Haaland Makes History With Appointment As Secretary Of Interior; The Race To Replace; Xochitl Torrez Small Could Run Here

After over 6 weeks of speculation that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, United States Senators Tom Udall and Martine Heinrich were seeking or in line to be appointed to President-Elect Joe Bidens’ Cabinet, especially as Secretary of the Interior, all 3 are remaining in New Mexico. Only one person is leaving to join the Biden cabinet and to play in the big league and that is First Congressional District Congresswoman Debra Haaland. On December 17, the news of her appointment spread like wildfire, not only in New Mexico but throughout the country as national news agencies reported that a number of sources had confirmed that Congresswoman Debra Haaland had indeed been appointed Secretary of Interior.


Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Haaland will become the first Native American woman to be part of any presidential cabinet. When she was elected for the first time to congress in 2018, Haaland was one of the first Native American women to serve in the United Sates Congress.

Congresswoman Debra Haaland, age 60, is a Laguna Pueblo member and former San Felipe Pueblo tribal administrator. Before being elected to the 1st Congressional District in 2018, she served as the chairwoman of New Mexico’s Democratic Party. There was a strong lobbying effort made on her behalf by House members, Native American groups and tribes.

Haaland was born in Arizona, but her family moved repeatedly because of her father’s military career. Ultimately, she settled in Albuquerque in order to be closer to family who also belong to Laguna Pueblo. She is a graduate of Highland High School, and enrolled at the University of New Mexico at 28 years old and later earned a law degree from UNM Law School.

The Congresswoman has had personal and financial struggles that she has overcome during he lifetime, including struggles with homelessness and alcoholism and she was a single mom while she attended school.

Congresswoman Haaland in accepting the appointment had this to say:

“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior. I’m incredibly honored to accept President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination for Secretary of the Interior. As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior has a role and I will be a partner in addressing these challenges by protecting our public lands and moving our country towards a clean energy future.”

“It’s profound to think about the history of this country’s policies to exterminate Native Americans and the resilience of our ancestors that gave me a place here today. This historic moment will not go by without the acknowledgment of the many people who have believed in me over the years and have had the confidence in me for this position. I’m forever grateful and will do everything I can to be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve. ”



The Department of Interior is a massive department that oversees America’s land and “conserves and manages the Nation’s natural resources of water, wildlife, energy resources and cultural heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people. It provides scientific and other information about natural resources and natural hazards to address societal challenges and create opportunities for the American people, and honors the Nation’s trust responsibilities or special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated island communities to help them prosper.”


The Department of Interior manages upwards of 507 million acres of federal land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States. The Interior Department manages 476 dams and 348 reservoirs through the Bureau of Reclamation, 410 national parks, monuments, seashore sites, etc. through the National Park Service, and 544 national wildlife refuges through the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs is part of the Interior Department and the bureau handles federal relations with Native Americans. The Interior Department handles and oversee Native American Trusts set up to track the income and distribution of monies that are generated by the trust and specific Native American lands, which the government leases for fees to companies that extract oil, timber, minerals, and other resources.


The timing of Haaland’s resignation from congress will have a major impact on when a special election is held to replace her. Haaland could remain in her U.S. House seat through the Senate confirmation process, and if she is not confirmed, she would remain in congress. If and when of Haaland’s resignation from congress will determine when the New Mexico Secretary of State must call for a special election. The word “if” is used because Haaland still must be confirmed by the Senate and over the years more than one cabinet nominee has had to withdraw after US Senate hearings and vetting.

Under New Mexico law, a special election must be held between 77 to 91 days after the seat is vacated. In 2019, the New Mexico legislature changed its law on the process used to fill vacancies in the United States House and Senate. Under the new law, there are no primary elections. Instead, New Mexico’s 3 recognized political partties central committees (Democrat, Republican and Libertarian Party) will meet and nominate their own candidates at least 56 days before the special election. In the Democratic Party, only members of the Bernalillo County delegation of the State Central Committee will vote to fill the vacancy. There are about 170 members from the Albuquerque district on the Central Committee and sources have confirmed more than on candidate has already begun calling State Central Committee member in the Demorate and Republican parties.

A very interesting fact is that under the United States Constitution, to run for the United States House of Representatives, you have to be at least 25 years old and have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and that’s it. There is no residency requirement that you must live in the congressional district you are vying to represent.


And now the scramble begins. Within hours after it was announced that Congresswoman Debra Haaland will be nominated as Secretary of Interior, speculation began to spread as to who may run to replace her in congress.


On the Democrat side, those that are being mentioned include:

Former United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico Damon Martinez, who came in 2nd to Haaland in the 2018 primary.

State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, who ran for the position in 2018 and came in 3rd in the primary.

Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, who also ran for the job in 2018 and dropped out to endorse Haaland after polls showed Davis coming in dead last with very little support and his inability raise money.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who is also eyeing the Mayor’s race. Gonzales would formidable in a short congressional race where only the State Central Committee delegates votes and the more progressive candidates would divide the progressive committee vote.

Westside Albuquerque City Councilor Lan Sena who was appointed to the City Council by Mayor Tim Keller after the death of long time City Councilor Ken Sanchez.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver who ran in 2020 for the US Senate against Senator elect Ben Ray Lujan. Although Toulouse Oliver moved to Santa Fe after serving as Bernalillo County Clerk and being elected Secretary of State, she could still run for congress in that there is no residency requirement.

NM State Rep. Melanie Stansbury. who has been twice elected to the New Mexico House and has served as an environmental adviser in the Obama White House.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has told people in private more than once that he wants to run for higher office and that the DA’s office is a stepping stone for him. A Bernalillo County District Attorney has gone on to become a United States Congressman. After serving two terms as District Attorney, Republican Congressman Steve Schiff was elected 5 times to congress.

Highly respected trial attorney Randi Mc Ginn, a former Assistant Bernalillo County District Attorney and Special Prosecutor of the two police officers charged in the murder of homeless camper James Boyd is said to be interested in running. She is also the widow of the late Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels.

Former Democratic Party Chairman and private attorney Sam Bregman, who is also be said to be interested in being appointed the United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico.

Mayor Tim Keller, who has said he is running for a second term as Mayor in 2021 but may be compelled to run instead for Congress realizing being a congressman is a lot easier than being a mayor faced with serious problems.

New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon is said to be making phone calls to the State Central Committee expressing interest in the congressional. Colon has already made it known he intends to run for Attorney General in 2020, but that will not happen if he is elected to Congress. Colon already has a war chest raised of around $200,000 for his next race whatever that may be.

Attorney Zack Quintero, who ran for Albuquerque City Council in 2019 and he now works for the state in a mediation program.

US Representative Xochitl Torres Small could run for the Albuquerque based congressional district. Although she lost her re election Southern Congressional District to Yvette Harrel in a rematch, there is nothing that would prevent Torres Small from moving to Albuquerque to run for congress here. Frankly, she is a much better fit for Albuquerque than the Southern Congressional District. If Toulouse Oliver can run without living in Albuquerque so can Xochitl Torres Small. With the millions she spent on TV advertising for her re-election bid that flooded the Albuquerque market, you would have thought she was running in Albuquerque and he name identification is extremely high in the district.


On the Republican side, those being mentioned include:

Mark Ronchetti, the 2020 Republican nominee for US Senate and former TV weatherman personality.

Michell Garcia Holmes, 2020 Republican Congressional nominee who ran against Debra Haaland, 2018 Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor and 2017 candidate for Mayor of Albuquerque.

Eddy Aragon, the conservative radio talk show host for “Rock the Talk”.


No names have yet surfaced for the Libertarian party.


Biden’s selection of a Native American to fill the position of Secretary of Interior makes sense on many levels. Biden has said he wants his cabinet to reflect the diversity of the American people and the selection of a Native American Secretary of Interior sends a strong message of inclusions to the hundreds of Native American pueblos and tribes throughout the country. There is no doubt Native Americans were consequential in electing former Vice President Joe Biden President not only in New Mexico but Arizona and Nevada as well with their historic turnout numbers. It was the turnout of Native Americans to vote for Biden over Trump that led to the conclusion there was a need to have somebody at the Cabinet level from the Native American community.

It’s understood that the Department of Interior, along with the Park Services, oversees maintenance of the White House. It would be marvelous that come January 20, 2021 when President Joe Biden is sworn in if he would ask Secretary of Interior Designate Debra Haaland, accompanied by the Secret Service, to go to the White House and if Trump has not vacated it to deliver an eviction notice that Trump leave it immediately and telling him he is no longer President and is trespassing. Perhaps Secretary of Interior Designate Debra Haaland would be willing to ask US Senator Elizabeth Warren, who Trump called Pocahontas,  to accompany her, to deliver the eviction message to Trump and his family.

In the meantime, Albuquerque can now look forward to the negative political ads emerging in 2021 as it has both a special election for congress and election for Mayor. In the time of a pandemic and quarantine, we are definitely a “captured audience” with no choice but to turn off TV or subscribe to cable to avoid the political ads.


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.