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New Mexico's Mold-Breaking New Governor

Susana Martinez’s win in New Mexico’s gubernatorial election means she’ll be the nation’s first Latina governor.

Susana Martinez’s win in last month’s New Mexico gubernatorial election means she’ll become the nation’s first Latina governor. Even more noteworthy, Martinez pulled off the victory without the support of most of the state’s Latino voters. Incumbent Gov. Bill Richardson’s hand-picked successor, Diane Denish, garnered 61 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls. That wasn’t enough to overcome Martinez, though, who won with 54 percent of the overall vote.

That’s impressive in a state where nearly half the residents are Hispanic, but does Martinez’s election signify a shift to post-racial voting? Maybe. It’s more likely that her conservative platform put her at odds with most Latino voters. She campaigned to repeal state laws that provide illegal immigrants access to drivers’ licenses, and to deny state college scholarships for children of undocumented immigrants. She also pledged to cut state spending and is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

A native of El Paso, Texas, Martinez has served as the district attorney in Doña Ana County for 13 years, winning four elections back-to-back. Thanks to her conservative politics -- and general popularity -- she’s being touted as a potential star for Republicans on the national stage. Her biggest challenge, observers say, may be reconciling her stances on lower government spending and immigration with the realities back home: A $333 million budget shortfall and a state with nearly 1 million Hispanic constituents.

Andy Kim is a former GOVERNING staff writer.
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