On November 10, former New Mexico United State Attorney Damon Martinez announced that he is running for Bernalillo County District Attorney. Martinez is now one of 2 candidates running against District Attorney Sam Bregman who was appointed on January 3 by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to fill the two year vacancy when former Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez was elected New Mexico Attorney General.
DA Bregman announced in June that he is running to retain the post despite giving assurances to Governor Lujan Grisham he would not and would only serve 2 years. Both Martinez and Bregman were one of 14 attorneys who applied for Bernalillo County District Attorney’s last year after Torrez was elected New Mexico Attorney General. The third candidate running in the Democratic primary is Mathias Swonger who is a public defender and who announced his candidacy on July 12. There a no Republicans being mentioned as running and none are expected to run and if that remains the case, whoever wins then Democratic primary in June will become District Attorney.
In a statement announcing his candidacy, Martinez said this:
“I am entering this race because this office and this moment demand leadership, experience, and integrity. … We are losing children and innocent bystanders to violent crimes and our small businesses are struggling to overcome theft and vandalism. The fentanyl epidemic is out of control and Bernalillo County families are looking for real solutions. … I am answering the call to service because our current District Attorney is not providing the leadership and expertise that we so desperately need. Murders are being plead down and fentanyl dealers are serving one or two days in jail and then being released to continue terrorizing our streets. It has to stop and I have the experience and expertise that this moment demands.”
DA SAM BREGMAN RESPONDS
Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman released the following statement about his two opponents:
I welcome both Matthias Swonger and Damon Martinez to the race for District Attorney. Since being appointed in early January of this year, I am proud of what we have accomplished. We have seen our conviction and pre-trial detention rates increase to levels we haven’t seen in years. We have identified and convicted numerous cold-case sexual assault perpetrators. We have implemented new policies to go after habitual shoplifters. And we have hired 40 new prosecutors which has led to our increased success. Being District Attorney of the largest county in New Mexico is not a job to be taken lightly. I have worked tirelessly over the past 10 months – even spending time in the courtroom myself – to ensure that our office has everything it needs to put violent criminals behind bars and make our community safer. I look forward to discussing the issues in this race with Mr. Swonger and Mr. Martinez.
ABOUT DAMON MARTINEZ
Damon Martinez was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from the University of New Mexico in 1989. In 1992, he earned his Juris Doctor from the University of New Mexico School of Law, followed by a Master of Business Administration from the Anderson School of Management in 1993.
From 1993 to 1996, Martinez worked as Legislative Assistant for Senator Jeff Bingaman. In 1999, he worked as Legislative Director for Senator Tom Udall. Martinez began working for the Las Cruces Branch Office of the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico in 2000. He transferred to the Albuquerque office in 2005, where he worked as First Assistant US Attorney and Supervisor of the Organized Crime and Gangs section. Martinez enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and became a judge advocate. He holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Martinez was appointed United States Attorney by President Barack Obama in 2013 and unanimously confirmed in the United States Senate in 2014. As United States Attorney, Martinez investigated sexual assault reporting at New Mexico universities. After finding inadequate policies and enforcement at the University of New Mexico, the United States Department of Justice reached an agreement to improve sexual assault tracking and increase student trainings on sexual misconduct.
Martinez took part in a $143 million settlement with the Chevron Corporation to clean up the Questa Mine near Taos, New Mexico in 2016. Under the agreement, Chevron Mining Inc. was required to open a wastewater treatment plan and cover more than 245 acres of my tailings.
As United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, Damon Martinez played a critical role in the Court Approved Settlement Agreement (CASA) involving the Albuquerque Police Department after a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation found a “culture of aggression” within APD. The DOJ investigation found that APD had engaged in a pattern of excessive use of force and deadly force, especially when dealing with the mentally ill. The Court Approved Settlement Agreement mandates sweeping police reform measures involving implementation of constitutional policing practices.
On March 11, 2017, Martinez was forced to step down as United State Attorney for the District of New Mexico at the request of the newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Martinez was one of 40 US Attorneys asked to resign amid President Donald Trump’s transition to power.
Martinez ran unsuccessfully in 2018 for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House, District 1. Deb Haaland won the nomination with 41% of the primary vote and ultimately won the post. Martinez came in second with 26%, and former University of New Mexico law professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez came in third with 21%.
After his primary campaign loss, Martinez was appointed by Mayor Tim Keller to the position of Senior Policy Advisor for the Albuquerque Police Department, a post he held until August when he resigned. He was paid $125,000 a year. His job duties included advising APD command staff and writing policy and acting as a lobbyist representing Albuquerque and testifying before the New Mexico legislature on law enforcement legislation.
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COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no getting around it. With all the press DA Sam Bregman has been generating over the past 10 months since he was appointed and since announcing he was running for a full 4 year term as District Attorney, he was no doubt hoping to “clear the field”. He began his campaign with a very slick commercial, followed up with a number of fundraisers and recently with all sorts of endorsements over the last few weeks. Recent Bregman endorsements include Democrat US Rep. Melanie Stansbury, State Senate President Mimi Stewart, House Speaker Javier Martinez and Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino. Endorsements from elected officials and the newspapers make a candidate feel good all over but other than that do not do much good to get a person elected.
Bregman will no doubt be well financed given his own personal wealth. Politcal insiders have said from day one of his appointment that he intended to run for a full term despite his assurances to the Governor that he would only serve the remaining 2 years of Raúl Torrez ‘s DA term. Bregman has said privately to confidential sources his ultimate goal is to get elected in 2024 as District Attorney and then turn around immediately run for Mayor of Albuquerque in 2025 against Mayor Tim Keller seeing Keller as very weak. Bregman ran for Mayor before. Mayor Keller for his part is already making it known he is running for a third term in 2025, despite his extremely low approval ratings. One Albuquerque Journal poll in November of last year had Keller with a 33% approval rating and another private poll just a few months ago had Keller getting 18% and coming in third in a match up with 4 others.
As an Hispanic Democrat with significant name ID and one with the ability to raise a significant amount of money as he did when he ran for Congress, Damon Martinez is clearly an opponent to be contended with. Although Sam Bregman is a respected trial attorney in his own right, it was as a prominent criminal defense attorney. Damon Martinez on the other hand is considered a career prosecutor and his experience in law enforcement, in managing a large law prosecution firm and dealing with the New Mexico legislature far exceeds that of Bregman’s experience.
Then there is the wild card of public defender Mathias Swonger. Mr. Swonger has served as a local public defender, in various capacities, for the past 11 years. He has offered a solid platform that can be reviewed in the below announcement blog article.
Links to 2 related blog articles are here:
DA Sam Bregman Announces Will Run For Full Term; Decision Made In May; Releases 2024 Campaign Commercial; Gov. MLG Gives Bregman “Cold Shoulder” With No Endorsement; A Six Month Office “Update” As Pre Trial Detentions Spike