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Home / Articles / News / Local News /  Passing the Gavel
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Passing the Gavel

Ken Martinez takes up the mantle as New Mexico’s second most powerful politician

January 8, 2013, 8:00 pm

 State Rep. W Kenneth Martinez, who is poised to become the second most powerful official in New Mexico next Tuesday, loves watching football games, especially when his youngest son, Agustin “Tino” Martinez, is on the field.

So last month, when the junior kicker for Grants High School and two of his friends said they wanted private kicking lessons with legendary Oklahoma Sooner and Miami Dolphin kicker Uwe von Schamann, Martinez quickly volunteered to drive them to camp.

Martinez knew the 1,300 mile roundtrip to Norman, Okla., would give him a chance to collect his thoughts and think about kicking off his tenure as the next Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives.

A self-described introvert, Martinez, D-Cibola, is used to thinking about politics and public policy during shorter drives between his home in Grants and the state capitol.

He’s been making the drive for decades. His father was elected speaker in 1971, when Martinez was 11 years old, and he’s been watching how power has been wielded inside the Roundhouse ever since.

“My father had a keen intellect,” Martinez says. “I hope to be as smart.”

Martinez, who shares a law office in Albuquerque and Grants with his brother Kevin, will have big shoes to fill after the death of his longtime mentor, former House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe, last month.

“Ben was such a hard worker,” Martinez says. “Right after he announced his illness, Speaker Luján asked me to help him guide the ship. It took me a while to figure out what that meant. He invited me to go to all the meetings with him. I couldn’t believe how long his days were. He’d start at seven in the morning and work until 11 at night. It was really a great growing experience for me. ”

Like his father, Martinez says he plans to delegate some responsibilities to his leadership team and committee chairs.

“Speaker Luján was very involved in all the issues and was able to be at all the events,” he says. “But I live two and a half hours away from the capitol, so I will have to schedule blocks of time and won’t be able to attend all the ceremonial events like he did.”

Martinez, who was selected as the Democratic caucus’ nominee for speaker in December, says he’ll have to learn to be “the decider.”

“I’m used to analyzing policy and persuading our members to vote one way or another,” he says. “If there was ever a problem, I knew that I would be able to move us out of it.”

After eight years as majority leader, Martinez says it will be hard sitting by, “watching all hell break loose.”

“Part of it will be in trusting people and the process,” he says.

He’s already asking new Minority Leader Donald Bratton, R-Lea, to make decisions about seating charts and assigned parking spots, but says he hasn’t decided on committee assignments or chairmanships. Still, newcomers won’t get anywhere by buttering him up.

“I hate having my ass kissed,” Martinez says. “I like it when people respect the speaker’s office and respect me as a person.”

Nor is he interested in changing the rules to give the minority a say on those assignments.

“Our founding fathers really got it right on the separation of powers between the three branches of government, and then the separation of duties and powers between the officers of those branches,” Martinez says. “They were brilliant, deciding how to exercise power.”


'I'm a policy geek'

As of press time, just over 90 bills had been pre-filed, but Martinez expects around 2,000 to be considered during the session. Some of those will come from Gov. Susana Martinez’ office (she’s no relation).

As Speaker, Martinez says he’s ready to work with her on everything, including social promotion, driver’s licenses for foreign nationals living in New Mexico and the state budget.

“I’ve known her for a long time,” Martinez says. “She called me two days after she was elected and said she’d never forget that I carried the Baby Brianna bill for her. It was killed in my own committee, but we fixed it and it passed.”

As lawyers, Martinez says both he and the governor like to dive deep into policy discussions.

“Our first priority will be getting a budget,” he says. “The budget is the most complete and complex policy document that we work on. People talk about DWI and social issues, but where you put your money is where you put your priorities. It’s where you put your heart.”

He also plans to work on legislation to create opportunities for jobs and protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens, "but we need to make sure the money is spent in the most appropriate manner,” he says.

Martinez, 54, seems to be aware that he will be in the spotlight during his first session as speaker.

“We need to do our business in a timely fashion, avoid as much tumult and personal attacks as possible, keep partisanship to a minimum and come to agreement on good policy packages,” he says.

Still, when the gavel goes down in March, he knows the process will not have been perfect.

“It never is,” he says. “But if we can reach across the aisle and shake hands, or hug the person we’ve worked with during the session—no matter their party affiliation—then I will know it was well run.”

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