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.
Hillary Clinton officially won New Mexico and its five electoral votes, after certification of results by the State Canvassing Board Tuesday. The board also certified the need for three recounts in legislative races, one of which heads into the recount with just a nine vote advantage. In the official results, 804,043 voters cast ballots, or 62.4 percent of the 1,289,414 voters who were registered in time to vote in the general election. Hillary Clinton received 48.26 percent of the votes cast in the presidential race, while Republican Donald Trump received 40.04 percent. Trump, however, received the most votes in enough states to win the presidency.
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.
While it’s clear after election night that Democrats took back control of the state House of Representatives from Republicans and expanded their lead in the state Senate, to what extent won’t be known until recounts take place. The preliminary unofficial results show three races, two for House seats and one for a Senate seat, within 1 percent, which means there will be automatic recounts. These recounts are paid for by the state. If a candidate who lost by more than 1 percent wants a recount, that candidate would need to pay for it themselves. Joey Keefe, a spokesman for the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office, told NM Political Report that the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners will meet Thursday to convene the canvassing period, where official vote-tallying will take place.
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.
The House voted overwhelmingly to expand the state’s three strikes law to include more crimes to count towards the penalty that would result in life in prison after nearly three hours of debate. Three criminal convictions on certain crime would result in a life sentence if this bill becomes law. The bill, which passed the House 49-14, would need to pass the Senate in identical form to make it to the governor’s desk. The Senate did not pass a similar bill during the regular session. The House amended the bill to remove some crimes that were included in the bill as originally introduced.
A House committee spent about nine hours Friday from the early afternoon deep into the evening debating and listening to public testimony regarding three bills aimed at toughening violent crime sentences. All three bills passed the committee and two will head to the House floor next. The debate turned most heated when the committee discussed a bill to reinstate the death penalty. Sponsored by Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, and Rep. Andy Nunez, R-Hatch, the bill focuses on those convicted of killing law enforcement officers or children. The legislation passed on a party-line vote.
The death penalty debate will be coming to the Legislature sooner than many expected. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday morning that she will add the death penalty to the call for the upcoming special session, adding a contentious piece of debate to a special session that already promised to hold heated debates over fixing the state’s massive budget deficit. Martinez still has not set a date for the special session. “I will ask the legislature to reinstate the death penalty as an option for those who murder children and police officers, as well as correctional officers,” Martinez wrote in a statement on Facebook. “Those horrific crimes deserve the ultimate punishment.”
During the legislative session earlier this year, something very typical happened: an attempt to create an independent ethics commission failed to pass the Senate. NM Political Report wrote about the history of this happening over the last decade. This year’s version was pushed by Rep. Jim Dines, an Albuquerque Republican. Dines’ legislation would have put the question to voters to decide if such a commission should be created under the state constitution. One issue that received pushback was how the ethics commission in Dines’ proposal would have published all of the ethics complaints, even those deemed frivolous, after a review by the commission.