When Roll Call, a well-regarded political newspaper in Washington, D.C., launched a series of profiles earlier this year titled “The 25 Most Influential Women in State Politics,” New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez seemed a natural choice for the list.
After all, she is the nation’s first and only Latina governor. She chairs the Republican Governors Association. And she was discussed in political circles as a possible vice presidential choice before her highly publicized feud with the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Though other women agreed to interviews with the newspaper — including fellow Republican Govs. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma — Martinez did not.
“Martinez’s office did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls for this profile,” the otherwise largely flattering story, published this month, said. The writer, Elvina Nawaguna, added: “Her public information officers have gained notoriety among local and national media for stonewalling, ignoring phone calls, and not responding to emails or giving interviews.”
As the Republican Party gets ready for its national convention this week in Cleveland, Ohio, Martinez, 57, is not expected to be a major presence. Unlike the GOP’s 2012 convention in Tampa, Fla., where Martinez gave a well-received speech, her public feud with Trump and her refusal to endorse him means she won’t be a speaker, much less be on the national ticket as national pundits speculated for years.
But even before her public spat with Trump, Martinez was becoming increasingly known for avoiding the national media. This occurred despite her role as chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association, which some of her predecessors used as a national platform to promote the GOP as well as themselves.
Even within New Mexico, Martinez rarely makes herself available to reporters outside of staged events to tout pet initiatives. Whether by personal preference or at the direction of her political handlers, Martinez seems intent on keeping a tight rein over her message, minimizing opportunities for her to stray even slightly from her talking points.
Her inhibition is getting noticed.
Fox News Latino, in a May story, said that Martinez “is known for preferring to stay out of the spotlight.” The story noted that “Most Americans don’t know the sound of her voice — unlike many of her fellow politicians, she is not a fixture on Sunday morning news shows. …”
That story, published during a flurry of national media coverage of Trump’s blazing criticisms of Martinez at an Albuquerque rally, was headlined “Spotlight-shy N.M. Gov. Susana Martinez finds herself in media glare.”
Martinez’s spokesmen did not respond to requests for an interview with the governor for this story.
Tim Krebs, a political science professor at The University of New Mexico, said he finds it surprising that Martinez in recent months seemed to be purposely trying to keep out of the spotlight. “She really seemed to enjoy all the speculation [in the national media] about her being selected as vice president.”
Most of that running mate speculation evaporated right after Trump came to Albuquerque in late May and tore into Martinez: “We have got to get your governor to get going,” the likely Republican nominee said of the Republican governor. “She’s got to do a better job. OK? … Hey! Maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico. I’ll get this place going. She’s not doing the job.”
Trump reportedly was miffed because Martinez didn’t attend his speech that night. Some speculate that he also was angry because Martinez had bashed him a few weeks earlier at a private fundraising event at a mansion owned by billionaire GOP donor David Koch.
Martinez has been at odds with Trump over his claims that many Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists — though she pushed for years to repeal New Mexico’s law issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, saying it was a magnet for smugglers and human traffickers. She relented on that issue this year. Martinez also joined many high-profile Republicans in criticizing Trump for asserting that a federal judge should recuse himself from a civil case involving Trump because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.
A détente of sorts seemed to be in works last month when Martinez opened the door for an endorsement and Trump told The New Mexican he respected her and would welcome her support. It’s unknown if the two have spoken since.
Krebs said it’s possible that, after “a couple of bad incidents” that received much media coverage, the governor’s team is purposely keeping a low profile in order to “make changes in its operations.” He said he was specifically talking about Martinez’s infamous December “pizza party” at the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe in which she berated police dispatchers and hotel staff who were responding to complaints that someone had thrown bottles from the governor’s room on the fourth floor.
But while many believe the Eldorado incident doomed her chances to appear on any national ticket, scattered talk continued about Martinez as a possibility for vice president. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce even endorsed her for vice president. The chamber also backed Julián Castro of Texas, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary, for vice president on the Democratic ticket.
Krebs also said it’s possible that the Republican Governors Association wants to keep below the line of fire for fear of a Trump backlash in gubernatorial races across the country.
Indeed, when Trump secured the nomination by winning the Indiana primary in May, a press release from that organization made no mention of Trump. “… The RGA helps elect governors, not presidents,” a spokesman for the Republican governors told The New Mexican.
On Friday, the Republican Governors Association issued a statement quoting Martinez congratulating Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for being Trump’s choice for running mate. The statement lavished praise on Pence, but not once did it mention Trump’s name.
When asked about Martinez’s absence from the national political scene, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said, “If ever there were a time for a moderate conservative like Governor Martinez to take a low profile, it’s right now.”
Sabato said Trump and Martinez are not going to reconcile. “So she has to ride this campaign out and see what happens. If Trump loses, Martinez will have an opportunity to re-emerge as Republicans try to climb out of the wreckage and reconstruct their party.”
Asked whether he thinks Martinez’s star has lost some of its shine, Sabato said, “It’s also possible her moment has passed for many reasons. But I’m not going to write off someone who has two years left on her term, and is the first Latina governor in American history in a party that is likely going to be nearly wiped out when it comes to the Latino vote in November.”
Martinez has agreed to interviews with the national media now and then, mostly in her first term, and mostly with outlets unlikely to challenge her on policy issues. These included appearances in 2012 and 2013 on Greta Van Susteren’s On the Record on Fox News.
Not all have turned out well. In a November 2010 interview with Latina magazine, she indicated she was unfamiliar with the DREAM Act, a proposed law that would allow children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country as long as they go to college or enter military service.
During the past six and a half years, Martinez has been interviewed for national TV in the state Capitol television studio only twice — once shortly before she took office, when she talked to CNN’s John King about immigration issues, and once last year when Fox News spoke to her about the massive wastewater spill from the Gold King Mine in Colorado.
In contrast, Martinez’s predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson, who ran for president in 2007 and early 2008, was a constant presence in the Capitol studio. Even as a private citizen, Richardson is frequently spotted there, commenting on national cable shows about energy issues, North Korea, Cuba and other world affairs.
In November, when Martinez was elected chairwoman of the Republican Governors Association, she was interviewed in Las Vegas, Nev., by Fox News’ Bret Baier. She dodged his questions about an FBI investigation into her political adviser, Jay McCleskey, which has since been dropped without charges being filed.
Martinez has made a few out-of-state political appearances this year. In April she was the keynote speaker at a New York Republican Party gala attended by Trump and then-rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Few national news organizations mentioned her speech, and some said it was hard to hear because people in attendance were talking over her. Earlier in the year, Martinez campaigned in Kansas and Florida for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida shortly before he quit the presidential race.
As for New Mexico media, since her first month in office, Martinez basically stopped holding news conferences in the Capitol, except on the final day of each year’s legislative session. Instead of inviting reporters to sit around the big round table in her Cabinet room as previous governors did, Martinez keeps reporters standing in the lobby and normally holds questions to a minimum. Then her press aide starts shouting, “No more questions.” This practice began soon after she promised to have the most transparent administration in state history.
In her first few years in office, Martinez frequently spoke to groups in the Capitol Rotunda, then made herself available to statehouse reporters who wanted to ask about legislation and other matters. That began to change sometime before her re-election in 2014, when even these appearances dried up. In this year’s session, the governor went largely unseen in the Capitol between her State of the State address the first day and the end of the 30-day session.
The governor frequently makes public appearances around the state to talk about programs such as her summer reading challenge, to tout tourism statistics or to give briefings about forest fires. But virtually all of those appearances are before small, select, sympathetic audiences. Reporters typically receive a two-hour notice, even for events hundreds of miles away. Such events are virtually the only opportunity local reporters have to get direct comments from Martinez. Normally her aides allow only a few questions before hurrying the governor away.
As she travels to Cleveland as the leader of the New Mexico’s 24-member Republican delegation, the door remains open for Martinez to endorse Trump. Martinez’s spokesman, Chris Sanchez, told The Associated Press last week that Martinez will spend her time at the convention highlighting recent reforms in New Mexico and meeting with other governors.
The one moment on national television Martinez will be guaranteed at the convention — if she wants it — will be during the roll-call vote for president. As leader of the New Mexico delegation, she would traditionally announce the state’s vote on camera, and because Trump won the state GOP primary by such a wide vote, he will get all 24 delegates.
The question is whether Martinez will announce the vote herself or leave it to someone else in the delegation.