New Mexico’s Martinez targets driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) will push to roll back a state law that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses (Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan)

In what has become something of an annual ritual, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) said Tuesday she will renew a push to force the state legislature to repeal a 10-year-old law that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

In an e-mail to supporters Tuesday, Martinez asked for financial support to help convince Democrats, who control both chambers of the state legislature, to roll back the law, initially signed by her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson.

“Over the last few years, we have passed the repeal out of the state House, but it has been killed by liberal Democrats in the Senate,” Martinez said in a fundraising e-mail first reported by the Albuquerque Journal. “Now, our opponents want us to give up. They are organized and well financed so I am asking you to join me by contributing whatever you can to help make sure we go into the session prepared to fight.”

Martinez has tried to pass the legislation before. It passed the state House with bipartisan support last year, though it stalled in committee earlier this year. In 2012, the measure died in the state Senate, where President Tim Jennings (D) blocked it. Jennings lost his Senate seat that year, thanks in part to attacks from a political action committee run by Martinez allies.

Earlier this year, Martinez offered compromise legislation, crafted with the Senate Republican leader and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, that would have provided permits — not licenses — to so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who have served in the military or graduated from college. A top Martinez aide told The Washington Post that that compromise legislation is likely to be the version introduced when the legislature returns to Santa Fe on Jan. 21.

Polling shows the driver’s license issue is one Martinez can use to her political advantage. Just before the 2012 election, 71 percent of likely voters — including 59 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Hispanic voters — said they opposed allowing illegal immigrants to obtain licenses, according to a poll conducted for the Journal by Research & Polling Inc., a New Mexico-based survey firm.

Still, Democrats maintain a 25-17 vote edge in the state Senate, making it unlikely that the measure would win easy passage. Democrats told the Journal they had pitched the Martinez administration on proposed compromises, including a one-year driving permit, but that those efforts at compromise had hit a brick wall.

Martinez will face the winner of a Democratic primary that includes Attorney General Gary King (D) and state Sens. Linda Lopez (D) and Howie Morales (D). Her approval ratings remain strong, though, and Democrats privately concede she looks like a strong candidate for reelection.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.



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