New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid is a woman of firsts.
She is the first Hispanic to hold her state's top elected executive law enforcement position, even though New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanic residents of any state, at 42.1 percent of the population. And before that she was the first woman to be elected as a district court judge in New Mexico.
She's also accustomed to being aggressive, going for a win.
"You have to be very strong," she comments, speaking to other women. "Women, especially Latinas, are very concerned about people liking them, and what you look like, and that you're popular and you please people. Well, in politics you just have to learn to be a lot tougher than that. I learned that early on. I was on the debate team in high school and then I went to law school. It wasn't about being liked, it was about winning, about arguing my case, about being an advocate."
At The Table
"You get into politics because you care about the issues and you want to make a difference," she adds, "and you have to be at the table to do that."
As attorney general, Ms. Madrid has been at the head of the table: the state's head legal representative, prosecutor, and defender. She is responsible for the state's Department of Justice, overseeing 10 "divisions" responsible for legal activities in the interest of the state and its people ranging from criminal appeals, consumer protection, and prosecutions/investigations to civil law enforcement and protection of state water quality. In this capacity she manages 150 other attorneys and legal services staff and a $12 million budget.
Ms. Madrid also established the state's first Crime Victim's Services Unit, which provides support to crime victims and their families both in trial court and through the lengthy appeals process; the first Violence Against Women Unit; the first Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force; and the first Capital Litigation Unit. This unit is composed of highly skilled district attorneys who augment local district attorneys in prosecuting capital crimes and crimes against children.
Initiatives she has advocated to protect the financial interests of the state and its citizens address, for example, the prosecution of companies that have mismanaged some of the state's $12 billion in invested funds, and the investigation and prosecution of entities found guilty of predatory lending practices and exorbitant fees on payday loans and car loans.
Now a Run for Congress
Ms. Madrid could be poised for another first: the first-ever Hispanic woman to be a member of Congress from the state of New Mexico. Not to mention the first Hispanic in 10 years to be sent by her district to the U.S. House of Representatives.
She announced in fall 2005 that she is running as a Democrat to try to unseat four-term incumbent Republican Rep. Heather Wilson. Under state law, Ms. Madrid is prevented from seeking another term as attorney general, and told Hispanic Business she wanted to continue working on the issues that matter to her.
"I decided to take on the Republican incumbent, because I am just very concerned about my country. The issues that I care about and have worked on as attorney general, you keep thinking that it's going to get better and it's not," Ms. Madrid says. "We're taking major steps backward, and I think it's time for a change in Washington. I would have voted differently on some issues, including the Medicare drug prescription program and Iraq. You see that one party controls the White House, the Congress, and there are no checks and balances, and you see the results in what is going on in our government today."
Political observers in New Mexico say Ms. Madrid should not be written off, even though Rep. Wilson has successfully warded off previous challenges from other Hispanics in the state.
"Being attorney general is not one of the most glamorous jobs in the state, yet she has very high name recognition and was able not only to get elected but to get re-elected statewide," comments Magdaleno Manzanárez, an associate professor of political science at Western New Mexico University. "And there really isn't anything negative on her. This is the strongest opposition Congresswoman Heather Wilson has ever faced, and while Wilson has more money right now, I think it's pretty significant that though Madrid announced her candidacy just last October, she is already running neck-and-neck with her."
Both major parties consider this one of the most competitive races in the 2006 congressional election. The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call describes Ms. Madrid as "a tough, steely campaigner," adding nonetheless that Ms. Wilson, the first female graduate of the Air Force Academy to serve in the U.S. Congress, is a formidable fundraiser who "seems to connect" with her district even though most voters identify themselves as Democratic.
Photo Finish Projected
At this point the political campaign Web site www.electionprojection.com predicts a possible squeaker win for Ms. Madrid.
The key, say political observers, is for Ms. Madrid to exploit President Bush's low approval numbers.
"If Madrid is able to tie Wilson to the Republican Party and President Bush and voter dissatisfaction, she may be successful," says Mr. Manzanárez.
And for her part, Ms. Madrid is hoping her views on domestic issues combined with her law-and-order image will help her with voters on both sides of the aisle.
"She will bring to Congress a wealth of experience and a proven track record of outstanding service to the people of New Mexico," offers Rep. Hilda Solís (D-Calif.). "Her track record leaves no doubt that she will be an outspoken champion for our nation's fast-growing Latino community and the issues most important to them, including education, healthcare, and small businesses. She will be a strong addition to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has worked hard to expand opportunities for Hispanics in corporate America."
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