Progressives send #MeToo message in primary election

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This is New Mexico In Depth’s mid-week newsletter, in which we offer insights and analysis. We think it’s crucial to stay in touch and tell you what’s on our minds every week. Please let us know what’s on your mind as well. Or, got tips? What do we need to know? Contact us: [email protected]

Challenger Heather Berghmans trounced Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto in Tuesday’s District 15 primary. Berghmans won 80% of the vote against a senator who less than two years ago was the chair of the powerful Rules Committee and who had significant backing from fellow progressives in the Senate. 

Ivey-Soto defied the conservative Democrat label, even if there were undercurrents about him occasionally obstructing progressive agendas, so he wasn’t a casualty of the battle between progressives and more conservative lawmakers that has been roiling the Democratic party of New Mexico for several election cycles, in the usual sense. 

Instead, it was a #MeToo campaign — with allegations of sexual harassment and assault lodged against Ivey-Soto a few years ago leading to his downfall Tuesday.

Progressives launched other women to the fore as well. 

In another Albuquerque upset, former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley beat Sen. Bill O’Neill in the District 13 contest. This district was substantially changed during the redistricting process a few years ago, and O’Malley has strong, maybe even greater, name recognition locally than O’Neill. He was gracious in defeat. “She’s very impressive, and our campaigns were positive. I appreciate that,” he told the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Milan Simonich.

Will the Senate become more progressive with O’Neill’s loss? He took issue with his inclusion on a list of preferred candidates published by Jeff Apodaca’s dark money group in its effort to beat back the progressive agenda. While at times highly collegial and sometimes deferential with his Republican colleagues, O’Neill votes could more often than not be counted for progressive bills. 

A better question might be how much Debbie O’Malley will push the Senate to the left. It’s possible Apodaca waded in on this race not because he was sold on O’Neill but rather because O’Malley is a known quantity. “Fierce progressive” could be her middle name. 

And then there’s Senate District 30, which includes five tribes and stretches from Isleta Pueblo in central New Mexico all the way to Zuni Pueblo near the Arizona border. This contest featured a former state senator, Clemente Sanchez, who was one of a group of senators who lost in 2020 in a progressive bid to unseat senators viewed as unfriendly to causes like abortion rights.

Sanchez tried to come back this year, but the newly redrawn district resoundingly voted to send Angel Charley, a member of Laguna Pueblo and the Navajo Nation, to the Senate instead. 

And the progressive wing of the Democratic party won in the House too, continuing its years-long effort to shift the Legislature to the left. 

Four of the 11 Democratic state representatives who voted against the Paid Family and Medical Leave act this year — Anthony Allison, Ambrose Castellano, Harry Garcia, Willie Madrid — won’t be returning to the Legislature, with the winners of their seats in the primary election all endorsed by progressive organizations. 

The defeat of that bill by two votes provided a list of lawmakers in the House willing to buck the progressive agenda. 

Allison retired, and Castellano, Garcia and Madrid lost their reelection campaigns Tuesday. One of Tuesday’s winners likely will face a robust challenge from the Republican nominee to win the seat outright in the November election. 

In northern District 70, Anita Gonzales bested Castellano with 55% of the vote. This was the third time Gonzales tried to win the seat. 

And out west in District 69, Pauline Abeyta, a member of the Navajo Nation from Tohajiilee, handily won against Garcia.

In northwest New Mexico’s District 4, Joseph Hernandez, a member of the Navajo Nation and renewable energy advocate from Shiprock, won a three-way race to replace Allison. 

In southern District 53, Dr. Jon Hill, an educator, beat Madrid despite a distinct money disadvantage. 

One race shows why winning requires more than money

Earlier this year, I made a list of primary races I considered “hot” based on two metrics: 1) the primary election would determine the winner of the seat outright, and 2) early indications of how much money candidates had raised. 

I didn’t have District 53 — the Madrid/Hill contest — on my list. Shortly after publishing that analysis, Hill sent me a note: “I see that my race is not among those you consider “hot.” We will see.”

Hill may have missed that I was assessing just the races where there was no general election challenger, or where the party affiliation was so lopsided that the general election would likely be a snoozer. In other words, I was looking just at races where the winner could pretty much start preparing for the next legislative session rather than the next election. 

In District 53, 38% of registered voters are Democrats. Even fewer are Republicans, but I don’t think Hill can take the general election for granted. His race will be on my hot list in the fall. 

Another thing to note about this primary race — Hill had a distinct money disadvantage. Madrid had $120,000 to work with, including $42,000 he had in his campaign account at the beginning of the race. Hill raised almost $33,000, including $15,000 he gave himself. 

But Hill had endorsements from progressive organizations who focus on turning out voters, sometimes by spending money for paid canvassers and advertisements, or by prominently displaying endorsements. 

Madrid had endorsements as well, from heavyweight labor groups who represent teachers and public sector workers. It’s possible that the dueling endorsement lists were enough to spur the 1,085 people who voted in this election to do a little more research on the two candidates. 

At the end of the day, their race is a good example of how the ground game in an election is just as important as the money candidates raise. 

The Senate next year will have some House flavor

On the Republican side, voters booted two incumbents who were appointed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last year. 

In southeastern District 42, Sen. Steve McCutcheon, a political newcomer, lost to former Rep. Larry Scott. When Sen. Gay Kernan retired last year, two of the counties in her district nominated Scott as her replacement. But the third county, Eddy, nominated McCutcheon, who the governor picked. Scott resigned from the House to run for this Senate seat and easily won with 61% of the vote. 

In the Roswell area, the governor appointed former Rep. Greg Nibert, who had served in the House for a decade, to replace longtime Senator Stuart Ingle. He was challenged and beaten by Dan Boone, a rancher from Elida for the District 27 seat. 

It wasn’t just Nibert and Scott trying to jump from the House and the Senate. Rep. Candy Ezzell, who’s served in the House for two decades, ran for and won the Roswell seat of Sen. Cliff Pirtle after he announced he would retire. And former House minority leader Jim Townsend of Artesia ran unopposed in Senate District 34, which Sen. Ron Griggs recently retired from. 

(These election results are unofficial until certified by the New Mexico Secretary of State.) 

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