You know a race is tight when candidates for office raise millions, exchange negative ads, different polls show a different leader and the candidates get highly personal in debates. Such is the status of the race for attorney general between Democrats State Auditor Brian Colón and Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez. The primary election is on June 7, 2022 and early voting has already begun.
FLIP FLOPPING POLLS
On March 5, nearly 1,000 Democrats attended the Democratic Pre-Primary Convention and cast their voted for the office of Attorney General of New Mexico and the vote was as follows:
Brian Colón – 61.46%
Raúl Torrez – 38.54%
After the March 5 Democratic convention, Colón was considered to be the clear front runner in the race for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General. The race for Attorney General was considered Colón’s race to lose. That is no longer the case and the race now appears to be a tossup with two polls showing different results and reflecting a 10 point spread. .
KOB CHANNEL 4 POLL
On May 12, KOB Channel 4 released a poll it commissioned with Survey USA in the Democratic primary race for Attorney General. SurveyUSA conducts market research for corporations and interest groups, but is best known for conducting opinion polls for various political offices and questions for television stations.
The SurveyUSA poll was conducted from April 29 to May The state wide survey was conducted of 583 likely registered Democratic voters and has a plus or minus margin of error of 5.7%. The results of the poll did not come as a surprise to many political observers given the negative advertising by Raúl Torrez.
The SurveyUSA poll results were as follows:
Raúl Torrez: 34%
Brian Colón: 28%
The link to the quoted KOB news story is here:
The link to the Survey USA poll is here:
LAKE RESEARCH POLL
On May 25, it was revealed that the Brian Colón campaign had commissioned a poll by Lake Research Partners. Lake Research Partners is a national public opinion and political strategy research firm founded in 1995. The polling firm is considered “progressive” and consistently accurate. It prides itself in being a woman-owned small business with a commitment to diversity working only for pro-choice candidates. For three consecutive cycles, fivethirtyeight.com rated Lake Research at the top of all Democratic polling firms in terms of accuracy. In New Mexico, Lake Research Partners is very well known and has been heavily relied upon in election cycles because of its accuracy.
The Lake Research poll was taken May 12 to 15 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%. The poll used in-person phone calls to 500 likely voters. The Lake Research poll finds Colón is leading in all geographic areas including Bernalillo County, where both Colón and Torrez call home.
The Lake Research Poll results are as follows:
Brian Colón: 35%
Raúl Torrez: 31%
NEGATIVE TV ADS BY BOTH CANIDATES
With less than 2 weeks before the June 7 primary, both Raúl Torrez and Brian Colón have commenced negative campaign ads against each other.
In early April, and before Brian Colón began his TV Ads, Raúl Torrez began a relentless and aggressive TV media campaign that repeatedly hammered and faulted Colón as a “career politician” who lacks “experience in public safety.” Torrez was able to secure the endorsement of Democrat Senator Martin Heinrich who went so far as to do a TV commercial for Torrez saying we need an experienced prosecutor and that Torrez had his vote. Torrez has run a slick advertising campaign running at least 4 sperate commercials featuring him alone and negative ads against Colón. The TV stations first ran Torrez campaign ads then ran unrelated commercials followed with commercials featuring Senator Martin Heinrich endorsing Torres.
THE HEINRICH FACTOR
Historically, United Senators stay out of party contested races, but not Martin Heinrich who has now made it a habit of endorsing as many Democrats in contested races as he can. It is well known that Heinrich is said to be planning on running for Governor in 4 years. Heinrich has in fact moved his family back to New Mexico enrolling his two sons in the Albuquerque Public Schools and his wife securing a job working in Santa Fe for Meow Wolf. Heinrich likely views Colón as running for Governor in 4 years after serving as Attorney General and he likely feels that it is better to defeat Colón’ now to end Colón’s political career than to deal with him in 4 years. One thing is for certain, Martin Heinrich has done himself no favors getting involved with so many contested Democratic races to the point there is now talk that he may find himself on the receiving end of a Democrat opposing him in the 2024 election cycle.
Both Torrez and Heinrich are being disingenuous when they say being a criminal prosecutor is a qualification to be Attorney General. Ostensibly they are ignorant to the fact that former Democrat New Mexico Attorney Generals Tony Anaya, Jeff Bingaman, Paul Bardacke, Gary King and Republican Hal Stratton were never criminal prosecutors or for that matter elected District Attorneys with all being in the private practice of law as civil trial attorneys before becoming Attorney General. Attorney General Patricia Madrid was in private practice and was a District Judge before being elected Attorney General.
On May 24, Raúl Torrez began to run the most negative campaign ad of the election thus far. The ad is as dramatic as it is very misleading. It is a 30 second commercial and has the mother of UNM baseball player Jackson Weller, who was killed Darian Bashir outside a Nob Hill bar in 2019, appearing on camera telling Brian Colon to stop lying about the record of Raul Torrez and that Torrez convicted Brashir and who was sentenced to life in prison. Two years before the murder of Jackson Weller, Bashir was arrested for killing another man outside a downtown bar. Although Bashir was charged with the first murder, he never went to trial in that case. A District Court Judge found that the office of District Attorney Raúl Torrez failed to comply with court ordered deadlines, did not interview witnesses on time, and did not respond to motions and the case was dismissed and has since been refiled with Brashire awaiting trial on the first case.
Brian Colón thus far has had 5 separate campaign commercials. The first was an emotional one where Colón describes his personal struggles, being raised in poverty and having to hock his dad’s wedding ring. In the second ad, Colón talks about a “shield and sword” approach to prosecutions and protecting the general public. Although well produced, both of Colón’s ads were considered by political observers as weak and ineffective with the “shield and sword” ad bordering on juvenile.
Colón’s 3rd, 4th and 5th ads are far more effective TV ads. Colón goes negative for the first time and goes into great detail about Torrez’s “failed prosecution rates” as Bernalillo County District Attorney. The ads use images of UNM baseball player Jackson Weller and 10 year old Victoria Martins. Statistics prepared by the District Court reveal the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office under Raúl Torrez has a 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate with cases charge by grand juries.
At least 2 political campaign mailers have been produced by a political action committee (PAC) that opposes Raúl Torrez and that takes Torrez to task for his historically low conviction rates and botching criminal violent crimes cases. The flyers use images of 10 year old Victoria Martens. Brian Colón for his part has distanced himself from the PAC and has gone so far as to condemn it.
THINGS TO COME
Confidential sources are saying that the Colón campaign is producing a TV ad challenging the ethics of Raúl Torrez and alleging prosecutorial misconduct when he was an Assistant United States Attorney for New Mexico. In 2012, United States Federal Judge Cristina Armijo accused then Assistant United States Attorney Raúl Torrez prosecuting a drug case and trying to “unfairly alter” a transcript of a recorded encounter between drug agents and an Amtrak train passenger suspected of carrying a large quantity of crack cocaine.
At the center of the controversy was Raúl Torrez asking 2 Federal law enforcement agents to review a transcript of a recording that was found “inaudible”. Instead of calling them as witnesses to testify under oath, Torrez asked the federal agents to make changes to the transcript based on their recollection of what was said and what occurred. Torrez then had a new transcript prepared that combined their changes and informed the judge during the hearing that he wasn’t offering it as evidence but an “aid” for listening to the recording. Defense counsel objected, telling the judge “They’re trying to make an illegal search legal by making changes in the transcript.” The court agreed with the defense and entered an order.
Judge Armijo wrote in her original order:
“Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the Government attempted to unfairly alter the content of the official transcript and thus the substance of what is purported to be represented on the audio recording in the case. Specifically, the Court finds that the Government attempted to take advantage of the obviously poor quality of the audio recording and the chaotic environment in the train car by having its witnesses … make substantive changes to the official transcription of the recording in a manner that favored the government’s case.”
After entry of the order, the United State Attorney filed a motion asking Judge Armijo to withdraw her findings about Torrez and requested that the original order and the language be deleted. Armijo honored the request and also deleted other language that faulted the testimony of the 2 drug agents during the suppression hearing as being “colored or influenced by the government’s efforts.” The day after Judge Armijo filed her amended ruling, the United States Attorney office dismissed the felony drug possession case against the Defendant.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Raúl Torrez and Brian Colón have raised more than $2.5 million combined in there race to become Attorney General. The race is now clearly one of the most expensive races for Attorney General in the state’s history.
According to campaign finance reports filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, both Raúl Torrez and Brian Colón have been given big contributions from attorneys and law firms throughout the State and country. Colón has reported contributions of over $1.5 million, while Torrez has raised over $1.07 million.
Both have each contributed more than $300,000 left over from campaign committees associated with their current elected positions. Torrez contributed $323,238 from his DA’s political committee to his AG race. Colón transferred $379,938 from his auditor’s race funds to his current campaign.
The links to quoted source material are here:
COLÓN CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS
According to the latest campaign finance reports, Colón has collected more than $1 million in campaign funds between April and October of last year. Colón has been given sizeable financial support from out-of-state law firms and attorneys in national firms. The political campaign committee of current Attorney General Hector Balderas, who is term limited, contributed a total of $10,000 to Colón.
Colón’s top contributors include national firms that have represented or are currently representing the Attorney General’s Office in complex civil litigation. The Colón’ campaign reported receiving a total of $23,333 from five attorneys with the national firm of DiCello Levitt Gutzler, which is representing New Mexico in a state district court case against pharmaceutical company AbbVie Inc. and its affiliates, which are accused of deceptive marketing of a testosterone replacement drug.
Other out-of-state contributors to Colón include the Delaware-headquartered law firm of Grant & Eisenhofer, which contributed $5,000, with three of its attorneys contributing $20,000. The national firm, Robins Cloud, contributed $10,400, with partner Bill Robins of Houston adding $10,400.
Energy company Chevron contributed $10,400 to Brian Colón’s campaign and Santa Fe attorney Dan Perry contributed $10,000. Colorado attorneys Franklin and Margeaux Azar contributed a total of $20,000.
Colón had $911,546 cash on hand at the end of the May 9 reporting period. As of May 9, Colón reported spending $589,242. Most of the spending has gone to political consultants and to make media buys.
The link to the most recent Campaign Finance Reports for Brian Colón is here:
TORREZ CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS
Torrez has attracted significant contributions from in-state lawyers. Torrez reported contributions of $636,772 between April and October of last year.
Torrez’s top contributors includ the following:
Sector Solutions LLC, of Santa Fe, $10,400; Marrs Griebel Law and attorney Patrick Griebel, for a total of $10,400; James and Emily Pluhar, $10,000; and Bob Pitre, $5,200. SSIG LLC, an investment company in Washington state, contributed $10,400, according to finance reports. Torrez has received campaign donations from criminal defense attorneys who have pending cases with Torrez’s office.
As of May 9, Torrez’s expenditures totaled $694,511. Most of the spending was to pay political consultants and make media buys. As of May 9, the Torrez’s campaign reported having $382,305.
The link to the most recent Campaign Finance Reports for Raúl Torrez is here:
KRQE-TV 13 HEATED DEBATE
On May 9, a one-hour debate occurred on KRQE-TV. The debate was spirited. Both candidates engaged in highly personal attacks.
Torrez faulted Colón as a “career politician” who lacks “experience in public safety.” Torrez said of Colon:
“One of the things that defines this race is whether you want a career prosecutor or a career politician. … He has not prosecuted a single case, not even a parking ticket. … You know I saw Mr. Colon at the round house taking selfies with his friends, taking selfies with the Speaker [of the House]. I never heard him speak up, I never heard him step out and support publicly our fight and the governor’s fight for “rebuttable presumption”. That’s the difference between a career prosecutor and somebody who lives and dies with politics.”
The “Reputable presumption” legislation was where a defendant who is charged with a violent crime is presumed to be a threat to the public and should be jailed until pending trial without bond or any conditions of release.
Brian Colón for his part call out Torrez for his “failed prosecution rates” and said this about Torrez:
“What my opponent has is a failed track record of prosecution. A lifelong career as a prosecutor, yet at the end of the day, the numbers are abysmal. Our community is less safe than it has ever been before. … The best way to get Torrez to the office is to have a T.V. camera present. … At some point you gotta quite pointing fingers, ya gotta take responsibility. … I’ve got a failed prosecutor standing beside me. … At the end of the day, we’re not safe.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2017, District Attorney Raul Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller wrote a joint letter to the New Mexico Supreme Court requesting it to intervene and stop the plans of 2nd Judicial District Court to shift away from the use of grand jury system to a preliminary hearing system. Torrez accused the District Court of being the cause of the city’s high crime rates by dismissing cases. The District Court responded by providing an extensive amount of statistics, bar graphs and pie charts to the New Mexico Supreme Court. The statistics prepared by the District Court revealed the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office under Raul Torrez has a 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate with cases charge by grand juries.
A link to a related blog article on the KRQE debate is here:
NOT SO HEATED KOAT TV-7 DEBATE
On Wednesday, May 25 KOAT TV, Channel 7 sponsored a 30 minute live debate debate between Brian Colón And Raúl Torrez. The debate was a low key affair with neither candidate making any major mistakes.
No at all surprising, the mass shooting of the 19 children and two teachers that occurred at the Texas elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24 and gun control was the first topic of discussion. Both candidates said New Mexico needs new gun control legislation, more enforcement resources for gun safety, or both. Brian Colón said he supports legislation to ensure safe gun storage proposed by legislators including state Rep. Pamelya Herndon of Albuquerque. Raúl Torrez said law enforcement agencies need greater funding and training to harness New Mexico’s 2020 “red flag” law that allows police or sheriff’s deputies to ask a court to temporarily take away guns from people who might hurt themselves or others.
Raúl Torrez continued his assault on Colón as having never prosecuted a criminal cases with at least one cheap shot referencing Colón saying he prosecuted a case in the law school clinical program. Colón brushed the criticism aside saying his experience as a civil attorney with 21 years experience is the type of diversified expierence the office demands and needs something Torrez lacks. Both candidates went into the weeds when the need for out of state contracts for specialized attorneys was discussed. Torrez called it “pay to play” and said the work should be done “in-house” while Colón pointing out it’s a practice embraced by prior Attorney Generals. The only saving grace of the debate was that it lasted for only 30 minutes and not the customary hour for such debates. The link to watch the full debate is here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The Office of New Mexico Attorney General historically is considered by many as the “people’s attorney.” Elected Attorney Generals have gone onto higher office including Toney Anaya who was later elected Governor, Jeff Bingaman who was later elected United States Senator and Tom Udall who was also later elected United States Senator.
Brian Colón has more at stake given that his term is ending as State Auditor while Raúl Torrez will have two years left of his term as District Attorney should he lose the Attorney General’s race. Elected Attorney Generals have gone onto higher office including Toney Anaya who was later elected Governor, Jeff Bingaman who was later elected United States Senator and Tom Udall who was later elected United States Senator.
The race between both Colón and Torrez was bound to be hard fought in that both have expressed they are interested in eventually becoming Governor or going on to serve in congress. Both State Auditor Brian Colón and District Attorney Raúl Torrez are well-funded and their personal attacks on each other will likely continue until election day.
Given the back-and-forth poll numbers, the margin of error of both polls, the high number of “undecideds”, the amount of money being raised and spent, the race for Attorney General is considered by political observers as a “toss up”. Anything can happen that could change the dynamics of the race and have a major impact on the number of undecides. The May 25 debate could easily change the dynamics of the race.
Only 4 Republicans have been elected Attorney General in New Mexico’s 110-year history. In the 2022 election, Republican Jeremy Gay, a Gallup Attorney has no primary opposition.
It is likely whoever wins the Democratic Primary on June 7, 2022 will likely become the next Attorney General.