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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, making history as the nation's first female Hispanic governor, called Saturday for New Mexicans to unite to solve the difficult problems confronting the state, including a budget deficit and sputtering economy.
Martinez sounded a bipartisan tone during her public inaugural ceremony on the historic Santa Fe Plaza, across the street from the Palace of the Governors, which was built in 1610 and housed Spanish governors. It was the seat of government during Mexican and American territorial rule.
"From this moment on, we must aspire together. Work together. Fight together. Triumph together. And today only marks the first day of our journey together," Martinez said in prepared remarks for delivery during her inaugural address.
Hours before her speech, Martinez — the state's first female governor — formally assumed control of state government as its chief executive during a private swearing-in ceremony at midnight in the Capitol Rotunda.
Saturday offered Martinez and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who was her running mate in the general election, a daylong opportunity to celebrate the start of her administration with friends, political supporters and the public.
"There is no worthier or more satisfying work than to serve others in a just cause," Martinez said. "Not every New Mexican voted for me. But every New Mexican deserves and will receive my best efforts to protect and promote their interests. I serve you all, and I am grateful to you for the privilege."
Martinez succeeds Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, who was barred from seeking re-election after serving two consecutive four-year terms.
The start of their administrations offered stark contrasts. Richardson enjoyed a solid economy during his first term, with the state reaping revenue windfalls from taxes and royalties on energy production. The Democratic governor was able to cut taxes and increase spending on programs and services. After the economy soured during Richardson's second term, the budget was trimmed and taxes were raised although that didn't erase the double-digit growth in government spending that took place during his eight years in office.
Martinez confronts high unemployment, a more than $400 million budget shortfall and an economy still sputtering from a national recession. Besides the fiscal challenges, Martinez must deal with problems that have long nagged New Mexico — one of the highest rates of poverty in the nation and a public school system in which a third of students fail to graduate from high school.
One of the first tasks for Martinez and the Democratic-controlled Legislature is to balance the state's more than $5 billion budget. Martinez pledged during her campaign not to raise taxes. She's also vowed to shield Medicaid and public school classrooms from cuts. Medicaid provides health care for nearly a fourth of the state's population, mainly uninsured children and the poor.
In her speech, Martinez acknowledged the difficulties ahead.
"I assume the duties of governor understanding this is a challenging time," she said. "Our state and its leaders must have the courage to make the kinds of changes that will positively impact people's lives and put us back on a course toward prosperity."
She also portrayed the state's problems as a shared challenge.
"New Mexicans have known hardships before, and overcome them. They've suffered setbacks before, and faced them undaunted. No generation has been free of adversity or excused from the responsibility of making our great state better," said Martinez.
"We can, we must and we will prevail over the adversity that confronts us now. We have a debt to honor from the generations that preceded us and a promise to keep to the generation that follows. Our parents built a future better than their past, and we must do the same."
Shortly after taking office, Martinez issued several executive orders, including ones to prohibit departments and boards from hiring lobbyists, directing agencies to cooperate with any federal investigation and limiting the administration's use of executive privilege to deny public records requests. Federal prosecutors have a pending investigation of possible influence peddling in the awarding of state investments.
After her inaugural address, Martinez was to greet the public at a reception and dance with kids at a free children's ball. The festivities end with an invitation-only, $100-a-ticket inaugural ball Saturday night at the city's downtown convention center.