Smooth­ing the tran­si­tion

Martinez fo­cuses on his­toric suc­ces­sion of fel­low Latina Lu­jan Grisham, not on GOP’s losses

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Ox­ford aox­ford@sfnewmex­i­can.com

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.

JA­SON STILGEBOUER/FOR THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

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.

CRAIG FRITZ/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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