September 9, 2015

Republican to challenge Sapien for state Senate seat

Screenshot from Diego Espinoza announcement video.

A politically connected Republican announced on Wednesday that he will be challenging a state senator in a key swing district next year.

RoundhouseDiego Espinoza announced that he will seek the District 9 seat currently held by Democrat John Sapien.

Espinoza, a program director for CSI Aviation, has experience in running campaigns, if not his own. Espinoza was the campaign manager for Allen Weh’s unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Senate in 2014 and governor in 2010.

Weh owns CSI Aviation and Weh is the father of current Republican Party of New Mexico chairwoman Debbie Maestas. Maestas also previously worked for her father’s company.

Weh lost to Tom Udall in 2014 in the general election, while he lost to Susana Martinez in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.

In an announcement video, Espinoza expressed support for right-to-work, retention of third-grade students who cannot read at grade level. These are two of the most prominent priorities of Republicans in the state.

The full video is available at the bottom of this post.

Espinoza was at the center of allegations by Weh’s Republican primary opponent in his 2014 race. The complaint alleged that Espinoza improperly used CSI Aviation resources toward Weh’s campaign.

From a story in the Santa Fe Reporter:

Espinoza dismisses the complaint as “exactly the kind of tactic used by people who have nothing left to lose.”

“Such desperation is unfortunate and unbecoming of someone seeking to become a U.S. Senator,” Espinoza writes in a statement provided to SFR.

That wasn’t all, however.

Espinoza filed a defamation lawsuit against David Clements, Weh’s opponent in the Republican primary, following allegations that he hacked into Clements’ campaign emails and cheated GOP primary delegates.

Clements also took the hacking allegations to the Doña County Sheriff’s Office, which opened an investigation.

Espinoza’s defamation suit is ongoing, with a jury trial scheduled in Albuquerque for Feb. 1, 2016.

Sapien is in his second term as state senator and is expected to run for a third term. The Corrales Democrat is the chair of the Senate Education Committee. Pushes to change the education system in New Mexico have been a big part of Gov. Martinez’s efforts while in office.

It will be no surprise if the election in the district is close. Sapien won election in both 2008 and 2012 by less than 150 votes.

Republicans took control of a majority of seats in the House after the 2014 elections. Democrats currently hold a 24-18 seat advantage in the Senate after Gov. Martinez appointed a Republican to replace Phil Griego, a Democrat who resigned after ethics violations.

State Republicans have set their sights on taking over the Senate this year.

Update: Added information from Espinoza video announcing his candidacy and the video itself.