Meet the First Hispanic Republican Female Governor

Gov. Susana Martinez in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 29, 2012.
Tom Williams—Getty Images Gov. Susana Martinez in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 29, 2012.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez speaks about Trump, Hillary and the importance of diversity

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is not voting for Hillary Clinton, but she says she hasn’t yet made up her mind on who she might support come November. And though she is a lifelong Republican, she may not support the likely Republican nominee Donald Trump.

I certainly don’t know what [Trump’s] priorities are. He is the presumptive nominee. He and I disagree on a lot of things. What I’m interested in is what is he going to do for my very diverse state,” Martinez says.

New Mexico is 48 percent Hispanic and 11 percent American Indian.That helps explain why, in May, she refused to attend a Trump event in Albuquerque after Trump blamed Martinez for the city’s unemployment rate and the increase of New Mexicans on food stamps. Martinez responded by saying she wasn’t going to be “bullied” into voting for anyone.

Martinez grew up knowing how to handle herself. She comes from a middle class family of Mexican descent in El Paso, Texas. Her father was a boxer in the Marines during the Korean War and won three straight Golden Gloves titles in the 1950s. Martinez grew up fiercely protecting her big sister Lettie, who was developmentally disabled and suffered from cerebral palsy; Martinez became her sister’s primary caregiver after their mother passed 10 years ago.

Her father was a deputy sheriff in El Paso, her mother worked in insurance. They both quit their jobs to start a family business in private security, one that Martinez worked for whilst earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice at the University of Texas in El Paso. In speeches, she has often recalled patrolling the parking lot of a Catholic bingo hall armed with her trusty Smith & Wesson.

After earning her law degree at the University of Oklahoma, Martinez rose to become one of the first women—there were three elected that year—to be elected a District Attorney in New Mexico, before becoming the first female Republican Hispanic governor in the nation in 2010. She was reelected with 57 percent of the vote in 2014 and was named the first female RGA chair earlier this year. She was often mentioned as a possible running mate on the 2016 ticket, before Trump won the nomination. She tells TIME she has ruled out running as Trump’s No. 2.

Given Martinez’s popularity, Trump’s May remarks drew outrage from Republicans in New Mexico and Washington, but he has yet to apologize or even reach out to Martinez, she says. His former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, spoke once to her political team, but other than that no one in her office has heard from the Trump campaign.

Martinez has made it a point of pride that she has worked to bring more women and minorities into government; New Mexico ranks sixth in the nation amongst states for female representation in government. “I do think it’s important for us, myself as [RGA] chairperson, as well as anyone else that follows me, is to start looking for really good female candidates to run for governor,” she says. “States have to be able to recruit more females by reaching out… and saying how do we find more diverse representation between your background and whether you’re female or male?”

When asked if Trump’s disparaging remarks about women and Hispanics hurt these efforts, Martinez demurs, saying only that that is not her approach. “Here’s what I do: I listen. I listen to what’s important to the people of New Mexico. I represent New Mexico first and foremost. I listen to Hispanics, Native Americans, Anglos. I talk about what is important to the people in their lives and then follow through with their ideas,” she says.

She said she plans to attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland later this month as a delegate and in her capacity as RGA chair. As for endorsing Trump, Martinez says she’ll wait to hear his case on why she should. Meanwhile, she’s also open to listening to other cases, such as that of one of her predecessors, former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is the Libertarian nominee. “I haven’t hear the ideas yet,” she says of Johnson. “There’s still a lot of time before the general election.”

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