Santa Fe is about to become the most powerful city in the Legislature. Presumptive House Speaker Brian Egolf and new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth both are Santa Fe Democrats, Anglo lawyers from the city’s east side. When Wirth was elected to the Senate in 2008, Egolf was elected to represent Wirth’s old district in the House of Representatives. Both have strong liberal voting records and both have chaired the committees that deal with the environment and energy in their respective chambers. Conservation Voters New Mexico, which for years has maintained scorecards for lawmakers, gives Egolf a 98 percent lifetime rating.
As Democrats around the country were reeling from an unexpected loss in the presidential and many congressional races, New Mexico saw Democrats take back control of the state House of Representatives. Previously: Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6
This came two years after Democrats lost control of the House—where they held a majority for almost half a century. Conservative super PAC Advance Now New Mexico shelled out large amounts of cash towards unseating Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But some critics felt that the PAC didn’t spend enough time focused on on maintaining the majority in the House or unseating other Senate Democrats. Hatch Mayor Andy Nunez, a Republican, lost his legislative seat in southern New Mexico to Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Smalls.
Recently completed recounts in three state legislative races didn’t result in any changes to the election night winners. In the closest race, Republican state Rep. David Adkins kept his Bernalillo County seat by defeating Democrat Ronnie Martinez by just nine votes. This is the closest legislative race since 2012, when Las Cruces Republican Terry McMillan defeated Joanne Ferrary by eight votes. Ferrary lost again to McMillan in 2014 before defeating him in this November’s election. The other House race close enough for an automatic recount saw Democrat Daymon Ely defeating Republican incumbent Paul Pacheco by 105 votes.
If he had to do it all over again, Michael Sanchez says he wouldn’t do anything differently. The outgoing state Senate Majority Leader will no longer be a member of the New Mexico Legislature for the first time since 1993, after losing in a bruising campaign that saw outside groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat him. Newcomer Greg Baca, a Republican, will take over Sanchez’s seat in January. In an interview with NM Political Report last week, Sanchez looked back at his successes and other proud moments in the Senate. One of his chief legislative legacies is the lottery scholarship for college students, which he helped shepherd through the Legislature in the mid-1990s.
Democrats have made their decision on who will take over as Senate Majority Leader next year after Michael Sanchez lost his reelection bid. The Belen Democrat will be replaced by Peter Wirth, a Democrat from Santa Fe. The Senate Democrats announced the news in a press release Saturday, saying he was elected by acclamation by the caucus. “I am humbled to be elected Majority Leader by my colleagues. Democrats in the Senate are united,” Wirth said in a statement.
One bright spot New Mexico Republicans point to in state elections is the defeat of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. The Belen Democrat lost after Advance New Mexico Now, a Super PAC with close ties to Gov. Susana Martinez, and other organizations targeted him for what they saw as obstruction of important issues. In recent days, Sanchez has told media outlets this nearly single-minded focus on his state Senate district may have tipped the balance and allowed Democrats to take back the state House of Representatives while expanding their state Senate majority. “I’m really grateful for her aiming at me,” Sanchez told the Albuquerque Journal. “They focused their attention on me, and they didn’t pay attention to what they needed to pay attention to.”
He said something similar to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Gov. Susana Martinez took out her major target in Tuesday’s election, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But that single victory came at a cost. Republicans lost the state House after two years in control, while Democrats strengthened their margin in the state Senate. The Democrats will control the House by at least a 37-33 margin, with an outside shot at a 39-31 split. Two races are going to recounts.
A night that ended with one of the most stunning upsets in modern presidential history began, in Albuquerque and likely in many other cities throughout the country, with Democrats feeling optimistic about the country on the cusp of electing its first female president. At the Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque, an enthusiastic crowd of state Democrats gathered to watch the election results and, they thought, to welcome Hillary Clinton to the White House. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who easily won reelection to represent the Albuquerque area, showed up wearing a white pantsuit. She also wore a button bearing Clinton’s face on her chest. She called her outfit “my white suffrage Hillary Clinton pantsuit.”
In a disastrous night for Democrats nationwide that saw Republican Donald Trump win the presidency, the state party actually did well, retaking the House of Representatives and expanding the party’s majority in the state Senate. The scope of the advantage in both chambers isn’t yet known, as there could be up to four automatic recounts, two in each chamber. Democrats also won back the Secretary of State seat when Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver easily defeated Republican Nora Espinoza. “What a difference two years makes,” Toulouse Oliver told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, referring to her 2014 loss to Republican Dianna Duran. Duran resigned last year hours before pleading guilty to counts of misusing campaign funds, for which she spent 30 days in jail.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez will not be returning to the state Senate for another term. The Democrat from Belen fell to Republican Greg Baca in a race that saw Republicans spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat him, largely on television ads that went after Sanchez for blocking crime legislation. At the state Republican Party watch party in the Albuquerque Convention Center, Baca said “we just want to work toward a better state here.”
“Let’s start talking about things like safer streets, better education, more jobs, more opportunities for everyone,” Baca said. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez stood beside Baca congratulating him. “Sixteen years ago I did the same thing,” John Sanchez, a Republican, said.