minority party in the state House of Representatives, had a net loss of eight seats. Democrats now control the House 46-24, the largest margin in two decades.
Former aides and longtime supporters of Martinez have been less reserved about the trouncing. One asked on Twitter whether “NM Republicans will finally appreciate the efforts of the Martinez political machine.” Others have accused the governor’s critics within the Republican Party of destroying it.
In contrast, former state Republican Chairman Harvey Yates has said the election results show — among other things — that Martinez was a drag on the ticket. He said many New Mexicans were likely wary of electing another Republican after the party had held the Governor’s Office for eight years and Martinez’s approval ratings nosedived.
Tuesday night’s losses spurred what will be months and perhaps years of debate about the effectiveness of the outgoing governor’s negative style of politicking. At times it jilted fellow Republicans, but it had proved wildly effective in the face of a disoriented Democratic Party.
When Martinez won re-election in 2014, Republicans also gained control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since Dwight Eisenhower was president in the 1950s.
But on Friday, in a year when Democrats have roared back, Martinez avoided the fray. She batted down a question about whether she was interested in the job of U.S. attorney general after President Donald Trump forced out Jeff Sessions, answering with a simple “no.”
In fact, Martinez seemed to hit it off with Lujan Grisham, the Albuquerque congresswoman who swept to office with 57 percent of the vote. The two met before speaking with reporters, running 72 minutes late for a noon news conference that lasted about 13 minutes.
Lujan Grisham said Martinez had called her on election night. Lujan Grisham described the discussion as an “incredibly gracious and productive meeting.”
The governor-elect said they discussed ensuring that her transition team can access information to begin working on a budget for the next fiscal year. They also discussed which staff members will be able to assist with the transition and whatever legal issues may demand immediate attention when she takes office.
“Things that make sure nothing gets dropped as you’re moving in to the remainder of the year,” Lujan Grisham said.
In the face of reports that the state government has moved some of the governor’s political appointees to protected civil services positions, making them more difficult to fire with the change in administration, Martinez said she does not want to “tie the hands of the governor-elect.”
“If there was a critical position I needed to fill, I would fill it,” she said. “We understand that may happen. But we aren’t going to run around filling or packing places.”
The news conference was light on any announcements of big changes to the state government and its civil service.
It’s unclear, for example, whether Lujan Grisham intends to keep as many Cabinet-level departments as Martinez. Governors have spoken on and off for years about streamlining and consolidating New Mexico’s bureaucracy. Martinez talked about combining the Tourism Department and the Department of Cultural Affairs early in her administration.
A spokesman for Lujan Grisham said she will review each government department and division but added it would be premature to comment further.
ABOVE: Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham, left, and Gov. Susana Martinez talk about memorabilia surrounding the governor’s desk during a meeting Friday at the Capitol. Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, will take office Jan. 1. CRAIG FRITZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS BELOW: Martinez, right, accompanied by Lujan Grisham, speaks at a news conference after the two met Friday in the governor’s office to discuss the transition between administrations.
Gov. Susana Martinez, left, speaks with her successor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, on Friday in the governor’s office. ‘It is a momentous day when two Latino women are able to stand together having been elected to the highest office of this wonderful state,’ Martinez said later.