Republicans from Around the West Gather in Salt Lake City

It almost seems a bit selfish for Utah GOP leaders to want even more Republican votes here – one of the most Republican states in the nation.


But New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez told a regional meeting of Republican leaders on Thursday that there is a way to cross party lines and draw votes from even some of the most dedicated Democrats.

New Mexico is a very Democratic, very Hispanic, state.

It has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee for a long time.

Martinez is the first female Hispanic governor there – and few would have believed that that honor would have gone to a Republican.

How did Martinez do it?

— She speaks Spanish and has a Hispanic surname.

— She visited all the counties in the state, even those that are 90 percent Democratic, looking to meet people and change minds about Republicans.

— She talks “values” – like strong families (many Hispanics are Catholics).

— She pushes small business and low taxes. “Everyone wants more money in their own pockets.”

— She is a leader in public school reform. “When I took office we were 49th in (public) education funding.”  New Mexico has improved in that area.

— Most importantly, she has a personal connection with tens of thousands of New Mexico citizens – she knows their names, she visits across the state, and they know that she is concerned about them and their needs.

Utah is a very different state in its citizen make-up than New Mexico. Here are some comparisons:

— N.M. is 47 percent Hispanic, the 2010 U.S. Census shows.

The nation as a whole is 16.9 percent Hispanic.

Utah is only 13.3 percent Hispanic, although the number of Hispanics in the Beehive State is growing.

— N.M. is 10.2 percent Native American.

The nation as a whole is only 1.2 percent Native American.

Utah is 1.5 percent.

— Of all New Mexico businesses, 23.6 percent are owned by Hispanics. So there is a real Hispanic business base that wants a favorable economic climate.

Martinez has played well to that base.

Across the U.S., only 8.3 percent of businesses are owned by Hispanics.

In Utah, 3.7 percent of businesses are owned by Hispanics.

By all those measurements, and more, it is clear that whoever can appeal to Hispanics in New Mexico is well on their way to winning an election.

Except that so many New Mexicans consider themselves Democrats.

Well, Martinez used to be a Democrat also. So she can even relate to that.

What turned her?

First, she was a prosecutor for a Democratic county district attorney. He was in some legal trouble, and Martinez was the staff attorney who had to issue a subpoena to him.

The day after she did so he fired her.

She, naturally, didn’t like the partisan politics of that one.

She and her law enforcement husband started talking to friends who were Republicans. They didn’t talk about political parties – they talked issues.

And after one such discussion, Martinez was amazed that she actually was a Republican, even though she had been a Democrat all her life.

She switched parties and ran against her old boss. Even though the political numbers were against her – many more Democrats in her county than Republicans — she beat him.

And then she won that office several more times.

Then she decided to run for governor. And she won that race against the odds, as well.

“I kept my promises,” she said. She refused to raise taxes, even though the state – like all states back then – was running a deficit.

In fact, she has cut taxes 24 separate times.

She traveled the state, constantly.

“I sold the state’s, the governor’s, jet. I sold five other state planes, as well. I fired the executive residence’s chief. My husband had to learn to cook some dinners. It wasn’t easy for him.”

She fired half of the executive residences staff.

She capped her own personal office staff’s salaries – much lower than those of her Democratic predecessor.

New Mexico’s budget had grown more than 40 percent under the previous Democratic governor. She cut that annual growth to 4 percent a year.

And she did all this with a Democratic-controlled state House and Senate.

One GOP officeholder chastised her, saying now that she was governor she should just raise taxes and close the state’s deficit.

“I told him he hadn’t been listening to me the previous 16 years I’d been in office. I swore never to raise taxes. That is the difference between a leader and a politician. I refuse to be politician,” she said to applause from the session’s attendees.

As the first female Hispanic governor in the U.S., “I know I’m a role model.”

So she has a special responsibility to run a no-nonsense, personal administration.

She has read to so many school children, giving them books as she leaves their classes, that they point her out when they see her on TV.

“They don’t call me governor. They don’t call me Mrs. Martinez. They call me Susana. And their parents hear them say it.”

It makes an impression on the voters, she said.

“You (she told the Utah GOP officeholders, strategists, in the audience) have to embrace the people personally; understand their lives and needs. And you have to be there for them.”