Jennifer Martinez 

Congressional candidate and bride-to-be

Jennifer Martinez received a surprising email in early March from Sally Boynton Brown, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party.

"She asked if I had ever thought about running for office," said Martinez. "Honestly, I thought she was thinking about the Idaho Legislature. She said, 'No, we want you to run against Congressman Mike Simpson.'"

A few days later, Martinez filed paperwork with the Idaho secretary of state's office, indicating she would challenge the incumbent.

"He's held that office for 18 years. That's two-thirds of my life," said Martinez, 29.

Tell us about your personal backstory.

My parents came to Idaho in 1981 as undocumented workers, looking for farm work. By the time I was born, they had already qualified for permanent U.S. residence under President Reagan's Immigration Reform Act of 1986. My dad taught himself English because he had to drop out of school in the fourth grade to work the fields.

You grew up in the Magic Valley?

Yes, in Wendell. I went to kindergarten all day while my parents worked the fields. I went to Gonzaga University with an eye toward law school. I was preparing for the LSAT exam this year when I was asked to run for Congress.

Can I assume your parents were thrilled to see your name on the ballot?

When I told them, they asked, "What are you doing? Excuse me?" When they voted for me during the May primary, they were overjoyed.

Are you holding down a job at the same time you're campaigning?

I'm an administrative assistant for the Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation and a youth organizer for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

Do you have any paid staff?

No, I have a tremendous group of volunteers.

How about fundraising? What's your goal?

I want to raise $100,000.

That's a pretty modest amount. Shouldn't a congressional campaign require closer to $500,000?

I'm thinking that we'll have a mailer and possibly some radio spots, but there isn't any more for television. That's pretty expensive.

What does your schedule look like?

There are definitely things you shouldn't do, like go to McDonald's at midnight or not get enough sleep. I always have to carve time out for the gym. Oh, and we're planning a wedding.

Wait a minute... what?

My boyfriend proposed in April. He's a family advocate for the Head Start program, an amazing guy. We've been together for seven years.

You're getting married this year?

Oct. 15 in Wendell. We love the autumn.

Where is Mike Simpson politically vulnerable?

He doesn't represent me on so many issues. He says he supports immigration reform but without a path to citizenship. Well, that creates a second-class citizenship for a good many Idahoans. I've never heard him speak about equal pay for equal work. And my fiance is a Marine Corps veteran who fought in Iraq; he and a lot of his colleagues have gone through so much. I haven't seen a lot of longtime Republican members of Congress introduce comprehensive measures to get veterans the care they need.

The political climate in 2016 is particularly caustic. Have you run into any of that on the campaign trail?

There's a lot of ignorance and bigotry coming from Donald Trump. Mike Simpson has publicly said that he supports Trump, even though he may disagree with some of his policy stances. Putting your party before country is not OK.

Are you advocating for Democratic Party control of the state?

We're almost always better when we compromise. So many more people benefit. I'm not in favor of Idaho becoming an overwhelmingly blue state. I want a purple state where we work together more often. We've got to start advancing our economic and social situation while cutting back the hatred.


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