Former Bernalillo County Sherriff Manny Gonzales Announces Switch To Republican Party And Running For U.S. Senate Against Democrat Incumbent Martin Heinrich; Grudge Likely Motivating Factor For Gonzales

On January 10, former Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, a longtime Democrat, announced that he is switching to the Republican Party and running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich.  The announcement comes a full 2 years after the former sheriff lost to Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller for Mayor.

In 2021, Gonzales lost in a landslide to Democrat Mayor Tim Keller who won with 56% of the vote with Gonzales securing 26% of the vote and Republican Radio Shock Jock Eddy Aragon securing 18% of the vote. Although the percentage victory was high for Keller, the voter turnout was a low 119,745 votes cast in a city that has 383,000 voters. Gonzales served two 4 year terms as Bernalillo County Sheriff from 2014 to 2022, which is now occupied by Democrat Sheriff John Allen.

In a news release formally announcing his campaign, Gonzales pointed to economic growth, border security, law enforcement support and public safety as priorities.  On his campaign web page,  Gonzales said open borders, high crime and “radical politicians” were ruining the state, and that Senator Martin Heinrich “sits idly by without a shred of respect for our great state to say enough is enough. … If anything, Sen. Heinrich has aided in this lawlessness, and allowed our great state to be riddled with crime and low education outcomes.”

Gonzales vowed to bring New Mexican values to Washington, touting his unwavering commitment to public safety and the betterment of the community. In a press release making the announcement, Gonzales said this:

“I’m honored to embark on this journey to serve New Mexico in a different capacity, one that allows me to continue fighting for the safety and prosperity of our communities. My decision to run for the U.S. Senate under the Republican banner stems from a deep conviction that our state needs practical, common-sense solutions, not partisan rhetoric.”

Gonzales said he was compelled to run by what he called “the failure” of New Mexico’s Democratic leadership by “being silent — having no policies, no active role” in national discussions on things like border safety and high taxes. Gonzales said this in an interview on Fox News:

“I offer that alternative: having solutions and working with both sides of the aisle to get something done.  … Not settling for the same old excuses by career politicians. … [I am] a person of very strong convictions [and] I believe I have the best chance to unseat Heinrich. When people like myself no longer subscribe to these radical policies that are failing us here in New Mexico with families, education, overspending — they are going to understand that they have an opportunity to replace these career politicians that are just looking for their next seat.”


In response to the Gonzales announcement, Heinrich Spokeswoman Caty Payette said the Democrat incumbent senator “is running for re-election to continue delivering real results for New Mexicans. … He remains committed to investing in the brighter future the people of our state deserve. … That stands in direct contrast to Manny Gonzales, who, like his hero and role model Donald Trump, is running for office to avoid his legal troubles. Hopefully, Manny won’t have to fake signatures to get on the ballot this time around.”

During the 2021 Mayor’s race, Gonzales was denied public financing when the city clerk found the Gonzales campaign had fraudulently collected $5 qualifying donations.


The New Mexico Democratic Party was quick to react and to condemn Gonzales’ announcement.  Daniel Garcia, Democratic Party of New Mexico spokesperson, said this in a statement:

“This latest power grab attempt by Manny Gonzales shows that he has no shame — not for his mounting legal troubles nor his previous campaign ethics violations. … “We trust that New Mexican voters will see right through Manny’s media circus announcement, which proves that he’s willing to run for public office regardless of party or values as long as he gets some time in the limelight. … New Mexico Democrats are already campaigning across the state for Senator Martin Heinrich’s reelection with an army of volunteers excited to join us every step of the way.”


Former Sherriff Manny Gonzales made headlines late last year when he and his former undersheriff Rudy Mora were named by federal authorities in an alleged scheme to import machine guns for resale to collectors and gun enthusiasts.  Neither Gonzales nor Mora have been charged in the case.  According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), both men submitted fraudulent requests to import automatic weapons for a demonstration and possible purchase.

The local firearms dealer they gave the letters to, James Christopher Tafoya, faces federal charges in the scheme.  The scheme has led to charges against police chiefs, gun dealers and others across the country.  The ATF has said to news outlets that the Federal investigation is ongoing.

The links news sources are here:


It was on  July 21, 2021  that then President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced during a White House news conference that 35 federal agents were  being sent to Albuquerque as part of the expansion of “Operation Legend” with other cities also being sent in a handful of cities across the United States.  Then Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales and U.S. Attorney John Anderson for the State of New Mexico were present for the announcement, but they did not speak. The week before, Gonzales announced that he had been invited to the White House to met with President Trump declining to report why.

During the press announcement, President Trump said there has been a “shocking explosion” of “heinous crimes” in cities. as a result of efforts to “defund, dismantle, and dissolve” police departments. Trump boldly proclaimed assistance is being sent to cities where their leadership wants to “defund, defame or abolish” police departments. Trump severely criticized city leaders headed by Democrats throughout the country for not doing enough to combat crime and for putting the “interests of criminals” above law-abiding citizens.

In advance of the Trump’s announcement of “Operation Legend” targeting Albuquerque, city and state leaders denounced the plan. Sheriff Manny Gonzales came under severe criticism from city and state elected officials for attending the press conference where he did not say a single word.  Before the Trump press conference, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich called for the resignation of Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales claiming Gonzales was inviting federal law enforcement agents to the city. Heinrich called the law enforcement being sent to Albuquerque the president’s stormtroopers” and he said this:

“I believe that it is time for Sheriff Gonzales to step aside and make room for someone who will make maintaining the peace and promoting the safety and protection of Bernalillo County residents our law enforcement’s top priority. … Instead of collaborating with the Albuquerque Police Department, the Sheriff is inviting the President’s stormtroopers into Albuquerque. … If we can learn anything from Portland [Oregon], it’s that we don’t need this kind of ‘help’ from the White House. The President is currently using federal law enforcement agents like a domestic paramilitary force. That’s precisely how fascism begins and none of us should ever encourage it or accept it.”


During the 2021 Mayor’s race, Gonzales ran on a “law and order” platform proclaiming crime was out of control and crime rates were unacceptable levels and he could fix things. What he ignored was that he had been Bernalillo County Sheriff for two terms and that during his tenure crime was as much out of control in the county as in the city.

As a Democrat, Gonzales always had been moderate to conservative opposed by Progressive Democrats. Some would say he is a MAGA Trump conservative because of his cooperation with the Trump Administration during his tenure as Sherriff.  The Gonzales strategy to become Mayor was to build a coalition of conservative Democrats, Republicans and appeal to conservatives in general especially Trump supporters. Its the same strategy he is using now to run for US Senate.

When Gonzales travelled to the White House for a press conference with Trump who was running for a second term, he was labelled as a “Democrat In Name Only”. Gonzales likely did not expect a Republican would run for Mayor but when Republican radio talk show host Eddy Aragon entered the race at the last minute, it was a major blow to Gonzales creating a viable coalition of conservatives. Aragon was able to collect the required number of qualifying signatures to get on the ballot within 10 days and siphoned off votes from Gonzales.

On September 14, 2021 a District Court Judge upheld the City Clerk’s decision to deny Gonzales $634,000 in public finance for violating campaign finance rules during the qualifying process finding impropriety in the collection of his qualifying $5 donations. Gonzales was forced to become a privately finance candidate. In his first 3 weeks as a privately funded mayoral candidate, Sheriff Manny Gonzales raised over $330,000 which is evidence of strong fund-raising capabilities. The Gonzales campaign reported in its 7th finance report that the Gonzales had more money on hand than incumbent Mayor Tim Keller for the last full month of the campaign.

The initial reaction to Manny Gonzales running for United States Senate as a Republican against Democrat Martin Heinrich will no doubt will be that he does not have much of chance. That would be a mistake. Gonzales has a wealth of name recognition from being a former Bernalillo County Sheriff and he is Hispanic born and raised in New Mexico. National polling has Trump gaining on Biden among Hispanics and young voters. Then there is the matter of Senator Martin Heinrich having a low approval rating under 50% at 45% approval to 36% disapproval rating back in August .

Now that Gonzales is running as a Republican, its likely he will be the only Republican running that  will be able to raise a significant amount of money given conservative  Republican dislike for Heinrich and the fact that Trump is also on the ballot. As a native Hispanic from New Mexico, Gonzales has a better chance of building a coalition of Democratic conservatives and Republicans and Independents statewide than he did in progressive Bernalillo County when he ran against a progressive Democratic Mayor.

The biggest threat that has the potential of totally derailing the Gonzales candidacy for Senate is if anything actually comes of the ATF investigation and if Gonzales is charged. Gonzales has not been indicted of any crimes, but he has been listed in a document that the federal authorities have indicted other people. Its unknown yet if Manny Gonzales will become a witness for the federal government or perhaps is even charged with crimes himself. Then again, being indicted 4 times has not stopped Der Führer Trump from running for President so why should that stop ethically challenged Manny Gonzales.

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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.