State Sen. Richard Martinez has a defense attorney at his side. But indifference is his strongest ally as the criminal case against him trudges toward a courtroom.

Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, has the good fortune of representing the most apathetic district in New Mexico.

Other Democratic senators have drawn primary opponents. Martinez, the only member of his caucus with legal problems, looks like a sure bet to be reelected without opposition.

No Democrat has stepped up to challenge him, and the Republican Party is so feeble it doesn’t field legislative candidates in this part of New Mexico. Instead of being vulnerable, Martinez is riding the apathy wave toward his sixth four-year term.

His only adversary at this stage is the state Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting him on a charge of aggravated drunken driving.

Martinez drove his Mercedes SUV into the back of a Jeep in June, injuring himself and two people in the other vehicle. Española police officers smelled booze on the senator. He admitted he had been drinking alcohol, though he kept changing his story of how much and what kind.

Martinez first said he’d had one or two beers. Then he amended the total to as many as three beers. Soon after that, he said he drank three glasses of wine but no beer.

An officer arrested him while he proclaimed his innocence. He refused to take a breath-alcohol test, so the charge against him was enhanced to aggravated drunken driving.

It’s a petty misdemeanor, but a weighty allegation when the defendant chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Police video of Martinez’s glassy-eyed failures on field sobriety tests and his subsequent arrest should have been more than enough to end his political career.

Instead, he is unopposed in Senate District 5. It includes his political base in Rio Arriba County, as well as parts of Santa Fe, Sandoval and Los Alamos counties.

Though Martinez is likely to be reelected, majority Democrats in the Senate will still receive public pressure to oust him as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Every proposed law on penalties for drunken driving comes before that committee. And in the 30-day legislative session starting in January, the Judiciary Committee probably will consider a bill to legalize marijuana, a favored initiative of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Having Martinez preside over debate about legalizing another intoxicant would make Democrats squirm.

Senators have closed ranks and aren’t commenting on the criminal charge against Martinez. But majority Democrats have shown a willingness to demote a senator ensnared in controversy, especially with an election approaching.

They removed Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, from the position of majority whip before the 2018 primary election. At issue were lawsuits by three women who a decade earlier had accused Padilla of sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace.

These allegations, which Padilla said were untrue, also drove him out of the race for lieutenant governor.

The city of Albuquerque, which had employed Padilla and his accusers, paid $149,000 to settle a lawsuit by two of the women. A jury awarded the third woman $1,200 for her counseling bills, and her lawyers received $101,000 for their expenses.

Martinez, 66, is scheduled to stand trial next month before a state district judge. He has spoken tersely about the drunken-driving charge, saying he will not resign from office if he’s convicted.

Martinez this year was one of eight Democratic senators who joined with all 16 Republicans to prevent the repeal of a 50-year-old anti-abortion law.

Their stand riled the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Challengers have emerged against four of the other Democrats who voted to keep the old anti-abortion statute on the books.

Those who have drawn opposition from within their party are Sens. John Arthur Smith of Deming, Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Clemente Sanchez of Grants and Gabriel Ramos of Silver City.

Except for Ramos, an incumbent by appointment, Martinez should have been weaker than the others. His embarrassing conduct captured on the police video would have ruined many politicians.

But apathy runs deep in Northern New Mexico. It can save a senator, even one who turns his car into a bullet.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

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(8) comments

Alfonso Duran

Simonich does not stop his personal dislike of Senator Martinez and this clouds his reporting. Now he disparages thousands of Richards constituents who want him to continue as Senator. We need a strong voice for our communities agenda. As to his vote against abortion this represents the majority though in his district. Who in their right mind would consider a person who just was injured in a crash and possibly inebriated statements as reason to have him removed from office. I bet if his name was Richard Stewart that we would not be reading the condemnation of an entire group of the districts voters.

Chris Mechels

I am no fan of Richard Martinez, but he's far from the worst in the Legislature. How about Andrea Romero??? Gasp, choke... An utter incompetent, who happens to "represent" me!! Milan sees fit to compare a DWI with Sexual Harassment, though even he should see the difference. Milan, and the New Mexican, have stopped "reporting" the news, and turned to bloviating, which is pretty useless and ugly. Does "opinion" sell more papers that news??? They seem to think so... Sadly, Democracy depend on "informed" voters, not "entertained" voters; but the New Mexican seems lost in space.

Khal Spencer

Or "alleged" harassment in Carl Trujillo's case, where the Dem party did a hatchet job on Trujillo and put up, as you say, a cough, choke, gasp, weak but pliable candidate at the last minute. I donated to and put up a sign for her opponent in that race although it was not my district. Yet another example of how the fickle thumb of fate is put on the scale in these parts by the powers that be.

Katherine Martinez

I wouldn't say the Republicans are 'feeble', but perhaps simply outnumbered in a district that is has been democratically entrenched since the beginning of time. I do applaud however, attempts to point out the hypnotic influence that particular party has in this area.

Jeff Varela

Didn't know that Mr. Milan has become an expert on Northern NM politics. To refer to the people/voters of that distract as apathetic could be related to people's disgust with politics and the media that taint it with their divisive columns and opinions.

Khal Spencer

Milan nailed it. I lived in Sen. Martinez's district, which included part of Los Alamos, for seventeen years. I sent the Senator quite a few emails on issues before the Senate. Got exactly zero responses. Complacency seems to be the rule. The fact that no one in the Dem party will challenge him and that the Republican Party is too busy demanding right wing ideological purity to run a centrist candidate competitive in the district certainly does encourage people to throw up their hands and feel like it doesn't matter.

Khal Spencer

Apathy says it all.

Devin Bent

Apathy may be part of the problem. But it may be that some good people are discouraged from running because they cannot afford to hold an unpaid position. These unpaid legislative positions may be more attractive to those who intend to profit by ways that are illegal or immoral.

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