March 13, 2018

House GOP leader retirement shock on legislative filing day

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The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election.

Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure.

Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office.

Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch. All numbers are those compiled by Daily Kos Elections.

HD 30

The surprising announcement that House Minority Leader Nate Gentry would not run for reelection for a fifth term was surely a boost to Democrats’ hopes for the fall.

In 2016, Democrat Natalie Figueroa faced the legislative leader—at that time the House Majority Leader—in the Albuquerque-area district. Gentry won by over 4 percentage points, 52.19 percent to 47.81 percent.

This time, the Republican candidate is John L. Jones. Jones is married to Janice Arnold-Jones, the lone Republican candidate for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District race.

The district itself leans Democratic, with Clinton beating Trump by more than 10 percent in 2016 after Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 6 percent in 2012.

The seat itself, however, has long been held by Republicans, including before redistricting.

HD 15

Incumbent state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes announced she would not seek the Albuquerque-area seat again, and endorsed Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter to replace her.

Democrat Dayan M. Hochman filed to run for one of the top-tier pickup opportunities for the party.

The legislative district has developed a slight Democratic lean over the last few years. In 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton easily outpaced Republican Donald Trump, nearly matching the totals of both Trump and former Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate.

Some Democrats running for other offices have seen success in the district. Attorney General Hector Balderas nearly mirrored Martinez’s success in the district in 2014 on his way to an easy statewide victory. And even Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver edged Dianna Duran in the district, while Duran narrowly won statewide.

Still, other high profile races have shown Republicans doing well in the district. Republican Heather Wilson received more votes than Democrat Martin Heinrich in the district during the 2012 Senate race (Heinrich won statewide by nearly 6 percentage points) and Gov. Susana Martinez easily carried the district over Democrat Gary King in 2014 by nearly 20 percentage points.

Maestas Barnes won by nearly 6.5 percentage points in 2016 over Democrat Ane Romero and defeated then-incumbent Emily Kane by nearly 4 percentage points in 2014. The district itself includes parts of Albuquerque’s North Valley, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque and some of the near Northeast Heights.

Winter is currently a city councilor but also did double duty as Secretary of State after Duran resigned shortly before she pleaded guilty to multiple crimes, including felonies.

HD 63

If there is one district where Republicans have a shot at bucking what looks like a national trend towards Republicans, it is in the eastern New Mexico district George Dodge, Jr. has held since 2011.

Martin Ruben Zamora of Clovis filed as a Republican to challenge the Democratic incumbent. And the district itself is not generally friendly to Democrats.

Clinton received just 36.7 percent of the vote in the district in 2016 even as she neared 50 percent statewide. It was one of just 15 districts in which Trump received over 50 percent of the vote (51.3 percent). Obama did narrowly beat Romney in the district in 2012.

HD 32

The southern New Mexico HD 32 is similar to HD 63, but not as heavily Republican-leaning. The area, which includes Deming, is represented by Democrat Candie Sweetser. She replaced Dona Irwin, who retired before the 2016 election.

Sweetser defeated Vicki Chavez in a narrow race, winning by just 2.6 percent.

This year, Republican Laura Boyd, a physician, filed to seek election in the seat.

Trump outstripped Clinton in the district 47.3 percent to 43.9 percent. Obama won the district by a similarly narrow margin in 2012.

Overall, Republicans have performed well in statewide races in the district, though both Heinrich and Tom Udall won the most votes in the district when running for U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2016, respectively.

HD 23

Democrat Daymon Ely eked out a victory against Republican Paul Pacheco in 2016, winning by just 102 votes. Pacheco himself narrowly won the seat in 2012—by 122 votes—before easily winning reelection in the 2014 Republican wave.

Now Ely will face Brenda Diane Boatman in the general election, as she looks to retake the seat for Republicans.

The seat has a narrow Democratic lean, but is still one of the main spots for Republicans to pick up a seat.

HD 24

The Albuquerque-area district has flipped back-and-forth from Democratic representative to Republican since redistricting in 2012.

Liz Thomson, the incumbent Democrat, seeks to stop that trend. But she will face a Republican opponent in the general election, either Michael Joseph Meyer or Trey Stephen Morris.

Both Clinton and Obama won the district, and statewide Democrats outperformed Republicans in most cases.

HD 37

Another back-and-forth seat featured three straight races between Terry McMillan, a Republican, and Joanne Ferrary, a Democrat. In 2012, McMillan won the Las Cruces area seat by just eight votes. In 2014, he won by 4.6 percentage points. Then in 2016, Ferrary got over the hump and defeated McMillan by just over 5 percentage points.

This trilogy won’t have a fourth installment (at least not this year). Instead, Ferrary will face Bev Courtney, a gun-rights activist and recent candidate for Las Cruces city councilor who lost in a landslide.

The district itself has leaned narrowly towards Democrats.

HD 43

Another open seat, this time because Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard is instead duking it out in the Democratic primary for Land Commissioner instead of running for reelection.

Garcia Richard held the seat since winning the election in 2012.

But, in a way most state House races won’t be, this could be a race that is dominated by talk of Trump. Los Alamos gets a substantial amount of funding for Los Alamos National Laboratory from the federal government.

And the Republican candidate, Lisa Shin, is a vocal supporter of Trump and spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

Two Democrats filed to run, Peter T Sheehey and Christine Chandler.

Trump, however, did very poorly in the district, getting just 31.9 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 51.63 percent. Obama also cleared 50 percent in the district in 2012.

The reason could be the amount of college-educated voters in the district. The last American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau shows 66 percent of the city of Los Alamos has a bachelor’s degree or better, as does 62 percent of White Rock. Both are fully within the district.

Other districts

Other districts that, depending on the circumstances, could be competitive include House District 7, where incumbent Republican Kelly Fajardo faces Democrat Leroy Baca and House District 4, where incumbent Sharon Clahchischilliage will face Democrat Allison Anthony.

The overall numbers show what should be close races, but Fajardo and Clahchischilliage have consistently run ahead of those district trends in their campaigns.

The primaries

In all, ten incumbent legislators face primary challenges.

In many races the primary will all-but decide the winner of the election. And a few of these primaries will face multiple names, including some incumbents.

One primary to watch is in House District 41. Susan Herrera will face incumbent Debbie Rodella. Rodella has drawn the ire of some Democrats for voting alongside Republicans. The primary is Rodella’s first in more than a decade.

Republican Bill Rehm is in one of the most-Republican districts in the state. So his biggest challenge could be Mark Boslough, a scientist from Sandia Labs, in the primary. The last time Rehm faced a primary challenge was in 2012, when Rehm easily won. The winner of the primary will face a Libertarian opponent, William Arnold Wiley, Jr.

Democrat Doreen Wonda Johnson will also face a primary. She will face Kevin Mitchell in the District 5 Democratic primary for the second-straight election cycle. In 2016, Johnson defeated Mitchell by 3.3 percentage points.

Another Democrat facing challengers in June is Patricia Roybal Caballero in HD13. Roybal Caballero will face Robert Atencio and Damion Cruzz. Cruzz previously filed to run for state House in 2012, but a judge ruled he did not enough valid signatures. Atencio is the director of stadium operations for the Albuquerque Isotopes.