Influential Women

Trump Feud Dims Susana Martinez's Veep Prospects

But billionaire mogul would still like her endorsement

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was the first Latina elected governor in the United States. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The most prominent Latina in U.S. politics recently found herself joining a long list of public figures caught in the crosshairs of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez made history in 2010 as the state’s first female governor, and the first Latina to ever hold that position in the U.S.

Martinez has since been seen as a fast-rising star and what the Republican Party needs to boost its appeal to women and Latinos.

But at a May rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Trump took shots at her for rising unemployment rates and the numbers of food-stamp users in the state.

“She’s not doing the job,” Trump said after Martinez skipped his event. “Hey, maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico; I’ll get this place going.”

The feud dimmed chances that Martinez will become America’s next vice president (a position she has said she's not interested in), although Trump has since said he would like her endorsement.

Martinez, 56, after all, has clout as chairwoman of the Republican Governor’s Association and someone who could help him mend ties with women and Latino voters.

Martinez’s office did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls for this profile.

Martinez campaigned on being tough on illegal immigration, reforming education, cutting wasteful spending, and balancing the state’s budget. Right after taking office, she sold off the state’s luxury jet, which on her website she deemed, “the ultimate symbol of waste and excess.”

In her first State of the State address in 2011, she promised transparency about the state’s affairs. “No more shell games,’ she said in her speech. “No more rosy projections.”

Born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, in El Paso, Texas, Martinez attended the University of Texas at El Paso for her undergraduate studies, before graduating from University of Oklahoma Law School.

Her parents ran a security guard business, where Martinez worked while attending college.

“I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum,” she said at the 2012 Republican National Convention in 2012. “Yes, that gun weighed more than I did.”

Prior to becoming governor, Martinez spent 14 years as district attorney of Dona Ana County in southern New Mexico, where she personally prosecuted child abuse and homicide cases, according to her website.

“I took on a specialty that very few choose to pursue,” Martinez said at the convention. “But standing up for those kids, being their voice for justice was the honor of a lifetime.”

In 2013, Time magazine named Martinez to its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, citing her reputation as a “reform-minded conservative Republican.”

That same year, the governor sparked protests from teachers and unions when she introduced education reforms requiring half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student achievement testing and to penalize educators for missing too many work days.

The American Federation of Teachers’ New Mexico chapter sued and in 2015, secured a temporary injunction against that policy, which the group said was flawed and unfair.

New Mexico ranks 49th overall in child well-being and 50th in education and childhood poverty, according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released June 21, rankings the union blames on Martinez.

“Everyone is tired of the governor putting forth policies that are harmful to our community,” AFT New Mexico president Stephanie Ly told Roll Call. “We have seen six years of destruction.”

Critics also say Martinez and her administration have failed to keep the transparency promise she made. Her public information officers have gained notoriety among local and national media for stonewalling, ignoring phone calls, and not responding to emails or giving interviews.

Martinez is tough on reckless alcohol use, slashing the amount of workers’ compensation for employers who get into workplace accidents while inebriated. She has also signed tougher drunk driving legislation, making it a second-degree felony to be convicted of eight or more DWIs.

Paradoxically, Martinez in December found herself on the defensive about her own drinking after local police made public a recording of her chastising them for responding to a call about a rowdy hotel room party she was attending from which bottles were being tossed from a window.

She was recorded telling the dispatcher that she was the governor and demanding the officer “call them off.” 

“There was no one on the balcony and there is no one throwing bottles from the balcony, and if there were, it was about six hours ago,” Martinez said on the recording.

That incident stained the governor’s reputation but not enough to dissuade the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce from endorsing her for vice president in January.

The Latino population has become a major voting bloc, wielding a lot more electoral power, so either candidate is going to need someone like Martinez to get that vote, Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told Roll Call.

“I don’t think her reputation is necessarily damaged long-term,” Palomarez said. “The reality is that she is a very well-regarded leader within the party and otherwise.”

Whether Martinez makes amends with Trump and becomes his running mate is still anyone’s guess in an unpredictable election season.

The governor is married, has a step-son and is a caretaker of her disabled sister. She credits her father, a former deputy sheriff in El Paso County, Texas, and her mother for her “courage to stand for something.”

“Growing up, I never imagined a little girl from a border town could one day become a governor,” Martinez said at the 2012 convention. “But this is America — en America, todo es posible.”

Elvina Nawaguna is an energy and environment reporter. Contact her at Elvina Nawaguna@cqrollcall.com and follow her on Twitter@elvina_nawaguna.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.