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Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995


Image of Matthew Martínez
[Office of the Historian]

United States Representative
Democrat of California

Ninety-seventh - One Hundred Sixth Congresses
July 13, 1982 - January 2001

Matthew Martínez was born in Walsenberg, Huerfano County, Colorado on February 14, 1929, and attended public schools in Los Angeles, California. In 1949 he graduated from Roosevelt High School. From 1947 to 1950 he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, achieving the rank of private first class. In 1956 he received a certificate of competence from the Los Angeles Trade Technical School. For the next fifteen years he owned and operated a custom furniture upholstery company, and worked as a building contractor. Martínez began his political career in 1971 when he became a member of the Monterey Park Planning Committee, and served until 1974 when he was elected to the Monterey City Council. He served until 1980, including two terms as mayor in 1974 and 1980. In the 1980 Democratic primary, Martínez defeated incumbent Jack R. Fenton and was elected to the California State Assembly.

In 1982 Martínez won the special election to fill the vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives caused by the resignation of George E. Danielson, and has been reelected seven times. He represents California's 31st District, which according to the 1990 census, had the second highest percentage of Hispanics in the state.

In his first term in Congress Martínez was assigned to the Education and Labor Committee, where he supported much of the work done on behalf of Hispanics. In the 99th Congress he chaired the Subcommittee on Employment Opportunities.

During the 1980's Martínez opposed the Reagan administrations' policy towards Central America. In 1983 he voted to bar covert U.S. aid to Nicaragua, and the following year he voted to bar aid to anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua.

A loyal Democrat, Martínez has supported a variety of legislation affecting the welfare of children, young adults, and the elderly. In 1991 he became the Chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee, where he sponsored legislation for drug abuse education and delinquency prevention programs. That same year he sponsored a bill requiring literacy and child development training for parents of children in Head Start programs.

In 1993 Martínez sponsored amendments to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, which supports programs for the prevention and treatment of delinquency, provides assistance for runaway and homeless youth, and assists communities in locating missing children. Martínez was one of the main sponsors of the re-authorization of the Older Americans Act, which allowed for the funding of a number of programs benefitting the elderly, including the Meals on Wheels program. In addition the Act stipulated that the administration hold a National Conference on Aging in 1993.

In 1992 Martínez was named to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and served on the Subcommittee on International Security, International Organizations and Human Rights.

In the 103rd Congress Martínez supported the Clinton administration and voted for the Unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act. Martínez was the main sponsor of the National Community Service Bill, which created a national structure for community service programs. In addition to working with pre-existing community service programs, the bill also offers educational awards for work in a variety of programs designed to address educational, environmental, and public safety problems.

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