LAS CRUCES (KRQE) - Most New Mexicans probably don’t know it, but Gov. Susana Martinez actually has two full-time jobs.
The first, of course, is running the state. The second, however, is taking care of her older sister, Leticia “Lettie” Martinez, who has cerebral palsy. And when Martinez isn’t in Santa Fe or traveling the state for business, she is back home in Las Cruces with Lettie.
“I have to have a calendar that says, ‘This is where (husband) Chuck’s going to be, this is where I’m going to be, this is where Lettie’s going to be, this is where (and) when Lettie gets picked up, who picks her up, how she’s getting to me, how I come to her,’ ” Martinez said.
Lettie is 56 years old, but at heart, she’s more akin to much younger girls. She loves Disney princesses and playing with her mother’s old jewelry and perfume. Martinez became her sister’s legal guardian seven years ago after their mother died.
“It was just an unspoken arrangement,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s father died last year of Alzheimer’s disease and was cared for by Martinez’s older brother Jake, 58.
Martinez allowed a KRQE News 13 reporter and photographer to tag along with her and her sister one day recently in Las Cruces. And one thing we quickly learned is that – like her sister – Lettie isn’t camera shy.
Martinez said she tries to make Lettie’s life as normal as possible. On the day News 13 joined the sisters, that meant a public appearance at a hospital, a trip to Target to shop for clothes and dinner at a local New Mexican restaurant in Las Cruces.
Martinez said it would be easier if Lettie lived with her at the Governor’s Mansion in Santa Fe. However, that isn’t an option because Lettie is close to her caregiver in Las Cruces – a family friend she often refers to as her second mother.
Lettie is particularly close to the caregiver’s 9-year-old grandson. Her room is full of pictures of the boy.
“He’s my best friend in the whole world,” Lettie said.
In addition, other family members, including a brother, cousins, aunts and uncles, live nearby in El Paso.
“There was no way I could separate that,” Martinez said. “That would be as devastating as my mother dying.”
The sisters clearly have a strong bond, though the relationship has been the target of critics who question why the state recently reduced services to some families caring for relatives with developmental disabilities. Those critics said that considering the governor’s own family, she ought to understand the ramifications of that decision.
Martinez said she “absolutely” understands but that the changes were necessary to try and accommodate 6,300 families on the waiting list for state help with their relatives with developmental disabilities. Some of those families had been waiting 10 years.
To help get others into the program, the state checked all 3,800 families now in the program to make sure they weren’t getting more help than they need. Some of the families saw a drastic cut in services.
“It has to be a continuous assessment, so as needs get better or worse, we give that as it’s necessary,” Martinez said.
In fact, Lettie has been on that waiting list for six years.
“(It’s) more out of precaution if anything else,” Martinez said. “Because she has cerebral palsy and there’s no telling … how long life is for her, I wanted to be prepared.”
Martinez is often called a rising star in the Republican Party and makes frequent trips around the country to meet with high-ranking politicos. However, she made it clear to News 13 that a future run for higher office is out of the question – at least for now.
“I have to make sure that Lettie is happy,” the governor said. “Lettie is 56 years old, and if she lives for 20 years, Lettie and I will live here in the south for 20 years.”
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