All 112 of New Mexico’s legislative seats are on the ballot this year. The current breakdown in the New Mexico House of Representatives is 46 Democrats and 24 Republicans. The current breakdown in the New Mexico Senate is 26 Democrats and 16 Republicans.
A total of 11 of those seats will have new legislators because the incumbents have decided to retire, are running for another office or failed to make the ballot. Many incumbent legislators who in the past have run without opposition have opponents this election year.
NM STATE SENATE RACES
Powerful Senate Democrats facing opposition in their primary include Democrat Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith of Deming, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee Chairman Clemente Sanchez of Grants and Senate Finance Committee Vice Chairman George Muñoz of Gallup. These Senate Democrats are conservative leaning and side often with Republicans in a coalition to defeat progressive legislation and allocations.
Two Democratic senators appointed to fill a vacancy by county commissions will face primary challenges as they seek election to hold on to their seats. Senator Shannon Pinto of Tohatchi, Senate District 3, who succeeded her grandfather, John Pinto, after he past away last year, faces challenges from Democrats Dineh Benally of Shiprock and Shawn Nelson of Gamerco.
In Senate District 28, Senator Gabriel Ramos of Silver City will face Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill, also of Silver City.
Republican Senator Fulfer is among the incumbents facing a challenge from within his own party. He was appointed by then Republican Governor “She Who Must Not Be Named” to the Senate in late 2018.
NM STATE HOUSE RACES
In House District 50, Representative Matthew McQueen of Galisteo is opposing Democrat Rebecca King Spindle, a rancher from Stanley and granddaughter of former Governor Bruce King.
In House District 65, Representative Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo is opposed by former State Representative James Roger Madalena of Jemez Pueblo in the Democratic primary.
Madalena is one of several ex-lawmakers seeking to return to the Legislature. The others include Republican Ricky Little of Chaparral and Democrats Shannon Robinson of Albuquerque and Ben Rodefer of Corrales.
In District 56, Representative Zack Cook has a democratic opponent after 10 years of no opposition. Cook is opposed Laura Childress who is Hispanic and has a background in education.
TWO INCUMBENT STATE REPRESENTATIVE FAIL TO MAKE THE BALLOT
Every candidate for the New Mexico legislature is required to collect a specific number of qualifying signatures from registered voters in their districts to be placed on the ballot. The common practice for candidates is usually to secure upwards of double the number of qualifying signatures required in order to have a “cushion” to deal with signatures or petitions deemed invalid if there is a court challenge to their candidacies.
In the 2017 legislative session, the process for gathering petition signatures was changed by the New Mexico legislature. The enacted law created what is referred to as a “strict liability” standard relating to the circulated nominating petitions. One major requirement is that each petition with signatures submitted for verification to the Secretary of State must list the legislative district number on the petition forms otherwise the entire petition and all the signatures on the petitions are deemed invalid.
Two incumbent House Representatives, one Republican and one Democrat, failed to make the ballot as a result of court challenges to their nominating petitions. Republican State Representative Jane Powdrell-Culbert, who has represented the Sandoval County district since 2003, and Democratic Representative Patricio Ruiloba of ABQ’s South Valley District 12 failed to state their House District numbers on their petition forms. Both representatives wound up in State District Court and the District Court ruled they had failed to qualify for the ballot and fell short in the number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the June 2 primary ballot.
NEWS UPDATE: On April 3, it was reported that State Representative Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, withstood a legal challenge to her petition signatures and she will remain on the ballot. Santa Fe State District Judge Cindy Mercer invalidated many of the signatures Powdrell-Culbert turned in to secure a spot on the June 2 ballot because the petitions of qualifying signatures submitted were missing her legislative district number. Notwithstanding, Judge Mercer ruled that Representative Powdrell-Culbert still had enough valid signatures, 51, to clear the threshold required for the ballot.
THE FIVE DEMOCRATIC STATE SENATORS TARGETED
It’s official. On March 30, the five powerful and conservative leaning New Mexico State Senators have now been targeted for removal and face opposition from a coalition formed by 4 progressive organizations calling themselves “No Corporate Democrats Community Organization”. The coalition includes OLÉ, New Mexico Working Families Party, the Center for Civic Action and Progress Now New Mexico. All 4 are well known progressive organizations that get involved and raise money for city, county and state races and donate money to progressive candidates and causes they deem progressive enough to fit their needs.
COALITION MEMBERS, CANDIDATES AND CAUSES
The makeup of the coalition of “No Corporate Democrats Community Organization” consist 4 organizations that are all Albuquerque based. All four-coalition organization have no formal affiliation in any manner with the New Mexico Democratic Party yet they seek to influence the election to remove 5 long time serving Democrat State Senators. Relevant information on the 4 progressive organizations calling themselves “No Corporate Democrats Community Organization”, the candidates and causes they have supported, and donations made merits discussion.
OLE (NEW MEXICO)
OLÉ is a non-profit that uses grassroots organizing within the local community of working families in New Mexico that is Albuquerque based. Its members and staff “work together to strengthen communities through social advocacy and economic reform, using issue-based campaigns and electoral engagement to ensure that working families are playing a critical role in shaping New Mexico’s future with a united voice.” Ole gathered signatures to put “Dollars for Democracy” on the ballot and contributed cash for passage of the initiative. “Democracy Dollars” would have implemented a $25 dollar city voucher program to all residents of the city to donate to municipal candidates of their choosing. Ole also endorsed and made cash donations to Tim Keller’s measured finance committee for Mayor.
NEW MEXICO WORKING FAMILIES PARTY
The New Mexico Working Families Party is not an official political party in New Mexico, as it is in other states. Instead, the organization advocates for candidates and issues. In 2018, the Working Families endorsed and financially helped candidates running for federal, state and legislative races in New Mexico. All of those candidates were Democrats. According to the New Mexico Political Reports, the group is interested in defeating Democrats who are more concerned with their party as an institution and “not as a vehicle for change.”
Working Families endorsed candidates include Democrats 1st Congressional District candidate Deb Haaland, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico State Land Office commissioner candidate Stephanie Garcia Richard and Tim Keller for Mayor. The Working Families also advocated for passage of the failed ballot initiative known as “Democracy Dollars” that would have implemented a city voucher program to give all residents $25 dollar vouchers to donate to municipal candidates of their choosing. Former Albuquerque City Councilor and Former New Mexico State Senator Eric Griego is the Executive Director of New Mexico Working Families.
According to finance reports filed with the Albuquerque City Clerk’s office in 2019, the Working Families Party donated $80,000 to the failed “Democracy Dollars” ballot initiative. In the 2017, the Working Families Party raised and spent thousands on Mayor Tim Keller’s behalf to get him elected Mayor. Before the runoff for Mayor between Democrat Tim Keller and Republcan Dan Lewis, there were 8 candidates running for Mayor including progressive Democrats Brian Colon and Gus Pedrotty, yet the Working Families ostensibly did not feel they were “progressive” enough.
CENTER FOR CIVIC ACTION
The Center for Civic Action (CCA) is based in Albuquerque and is a nonpartisan tax-exempt 501c 3 organization. Its mission is “to advocate for policies that impact the common good and welfare of New Mexicans, such as health care, energy, natural resources, the economy and jobs, and voting rights issues. .. [and] to educate the public about social welfare issues that impact the common good and welfare of New Mexico”.
The activities of CCA include lobbying, researching and advocating for policies related to health care, ethics and the state budget. The CCA educates the public about issues through the placement of opinion pieces and letters to New Mexico Newspapers, blogging, and phone calls to New Mexico residents. The CCA also provides training and leadership skills to New Mexico progressive leaders who may one day run for elected or appointed office.
PROGRESS NOW NEW NEXICO
According to its web page, “ProgressNow New Mexico is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots communications and advocacy organization working to unite, empower, and enhance the progressive voice in [New Mexico]. … [It] functions as a progressive communications hub and [its] mission centers on the promotion of progressive issues and policies, correcting conservative misinformation, and holding elected officials and corporations accountable. … ProgressNow New Mexico [proclaims] it provides a unified voice for progressive groups on the issues that matter most to New Mexicans .. [and that is] accomplished … by providing issue and opinion research, message development, and one-on-one technical assistance to progressive groups [and candidates]. Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis once served as the full time paid Executive Director of Progress Now New Mexico and stepped down to run for City Council and later run for congress.
2017 MAYORS RACE
In 2017, the 4 organizations or their membership in one form or another became very involved with the Albuquerque Mayor’s race. “ABQ Forward Together” was the progressive measured finance committee that was formed specifically to raise money to promote progressive Tim Keller for Mayor. The measured finance committee chairperson was a former campaign manager of Tim Keller’s when he successfully ran for State Senate. “ABQ Forward Together” raised over $663,000 for Keller’s bid for Mayor. The amount included cash donations or in-kind donations from the Working Families Party, Ole and the Center for Civic Action.
For related articles detailing and identifying contributors and amounts in the 2017 Mayor’s race see the following links:
THE FIVE TARGETED DEMOCRATS
The 5 incumbent Democratic State Senators that have been targeted for removal by the “No Corporate Democrats Community Organization” are as follows:
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, District 38, which covers parts of Las Cruces and southern New Mexico. Papen has two opponents running against her and they are Carrie Hamblen, CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, and Tracy Perry, CEO of Direct Therapy Services, which works with people with developmental disabilities.
Longtime State Senator John Author Smith of Deming, the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, who has worked as a teacher and is a former vice chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party is running against Smith. The District 35 senate seat covers New Mexico’s southwest corner, stretching from the state’s Bootheel region east into Las Cruces.
Senator Clemente Sanchez of Grants, District 30, which covers Grants and parts of Valencia and three other counties. Sanchez is chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee and he is being challenge by retired teacher Pam Cordova.
Senator Gabriel Ramos of Silver City, District 28, stretching from Socorro to Silver City and covering parts of southwestern New Mexico is being challenged by Siah Correa Hemphill, a school psychologist.
Senator George Muñoz of Gallup represents District 4 which covers part of western New Mexico. Munoz is Vice Hhairman of the Senate Finance Committee and is being challenged by Noreen Ann Kelly, a community activist from Church Rock, NM.
All 5 Democrats have been accused by the coalition of not listening to the people who voted them in and listening instead to well-connected corporate interests. All 5 democrats strongly dispute the arguments saying they represent their districts well and understand what their constituent’s want and their demands . The fact they are repeatedly elected supports their position.
SPECIAL SESSION TO BE CALLED FOR BUDGET CRISIS
On February 20 the New Mexico legislature enacted a $7.6 Billion dollar budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year which was signed by the Governor after making $150 million in line item vetoes. The enacted budget raised annual spending by $536 million, or by nearly 8% over last year’s budget. The increase in spending was a result of record-breaking oil production in the Permian Basin with the state originally anticipating at least an $800 million increase in state government income during the coming budget year.
The New Mexico Legislature’s finance analysts had pegged oil prices for the budget year that ends June 30 to average $52 per barrel. The price of oil per barrel has now plummeted to $22 dollars a barrel with no end in sight of how far prices will decline. A $22 a barrel price will result in between $600 and $700 million in direct revenue loss to the state and nearly $1 billion of gross receipts taxes lost to the state. The state is now faced with a very dire financial crisis.
On March 19, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that she will convene a special session to deal with the imploding oil prices that has caused a major budget crisis for the state and the likelhood of another major recession for the State.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It comes as absolutely no surprise to New Mexico political observers that the ultra-progressive organizations OLÉ, New Mexico Working Families Party, the Center for Civic Action and Progress Now New Mexico have formed the “No Corporate Democrats Community Organization” to remove all 5 incumbent Democratic State Senators. You can expect that the coalition will get extensively involved with all 5 Senate races, including providing volunteers, phone banking and donations to defeat the 5 Democrats that they are labeling as Corporate Democrats.
CORPORATE DEMOCRATS CONDEMNED
Being called a “Corporate Democrat” has become the ultimate insult used to disparage and tear down more traditional, moderate or even conservative democrats, even elected officials, considered the New Mexico Democratic establishment. Establishment Democrats such as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan and even Senator Martin Heinrich have all been criticized from time to time by the progressive wing of the Democratic part on their stands on various issues, positions and votes as not being “progressive enough” for the progressive wing of the New Mexico Democratic party.
Much of what is happening with all 5 Senate Democrats has been brought on by their cooperation with the Republican Senate minority to defeat major progressive initiatives in the State Senate. One example is their opposition to allocate more money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund and Severance Tax Permanent Fund to finance early childhood programs. Another example is that all 5 voted against the abortion rights measure in 2019 that would have repealed a 1969 anti-abortion law.
All 5 targeted Democrats are considered “fiscal conservatives” and possess a wealth of institutional knowledge on state budgetary matters. State Senator John Author Smith in particular has a well-deserved reputation for his uncanny ability to deal with New Mexico’s budgetary matters in a reasonable and responsible manner. Senator Smith has been able to guide state finances through some very difficult and trying budget crises. There is no doubt that the institutional knowledge of all 5 incumbent democrats will be needed to forge a new budget for the state during these difficult times.
ULTIMATE GOAL OF PROGRESSIVES IS TO PURGE NEW MEXICO DEMOCRATIC PARTY ESTABLISHMENT
The major problem is all 4 organizations that compose the “No Corporate Democrats Community Organization” coalition is they have no affiliation with the Democratic Party. All 4 are Albuquerque based. The truth is that all 4 organization, although supportive of Democratic candidates, are in fact hostile to the Democratic Party. Democrats in order to secure the support the 4 organizations must past a litmus test of being a progressive enough or “progressive purist” committed to their causes.
The ultimate goal of progressive purist wing of the New Mexico Democratic Party is to force out and purge the Democratic establishment represented by the traditional, moderate to conservative party officials and even remove elected officials such as the 5 Democratic State Senators. The progressive purists are succeeding on many levels given their heavy turnout in elections and the turnover and new people that serve as precinct and ward chairs and party officials within the Democratic Party statewide.
PURGING OF DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS NATIONAL MOVEMENT
This overt attempt to “purge” the Democratic party of moderate to conservative Democrats is also national movement. It has been going on since the 2016 Presidential primary election between progressive Bernie Sanders, the Independent running as a Democrat and Hillary Clinton, the establishment Democrat. The purging is repeating itself in the 2020 Presidential Democratic Party primary with the “new and improved self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders” running against former Vice President Joe Biden the establishment Democrat.
In 2016, after a brutal primary, Sanders refused to drop out all the way to the convention demanding major concessions from the Democratic Party that he has never been a member of until he runs for President. After Clinton secured the nomination, Sanders finally endorsed Clinton and held events for her. But the Clinton campaign felt Sanders showed lukewarm support for her. Sanders was not as helpful as he could have been in getting the message out when and where they needed it to defeat Trump.
Nationwide, one poll found that more than 1 in 10 people who voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary against Hillary Clinton ended up supporting Trump in the general election.
A mid March, 2020 poll in Michigan, one of the 5 battleground states that will decide the election, found just 2 of 5 Sanders backers said they would vote Democratic in November, regardless of who became the nominee. Four in five said they’d be dissatisfied with Biden as the Democratic standard-bearer.
Quoting a recent Washington Post article:
“The problem, according to many Democrats, remains that 15 percent of Sanders supporters say in polling that they would vote for President Trump over Biden. This nugget actually makes the opposite argument: There is nothing that would satisfy some faction of the Sanders coalition that would rather blow up our democracy and reelect Trump. With people so irrational, the best response is to ignore them. They, like the MAGA-hat crowd, are unreachable and cannot be bargained with (e.g., more New Green Deal talk!). So do not try. No more outreach to Sanders, no more promised policy modifications, no more speaking slot at the convention. Enough.”
The reality is that the progressive purist wing of New Mexico Democratic Party are just as extreme in their views and actions as the totally opposite conservatives represented by the “neocon conservatives” of the Republican Party and the hard-core Trump supporters. Anyone and anything being remotely viewed as moderate to conservative is considered unacceptable to them to the point of refusing to vote for, or compromise in any manner, even if it means not voting at all thereby assuring Republican wins.
The problem is the current breakdown in the New Mexico Senate is 26 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Targeting all 5 democrats for removal could mean jeopardizing the Democrat majority in the Senate. Like it or not by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, all 5 Democratic Senators represent more moderate to conservative parts of the state and voters. The coalition in all likely does not understand the issues nor the major concerns of the voters in the 5 Senate Districts they have now targeted.
Philosophical purity of any kind tends to translate into dogma and political disaster in one form or another something the country has now experienced under President Trump over the years he has been in power.
On Friday, April 3, the following editorial appeared in the Albquerque Journal:
Editorial: NM needs its moderate Democrats’ experience, fiscal responsibility
BY ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD
A campaign of left-leaning activists seeking to purge the N.M. Senate of moderate Democrats jeopardizes the last vestiges of bipartisanship in the Roundhouse and couldn’t have come at a worse time as we face an unprecedented fiscal crisis.
A group disingenuously calling itself No Corporate Democrats has launched a campaign to unseat five senators it sees as impediments to progressive legislation. It’s aiming high, trying to unseat the Senate’s most respected voice on budgetary matters, the president pro tem and three other experienced lawmakers – each has made the state they call home a better place.
The group’s most prominent target is fiscal pragmatist Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming. To paraphrase the vintage E.F. Hutton TV commercials, when the Senate Finance chairman talks about the state’s finances and budget, others listen.
In his 31st year in the Senate, Smith was once again a voice of fiscal reason during the 2020 legislative session, cautioning House Democrats against overspending. Ultimately, lawmakers approved a $7.6 billion budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, boosting spending by $536 million in the wake of the current budget, which boosted state spending by $663 million.
As the 2020 session drew to a close, Smith expressed concern about the trajectory – “I don’t think any of us can walk away from here and say the spending was controlled. We’re skating on very thin ice.” Crashing markets and tanking oil prices show he was right.
But to label Smith “Dr. No” as a former governor did is as wrong as it is unfair. Smith’s legislation and his work with colleagues of all political stripes is the reason New Mexico has full-day kindergarten, and on his watch spending on early childhood education has increased hundreds of millions of dollars. He is simply realistic and knows it’s lawmakers’ job to leave New Mexico in a better place – economically as well as socially – than they found it.
No Corporate Democrats is also targeting state Sen. Mary Kay Papen, the Senate’s president pro tempore. Among her many accomplishments over nearly two decades in the Roundhouse is her fruitful work to get families dealing with mental illness an assisted outpatient treatment law that balances civil liberties with safety.
Also on the political hit list are Sens. Clemente Sanchez of Grants, chairman of the Senate’s Corporations and Transportation Committee; George Muñoz of Gallup, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; and Gabriel Ramos of Silver City, chairman of the Senate Indian & Cultural Affairs Committee. Sanchez has a proven record of working with people on all sides to get things done, including last year’s minimum wage reform that phases in a $12 hourly minimum by 2023. Muñoz joined a Republican colleague to sponsor sweeping changes to N.M.’s retirement system for public employees in the recent legislative session so their pensions are a promise kept. And Ramos, who was just appointed to the Senate last year, co-sponsored important bipartisan public safety legislation this session that licenses tobacco retailers and raises the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
Krystal Curley, a Gallup resident and member of the No Corporate Democrats coalition, claims some state senators aren’t listening to the people who elected them and are instead listening to “well-connected corporate interests.”
Really? Full-day kindergarten and early childhood programs, emergency mental health help, a higher minimum wage, solvent pensions and curtailing teen tobacco use are “well-connected corporate interests?” If so, bring ’em on.
No Corporate Democrats would wipe out decades of legislative experience and the lawmakers who best exemplify fiscal responsibility tempered with humanitarian concern. These senators have advocated for working New Mexicans while at the same time serving as a tripwire to runaway spending so our children, and our children’s children, have more than a pile of state government IOUs.
As oil prices plummet, coronavirus shutters the economy and a special session appears inevitable, it is essential taxpayers have these lawmakers’ experience and pragmatism to dig out from the estimated $1 billion in red ink with as little pain as possible. Their wealth of legislative experience will be essential as tough choices have to be made. If ever there were a time for statesmen like these five N.M. senators, it’s now.”