Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of articles by the Daily Lobo about individuals running for public office in New Mexico this year.
After President Donald Trump asked for his resignation from his role as U.S. Attorney in March of 2017, Damon Martinez has unfinished business.
Martinez said he is running for congress to finish what he started.
“This president was throwing rocks at everything I did during my career,” Martinez said.
Born and raised in Albuquerque, Martinez worked under Democratic U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman during the 1990s, and then as a legislative assistant to Tom Udall when the U.S. senator was then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
He said his experience working with these legislators provided him with knowledge that he said will benefit him in Congress.
Martinez also joined the U.S. Army, which he was inspired to do following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He is still a member of the Army Reserves.
Martinez was then nominated for U.S. attorney by then president Barack Obama in 2013, and was unanimously approved by the Senate in 2014. He served in the role until March 10, 2017, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for his resignation, along with the resignations of every other U.S. attorney appointed by Obama.
While it is not unusual for incoming presidents to replace U.S. attorneys with their hand-chosen replacements (an act done by the previous three presidents), Martinez insists that his resignation defies political norms. He said this is because of the much shorter window he was given, as he was expecting to receive the call for his resignation in July instead of March.
“There’s nothing standard about what this president did,” he said.
In a closely contested primary with many outspoken progressives, Martinez said it is his experience that sets him apart from the pack.
“Instead of saying ‘I’m going to do this,’ I can say ‘I have done this.’ I will put my progressive record up against anybody,” he said.
One progressive issue talked at great length in this race is the legalization of recreational marijuana. Currently, around 63 percent of New Mexico adults support it, according to a recent Albuquerque Journal article.
Martinez said that he supports this policy, but said that any legislation he votes on must consider the health effects that marijuana can have on developing minds. He used the rise of e-cigarettes as an analogy, stating how the effects of this product are similarly unknown.
“I want to make sure public health is taken into consideration first and foremost,” he said.
Like many other Democratic candidates, Martinez called for the repeal of Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on independent political spending made by corporations. He cited Charles and David Koch, billionaire brothers who donate millions of dollars to Republican causes, as examples of how big money in politics taints an individual’s vote.
More outside money has been spent in support of Damon Martinez than any other candidate so far, totaling around $450,000, according to OpenSecrets.org. These include the Super PAC’s With Honor Fund and VoteVets.org — both of whom aim to get veterans elected to public office.
Martinez said he is proud to get support from these organizations, because of the opportunities they give to veterans. He did not respond when asked what the difference was between these PAC’s and a PAC funded by the Koch brothers in terms of donating large sums of money to political candidates.
He also highlighted his work concerning sexual assault at the University of New Mexico. In 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice investigated UNM, stating that the University was not taking the appropriate steps to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual assault, a statement described as “inaccurate and incomplete” by the University at the time.
Martinez said that one of the first things he will do in Congress is to question Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about her department’s policies concerning sexual assault, and what he sees as the undoing of his work as U.S. Attorney.
“I take very personally the work we did at the University of New Mexico,” he said. “I have some serious questions for (DeVos).”
With the topic of gun control dominating national discussion, Martinez said he supports the ban of assault weapons, especially bump stocks that can convert semi-assault weapon into a full assault rifle.
He cites his military experience as authority for his policies concerning firearms.
“I am the only veteran in this race,” Martinez said. “I am the only one who has trained with combat weapons.”
His run for the New Mexico’s first congressional seat has not been without controversy. A series of articles published by New Mexico In Depth discussed how a 2016 sting conducted by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that resulted in the arrest of over 100 people may have unfairly targeted a disproportionate amount of African-Americans.
The U.S. attorney’s office first initiated the operation, requesting ATF to launch an Enhanced Enforcement Initiative in Albuquerque, a type of operation previously deployed in several cities around the nation by the bureau.
When asked if he would change anything about the operation and his office’s response, Martinez said he was asked to resign days after he was made aware of issues surrounding the operation, leaving him with little to no time to examine any possible issues regarding racial profiling.
“Had I been in place, I would have examined those issues, and if anything was done wrong I would have held those responsible accountable,” he said.
In spite of this controversy, Martinez maintains that his experience gives him an advantage in the tight race for Congress, where he has to defeat five other Democrats in the primary before taking on Republican Janice Arnold Jones in the general election in November.
The primary election will take place on June 5.
Kyle Land is the editor-in-chief for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.