SANTA FE, N.M. — Susana Martinez, the first Hispanic female governor in American history, knows she is a symbol of change.
The country will know it, too, when Martinez speaks in primetime Wednesday at the Republican National Convention.
Martinez, 53, said she would not tailor her speech to Hispanics. That is because she says everybody, regardless of ethnicity, has the same aspirations — a job, opportunities to advance and good schools for their children.
Even so, Martinez said her biography brings with it “a huge responsibility” that is always on her mind.
A day before she was named a convention speaker, Martinez was in a restaurant when she attracted the attention of three people far too young to vote.
“Two little boys and a little girl said, ‘That’s Susana Martinez.’ Then they asked for a picture. I know what I do as the first Hispanic female governor is paving a path,” Martinez said.
But, she said, nothing will be gained in the long term unless she performs well as a role model.
“I have to do it right. I have to do this job right,” she said.
Martinez grew up in El Paso, Texas, a stronghold for Democrats. And she was a Democrat at the beginning of her professional career as a prosecutor in Las Cruces, N.M.
But as she assessed her beliefs on issues such as taxes and the death penalty, she said she realized she was a Republican at heart.
As a newly registered Republican in 1996, she won the job of district attorney of Dona Ana County, N.M., in an upset. Voters re-elected her three times.
Martinez ran for governor in 2010 while in the middle of a term as district attorney. She defeated Democrat Diane Denish, who had been lieutenant governor for eight years.
In confrontations with the Democrat-controlled Legislature, Martinez has lost many battles.
Legislators three times have stopped her initiative to repeal a 2003 law that enables illegal immigrants to acquire New Mexico drivers licenses.
Martinez also has failed in attempts to reinstate the death penalty (legislators outlawed in 2009), and to require physicians to notify the parents of minor girls seeking abortions.
She has had a few notable successes too.
Martinez championed a bill that requires everybody arrested in New Mexico on suspicion of a felony to provide police with a DNA sample. She said the law will get violent criminals off the streets sooner and exonerate innocent people.
Martinez also succeeded in changing the way New Mexico’s 831 public schools are evaluated. All receive A-through-F letter grades now.
She said was humbled after being chosen as a speaker for the convention in Tampa. Under a revamped scheduled, Martinez is to appear in primetime Wednesday, after former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and before the vice presidential nominee, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at email@example.com or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com