Money can’t buy love: Takeaways from the New Mexico primary

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Sylvia Ulloa/New Mexico In Depth

New Mexico In Depth has three immediate takeaways from Tuesday’s primary.

  • Incumbents in the general take note: voters are in the mood for newcomers.

Three Democratic state House incumbents were given the boot last night: Bealquin “Bill” Gomez in southern New Mexico, and two northern New Mexico lawmakers who found themselves in heated races, Debbie Rodella and Carl Trujillo.

Susan Herrera

“Money can’t buy love,” said Susan Herrera in her victory speech about dislodging Rodella, the entrenched northern Democrat and powerful chair of the Business and Industry committee. Rodella more than doubled Herrera in fundraising, with the bulk of her funds coming from special interests and lobbyists. Herrera said her campaign had done everything it was supposed to do, walking every precinct and making 9,000 phone calls.

Other incumbents lost too. Democrats Sandy Jones and Lynda Lovejoy on the Public Regulation Commission lost their seats. The PRC is the body that regulates public utility commissions. Jones raised more money than his opponent, Stephen Fischmann. But Fischmann loaned himself $44,000 on top of his fundraising, allowing him to outspend Jones. It probably also helped that Fischmann has name recognition from his stint as a state senator in the Legislature.

Name recognition can be a powerful factor in elections. Lovejoy’s successful challenger for her PRC seat, Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, raised and spent almost no money compared to Lovejoy or newcomer Janene Yazzie, who outraised both. But Becenti-Aguilar is known to voters, being the commissioner Lovejoy took the seat from in 2014.

All this aside, incumbency is still a powerful position. In the general election, 33 statehouse seats are already determined. That’s because in 29–almost half of the body–no Democratic or Republican challengers stepped up this year, in either the primary or the general. The remaining four seats were decided last night (short of a major upset by an as yet unidentified independent challenger in the fall). An additional incumbent Rep. Bill Rehm, a Republican, handily won his primary election last night, and faces a Libertarian challenger in the fall. It’s hard to imagine that Rehm feels threatened.

  • 2018 is shaping up as a year for women.

Women beat out slates of men in multiple high profile primaries. In the 1st and 2nd Congressional districts, both Democrats and Republicans are putting forward women for the general election. In CD1, Democrat Deb Haaland will go up against Republican Janice Arnold-Jones, who ran unopposed. In CD2, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small will take on Republican Yvette Herrell.

At the state level, Democrats chose current Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham as their gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard for land commissioner.

Then, in Doña Ana County, former deputy Kim Stewart beat four men — including the current sheriff — for the chance to lead the sheriff’s office. She’ll face a previous sheriff in November, so the final outcome is by no means determined.

And #MeToo came to the statehouse and won. At least that’s one interpretation.

Andrea Romero

Rep. Carl Trujillo was given the boot by voters in District 46, even though he demonstrated community support through significant small dollar fundraising. With a little more than a month to go in the primary campaign, Trujillo was accused of sexual harassment by a lobbyist with Animal Protection Voters, Laura Bonar. He saw major endorsements pulled, other state legislators call for his resignation, and Santa Fe’s mayor go on the stump for his opponent, Andrea Romero. While Romero had significant support from tribes and individuals in her district, her campaign pulled in endorsements and renewed energy in the wake of the allegations.

  • Progressives were ascendant last night.

Three incumbents widely viewed as centrist or conservative Democrats were taken out by candidates backed by progressives. Andrea Romero, Susan Herrera, and Stephen Fischmann were endorsed and supported by progressive groups. In one of those cases, the incumbent, Debbie Rodella, has served in the Legislature for decades and had not been challenged for her seat in about a decade. One such group, New Mexico Working Families Parties, lauded the victories and claimed a measure of credit.

“With these victories, we are building on our commitment to create a state legislature and other public bodies that listen to the people of New Mexico, not big corporate interests,” said Eric Griego, state director of New Mexico Working Families Party. “…We’re particularly gratified by Susan Herrera’s win, which upends 25 years of status quo politics in this northern New Mexico House District.”

Then, in the congressional races, progressive women emerged as clear winners. In the south, Xochitl Small was strongly supported by progressives. And in the Albuquerque centered CD1, progressives consolidated behind Deb Haaland after polling by the Albuquerque Journal showed former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez in the lead. Notably, uber-progressive city-councilor and candidate for the seat Pat Davis pulled his candidacy and threw his support behind Haaland in the wake of that poll, pointing progressives in Haaland’s direction.

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