Conservative Republican Latina Wins N.M. Governor’s Office With Strict Stand on Illegal Immigration

By Edwin Mora | November 5, 2010 | 5:15 AM EDT

New Mexico’s first Latina governor-elect Susana Martinez, shown here on the campaign trial with her husband Chuck Franco in Las Cruces, holds a sign made for her by an 11-year-old supporter. (AP Photo/William Faulkner)

( - Republican Susana Martinez, who won New Mexico’s gubernatorial race by running as a conservative, vowed to boost security along the Southwest border during her campaign.

In a state that is more than 40 percent Hispanic, Martinez took 54 percent of the vote on Tuesday, beating her Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, by eight points.  She was endorsed by Sarah Palin.

Martinez will replace Democrat Governor Bill Richardson, who is nearing the end of his two-term limit. She will be the first female Hispanic governor in U.S. history.

Martinez, a prosecutor in a county that borders Mexico, made her stance against illegal immigration one of the most visible parts of her platform. New Mexico shares 180 miles of border with America’s southern neighbor.

“While it is critical to preserve the rule of law and take reasonable steps to secure our border, we must also never forget that we are a nation of immigrants,” Martinez’ campaign Web site said.

“We must enhance our security systems along the border and prosecute those who violate our laws, but we must do so while recognizing that legal immigrants who follow the rules and come to America seeking to improve their lives, and the lives of their family, strengthen our nation.”

In July, The New Mexico Independent reported that, according to her campaign manager, Martinez does not support the so-called “pathway to citizenship” proposed by President George W. Bush. She says illegal immigrants who are in the U.S. should first return to their home countries before applying for legal citizenship.

Her goal as governor is to repeal laws enacted by her predecessors that she says makes New Mexico attractive to illegal immigrant and trump border security.

She wants do away with a law that allows unauthorized immigrants to obtain a New Mexico driver’s license because it “encourages illegal immigrants to come to New Mexico and makes it more difficult for law enforcement officials to determine if someone is here illegally,” her Web site says.

Martinez also opposes New Mexico’s taxpayer-funded tuition scholarships for illegal immigrants.

“Not only does this provide further incentive for illegal immigrants to come to New Mexico, it is simply wrong to provide free scholarships to illegal immigrants when members of the military stationed in New Mexico are not eligible for the same benefits,” her Web site says.

Martinez says she is guided by “conservative values and principles,” which were instilled in her from a young age. “She believes in less government, lower taxes, and personal responsibility. She’s pro-life and strongly supports the 2nd Amendment,” her Web site says.

In her Tuesday night victory speech, Martinez vowed to bring fiscal order to a state that currently faces a budget shortfall. She also promised to improve New Mexico’s public education system and boost transparency and accountability in government.

“Together, we have taken a decisive step toward bringing bold change to New Mexico,” said Martinez, according to her prepared victory speech.

She called for a “new direction in our economic policy” so small businesses will be better able to compete.

Martinez has been the District Attorney for the 3rd Judicial District of Doña Ana County, which borders Mexico, for 13 years. 

Her campaign platform was focused on “pledging to cut wasteful spending, lower taxes to create more jobs, end ‘pay-to-play’ practices and other corruption in government and fight to reform education,” according to her campaign Web site.

Born and raised in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, Martinez moved to Las Cruces, N.M., in the 1980s. Martinez comes from a middle class family, which reportedly started a small business with only $400. She worked for her family’s business as a security guard while going to school at night.   

New Mexico’s governor-elect is a graduate of the University of Texas-El Paso. She later earned her law degree at the University of Oklahoma. Her husband has been in law enforcement for three decades and is currently the Doña Ana County Undersheriff. Her stepson is serving in the U.S. Navy.

Martinez was previously a Democrat, but she officially switched to the Republican Party in 1996 when she ran against her former boss in a District Attorney race.