A gaping revenue shortfall and lack of reserves have New Mexico’s legislators worried about short-circuiting the progress of large investments made in early childhood and safety net programs in recent years. A steep decline in the price of oil has contracted an industry on which New Mexico relies heavily, leading to broad layoffs, sales of oilfield equipment, foreclosures and bankruptcies. That, in turn, has gutted the cash from tax revenues state leaders counted on to pay for state operations. State leaders emptied out the state’s reserve fund to balance last year’s budget. Now they must close this year’s shortfall — projected at $69 million — without a pot of money that has cushioned economic pain in previous economic downturns.
New Mexico bans lobbyists or their employers from giving money to lawmakers or candidates running for legislative seats anytime the Legislature is in session.
But it isn’t clear from a review of reports filed by legislators, candidates and political action committees covering the Sept. 30-Oct. 6 special session if everyone understands the law or even remembers it is on the books.
In addition, a lack of standard reporting requirements and spotty or sloppy entries appear to make it difficult to know when and if a violation has occurred.
New Mexico political action committees raised $16.5 million and spent nearly $15.8 million from 2015 through Dec. 3. Leading the way were GOP super PAC Advance New Mexico Now and Democratic super PAC Patriot Majority New Mexico, with both groups targeting key legislative races. Advance still had $284,000 in cash left as of Dec. 3, money that could have been spent in its efforts to help Republicans retain control of the state House.
Fundraising and spending in the special election for secretary of state topped $1 million. Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, was sworn in Friday to replace interim Secretary of State Brad Winter. She defeated Republican Rep. Nora Espinoza, of Roswell, with 56 percent of the vote in the November election. Toulouse Oliver outraised Espinoza $751,027 to $364,440, and outspent the Republican $740,052 to $353,924. The Democrat received 6,413 individual donations averaging $117 each to Espinoza’s 975 donations averaging $374 each.
Legislative candidates raised $12 million and spent more than $10.3 million during the 2016 election cycle. Republicans lost their state House majority despite outraising and outspending Democrats overall. Democratic Senate candidates outspent their GOP opponents while increasing their majority. even though Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez lost his seat after an onslaught of negative advertising funded by a super PAC. Candidates filed their final reports Thursday.
Democrats took back the House and increased their hold over the state Senate last week. That’s despite the loss of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez to Republican Greg Baca, which GOP Gov. Susana Martinez declared a major victory. Come January, the House majority will switch from 37-33 in favor of Republicans to at least 37-33 in the Democrats’ favor. That margin could increase to as high as 39-31, depending on the outcome of two recounts in the Albuquerque area. Here’s a look at the seats that switched or might switch:
House District 36: Las Cruces Democrat Nate Small defeated incumbent Rep. Andy Nunez with 56.5 percent of the vote to 43.5 percent of the vote.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won New Mexico’s five electoral votes a week ago, but her popularity varied among counties. And both Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump received fewer total votes than the two candidates in the special New Mexico Secretary of State contest. Part of that is attributable to the presence of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson as the Libertarian presidential candidate. He won 10 percent or more of the vote in 10 counties, including nearly 14 percent in Los Alamos County. Clinton won 15 of the state’s 33 counties, 10 of them with more than half the vote.
Gov. Susana Martinez took out her major target in Tuesday’s election, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But that single victory came at a cost. Republicans lost the state House after two years in control, while Democrats strengthened their margin in the state Senate. The Democrats will control the House by at least a 37-33 margin, with an outside shot at a 39-31 split. Two races are going to recounts.
It’s election day. Here are a few of the questions being decided that we find particularly interesting. Will Republicans be able to keep their historic wins in 2014 that gave them a State House majority and the Secretary of State’s office? While the 2016 presidential race is getting all the attention, whether or not Republicans hang on to their first majority in the New Mexico House of Representatives in 60 years tops our to-watch list. Back in 2014, a non-presidential election year, the Republicans picked up enough seats to wrangle a 37-33 majority, booting Democrats out after six decades of control.