December 3, 2015

House District 21 appointee already has competition

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An Albuquerque teacher officially announced she will run for a House seat she lost out on earlier this year.

After applying to fill the District 21 spot last month, Democrat Debbie Sariñana announced on Thursday that she would run for the spot that has seen two vacancies in the past year.

Roundhouse Rotunda

Sariñana told NM Political Report she chose to announce her candidacy now because primary elections are next June and candidates cannot raise money during the legislative session that starts next month.

Sariñana said she grew up in the district and moved back after finishing her college degree. She said working as a teacher in the area has shown her how many people are struggling with things like jobs and healthcare.

“When I talk to parents, a lot of them don’t know what’s available,” Sariñana said of people in her district looking for health care options.

House District 21 was recently filled by Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena, D-Albuquerque, when the Bernalillo County Commission appointed her. Lechuga-Tena filled the vacancy left by Stephanie Maez after Maez resigned following her son’s arrest and charge for killing another teenager.

Lechuga-Tena was recently criticized for voting in two elections before she was a U.S. citizen. Some have also questioned whether Lechuga-Tena actually resides in the district.

The district is considered a safe Democratic district.

Lechuga-Tena previously told NM Political Report that she knew she was ready to face criticism going into the 2016 elections. While she has not explicitly announced her candidacy, in a statement to NM Political Report she implied that she plans to run next year.

“We are fortunate to live in a democratic state and I welcome any qualified candidate who would like to pursue public service. I am grateful that the Bernalillo County Commission has entrusted me with this appointment and I look forward to serving the people in my district for years to come,” Lechuga-Tena said.

Sariñana applied to be appointed as a replacement for Maez, but only Commissioners Maggie Hart Stebbins and Debbie O’Malley voted in her favor. Democratic Commissioner Art De La Cruz, Republicans Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert voted against Sariñana.

Sariñana said she was disappointed by the Commission’s decision but ultimately wants to move forward

“It’s in the past,” Sariñana said of the panel’s decision. “I’m looking towards the future.”

According to an email announcing her candidacy, Sariñana has worked as a teacher for 15 years and has the endorsements of both Hart Stebbins and O’Malley as well as newly elected Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis*.

*Pat Davis is the executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico. ProgressNow NM helps find funding for NM Political Report but has no editorial control over this or any other story.