Published November 12, 2012
Nearly three in four Latinos in New Mexico voted for President Obama, and that prompted advocates of more lenient immigration policies to press Gov. Susana Martinez to abandon her fight to stop undocumented immigrants in her state from getting driver’s licenses.
But Martinez, a Republican, is not going to back off, said her press secretary to reporters.
Scott Darnell, the press secretary, is quoted in El Paso Times saying that said the election is actually a reason for the governor to forge ahead with her effort to repeal New Mexico licensing of undocumented immigrant drivers.
"Voters defeated the lead opponent of the driver's license repeal -- longtime Senate President Tim Jennings -- along with Sen. (Mary Jane) Garcia, who is another member of Senate Democratic leadership and an ardent opponent of repealing the law," Darnell said, according to the newspaper.
"That's in addition to the defeat of the former head of the trial lawyers association, (Sen. Lisa Curtis) who also opposed the repeal, and of Rep. (Ray) Begaye in the House of Representatives."
The publication points out, however, that Begaye supported Martinez’s effort to repeal licensing for undocumented immigrants, and notes that he voted to repeal the licensing law last year and this year.
Under New Mexico law, undocumented immigrants may obtain state driver's licenses. Martinez campaigned on a vow to repeal it.
Some Latino organizations and immigration advocacy groups drew inspiration from the re-election of Obama, particularly the headline-making role of Hispanic voters, who turned out in record numbers.
Their participation at the polls has led to discussions about how hard-line positions on immigration by defeated GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Republicans alienated Latinos, who said in voter surveys that they were bothered by the seemingly anti-Latino undertone.
That has led to soul-searching within the Republican Party, with many calling for more flexibility regarding what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Many have spoken about how Republican Latino leaders, such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Martinez, might be able to help the party build bridges with Hispanics.
Many Hispanic leaders say their ethnicity will not matter as long as they espouse the same conservative, rigid views on immigration that the hawks in their party harbor.
Patty Kupfer, managing director of America's Voice Education Fund, a Washington-based immigration reform coalition, told reporters that Martinez could be one of those Republican leaders who take a more compassionate stance regarding undocumented immigrants.
She cited the licensing law as an example of how Martinez could take a more compromising approach and help soften the Republican Party’s image in the eyes of Latinos.
Martinez has characterized her opposition to licensing of undocumented drivers as a security issue.
She maintains that the state's law has attracted the attention of people who come to New Mexico from other states and even other countries with the sole intention of obtaining a driver's license.
Martínez has said that about 35 percent of the calls made to the motor vehicles agency by people wanting to make an appointment to obtain a driver's license come from telephones outside the state.
Martinez may have an easier time now succeeding in her pursuit of the licensing law repeal.
Nearly a third of the 112 members of Legislature will be new to the House and Senate when lawmakers convene in January.
There will be at least 15 new senators and the election appears to have added more supporters of the governor's license proposal, which has been a centerpiece of her legislative agenda.
What remains unclear is whether this year's unusually bitter legislative campaigns created a toxic partisan environment that will make it even more difficult for Martinez to steer her proposals through the Democratic-dominated Legislature.
Democratic legislative leaders and the governor say they can put aside their election year differences.
Includes material from The Associated Press.