June 3, 2020

State Senators John Arthur Smith, Mary Kay Papen lose in primary

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Matthew Reichbach

In a historic defeat, Neomi Martinez-Parra won Senate District 35, defeating state Senator Sen. John Arthur Smith who has held the seat for 32 years.

Martinez-Parra’s win did not come as a surprise Wednesday. She pulled ahead of Smith in the Democratic primary late Tuesday night and appeared to be the presumptive winner.

She won by 500 votes. She received 2,793 votes to Smith’s 2,293 in unofficial results.

Related: Progressive Democrats defeat incumbents, with some races still pending

Martinez-Parra will face Republican Crystal Diamond in a battle for the Bootheel: Luna, Sierra and part of Doña Ana counties. Senate District 35 is more conservative than the average district in the state.

A special education teacher, Martinez-Parra said she didn’t emphasize any one particular policy issue during her non stop campaigning over the past year. She announced her candidacy in July 2019.

But, she stressed five issues: education, healthcare, immigration, the environment and housing and infrastructure issues.

“I just feel like this was all about New Mexico voters,” Martinez-Parra said of her win. “It’s just about the voters finally being heard and represented.”

Carrie Hamblen, the progressive Democrat running for Senate District 38, also defeated another powerful state Senate voice, 20-year-state Senate veteran Mary Kay Papen, who is President Pro Tem.

Hamblen has said she intends to hold the seat for two terms, then groom a Latina to run in her place in 2028 because Doña Ana County is 69 percent Hispanic or Latino.

Hamblen is well known in her district for championing gay pride and gay marriage, being a staunch supporter of Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks gaining its National Monument status during the Obama Administration and working on behalf of local businesses through her role as the chief executive officer of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. She has also been described as a voice Las Cruces residents recognize because she hosted the morning show on National Public Radio member station KRWG for 20 years.

Hamblen stressed reproductive rights as a key issue, as well as public lands, transportation, renewable energy and economic development for small businesses. She said that the issue she heard about the most from constituents on was HB 51, the 2019 bill that Papen, along with Smith and other more socially conservative-leaning Democrats in the state Senate voted down. The bill would have repealed the 1969 law that criminalizes abortion care.

“It didn’t matter gender or age,” Hamblen said of constituents who talked to her about HB 51. 

Only 200 votes ahead of Papen, Hamblen’s race was close. She won with 1,735 votes to Papen’s 1,535. Papen also out-fundraised Hamblen and had help from Chevron-backed New Mexico Strong.

“It feels incredible,” Hamblen said by phone Wednesday evening of her win. “It’s really the power of the people, not the power of the pocketbook.”

One race where the progressive candidate did not win was Noreen Kelly, who is Navajo (Diné), in her bid to oust state Sen. George Muñoz. Muñoz who is vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee has held his state Senate seat for 11 years. A businessman, Muñoz is president of the Muñoz Corporation and is based out of Gallup.

Muñoz stressed clean water, an end to I-40 construction, renewable energy, access to mental health and substance and alcohol abuse treatment and education as the policy issues he is most concerned with. Muñoz voted against HB 51.

Muñoz won with 3,184 votes to Kelly’s 2,299. The race was not called until late Wednesday.

“What I learned most from this (the pandemic) crisis and the election is, people have finally realized that my friend and my neighbor still haul water every day and still live without power and that shouldn’t happen in America,” he said.

Other races

In Senate District 9, a key swing district, Democrat Brenda Grace McKenna will face Republican John Stahlman Clark after each won three-way primaries Sen. John Sapien currently represents the district, but opted not to run for a fourth term.

David Gallegos left House District 61 for a successful run for state Senate. Randall Pettigrew won the Republican primary over David Snider and faces no opposition in the general election.

In House District 70, yet another open seat race, Ambrose Castellano has a In Senate District 9, a key swing district, Democrat Brenda Grace McKenna will face Republican John Stahlman Clark after each won three-way primaries Sen. John Sapien currently represents the district, but opted not to run for a fourth term.

Other races have more precincts left to be completed before a winner can be declared.

Another open seat race is Senate District 20, where Martin Hickey won with 32.2 percent of the vote in a four-way race over Rebecca Puck Stair, who has 30.11 percent.  Hickey will face John Morton. Sen. William Payne, a Republican, left the seat, after having served since 1997. 

In another extremely close race, Joseph Tiano narrowly leads Susan Vescovo, 1,973 to 1,935, with precincts in Santa Fe waiting to be counted.

Another open seat is in House District 42. Taos Mayor Daniel Barrone was appointed to replace Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, after Gonzales himself was appointed to a state Senate seat. Barrone opted not to run for the seat, one of the five most heavily-Democratic seats in the state. Mark Gallegos has a healthy lead, by nearly nine percent, though Taos County will finish counting absentee ballots on Wednesday. The Republican race, between Linda Calhoun and Paul Anthony Martinez, remains very close.

In House District 45, a five-way Democratic primary in the race to replace retiring Rep. Jim Trujillo currently has Linda Michelle Serrato leading with 32.93 percent of the vote, while Patrick Varela has 24.31 percent and Lisa Dawn Martinez has 22.61 percent. The winner will face Libertarian Helen Milenski in the general election. over Anita Amalia Gonzales, though only one precinct is left to be counted, in Santa Fe County, making it unlikely Gonzales could catch up. The winner will face Nathan Dial in the general election.