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Craig Fritz, Associated Press
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Las Cruces Republican, with her husband Chuck Franco holding the bible, is sworn in by State District Judge Stephen Bridgforth close to midnight at the state capital in Santa Fe, N.M. on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011, making her the state's first female Governor.

SANTA FE, N.M. — Republican Susana Martinez has claimed her place in history as New Mexico's first female governor, taking office with the start of the new year.

Martinez, 51, formally became governor during a private ceremony at midnight in the Capitol Rotunda.

About 200 friends and family, including her stepson, father, brother and sister, watched as retiring District Judge Stephen Bridgforth of Las Cruces administered the oath of office.

As Martinez pledged to carry out the duties of governor, she placed her left hand on a Bible held by her husband, Chuck Franco. The Bible was a gift from family members for the inauguration. She hugged her husband and other family members after finishing the oath.

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran separately took oaths of office after Martinez.

Because an outgoing governor's term expires at the end of December, tradition calls for the new governor to take office at midnight to ensure there's no question about the transfer of power and who's in charge of the government.

Public activities follow throughout Saturday, including an inauguration on the Santa Fe Plaza where Martinez will deliver a speech and again recite the oath of office.

It's the first time in 36 years that a governor will hold an outdoor inaugural ceremony, and those who attend will need to bundle up. Overnight temperatures were to fall below zero in Santa Fe. The National Weather Service forecast a high Saturday in the low 20s, but the wind chill will remain well below zero.

After her inaugural address, Martinez will 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.

Martinez returns Republicans to power in the state's top executive post after eight years of Democratic control under Bill Richardson.

"I intend to move New Mexico in a new direction and bring bold change that improves the lives of New Mexico families and children," Martinez said in a Ustatement.

She enters office with New Mexico confronting a host of problems — a sluggish economy, a budget shortfall of more than $400 million, the third highest poverty rate in the nation and a public school system in which a third of students fail to graduate from high school.

"New Mexico faces real challenges and my top priorities will be to balance the state budget, reform our education system, change the way business is done in state government and get New Mexicans back to work," Martinez said. "This will involve cutting waste from government, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and ending public corruption to ensure a level playing field for job creators and inspire confidence in state government."

Martinez has served as district attorney in Dona Ana County since 1997. As governor, she immediately appointed Amy Orlando, who worked for her as a prosecutor, to take over as district attorney.

Within minutes of 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.

She started her inaugural celebration Thursday night in Las Cruces with a "send-off gala" that drew about 1,200 people.

Gary Johnson was the last GOP governor, serving from 1995 through 2002. His two terms were marked by partisan sparring with the Democratic-controlled Legislature and he was dubbed "Governor No" because he vetoed hundreds of bills.

Martinez also faces a Legislature in which Democrats hold majorities in both chambers. However, Republicans gained eight seats in the House in the general election, narrowing the Democratic advantage to 37-33.

Richardson left office as he started — by grabbing national headlines.

Richardson appeared on network television Friday to announce he wasn't issuing a posthumous pardon for Old West gunslinger Billy the Kid. In 2003, shortly after taking office, Richardson attracted international press coverage by meeting with North Korean envoys at the governor's mansion. It was the first of many diplomatic missions during his gubernatorial tenure.

Richardson planned to spend New Year's Eve in Ruidoso.