November 4, 2020

State Senate shifts left with progressive wins

The state Senate has shifted to the left and progressive Democrats picked up one state Senate seat Tuesday night, according to unofficial results, and will likely pick up two more. All results cited are as of midnight on Wednesday.

All results reported election night are unofficial until the Secretary of State announces the official results later this month.

Progressive Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill beat Republican James Williams in state SD 28, which encompasses Grant, Catron and Socorro counties. Correa Hemphill led most of the night and won with 51 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting. Correa Hemphill defeated conservative Democrat Gabriel “Gabe” Ramos in the June 2 primary.

The two likely wins for progressive Democrats are Leo Jaramillo in state SD 5 and Carrie Hamblen in state SD 38. Jaramillo had 68 percent of the vote in a three-way race against Republican Diamantina Prado Storment and Libertarian Lee Weinland. Also with unofficial results in, Hamblen led Republican Charles Wendler 62 percent to 38 percent percent in state SD 38. 

Jaramillo defeated long-time Democratic Senator Richard Martinez, who was found guilty of aggravated DWI last year, during the June primary. State SD 5 is north of Santa Fe and includes Española. Hamblen beat Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen during the June Democratic primary for the Democratic nomination in the Las Cruces seat. 

Another win for Democrats in the state Senate races is SD 20, which used to be held by William Payne, a Republican. Payne did not run for reelection, leaving an open seat. With all precincts reporting, Democrat Martin Hickey beat Republican John Morton 54 percent to 46  percent. 

Democrats also won state Senate District 23, which has been held by Republican state Senator Sander Rue. His Democratic challenger Harold Pope Jr., defeated Rue with 52 percent of the vote and all precincts reporting.

Some other likely Democratic wins Tuesday night in the state Senate in swing districts are state SD 10, where Democrat Katy Duhigg led 52 percent to 48 percent. Democrat Brenda McKenna was ahead 54 percent to 46 percent over Republican John Stahlman Clark in State Senate District 9.

Some progressive Democrats appeared to lose Tuesday night, though not all votes have been tallied in those precincts. Progressive Democrat Pam Cordova, who defeated Republican incumbent Clemente Sanchez in the primary for state SD 30, trailed Republican Joshua Sanchez, who had 52 percent of the vote to her 48 percent. Another progressive Democrat who appeared to lose Tuesday night was Neomi Martinez-Parra, who beat long-time incumbent Democrat John Arthur Smith in the primary. But her opponent, Republican Crystal Diamond, led Tuesday night with 58 percent of the vote.

Check back with NM Political Report on Wednesday, and perhaps throughout the week, for updated results.

The state Senate contains a 26-16 Democrat majority. In 2016, state Senate Democrats broadened their hold on the state Senate by picking up two additional seats. With three progressive Democrats picking up seats, the state Senate will shift to the left and some important and much-watched legislation could pass next year.

The first of those issues is abortion, now considered by many reproductive rights advocates as more crucial than ever since the U.S. Senate confirmed Justice Amy Coney Barrett late last month. During the 2019 state legislature, eight New Mexico state Senate Democrats joined the 16 Republicans and voted against an attempt to repeal a 1969 law that bans abortion with some highly restricted exceptions. Five of those state Senate Democrats, including the powerful former incumbents John Arthur Smith, Mary Kay Papen and Clemente Sanchez, lost the June 2 primary. The only two state Senators who voted against the repeal who has remained in office are state Sen. Pete Campos. Campos, who is considered to be a moderate Democrat, and state Sen. George Munoz. Campos has held his post for 29 years. Munoz has been in office since 2009.

Abortion advocates have said they need at least three to four progressive Democrats to win the state Senate.

A bill to legalize recreational marijuana will likely be considered in the 2021 New Mexico Legislature. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports legalization and has referenced how much tax revenue the state would already be making if the Legislature had passed a previous bill in 2019. Now that the state faces a budget crisis in the upcoming Legislature, there will be additional pressure to pass a recreational marijuana bill. Arizona voters considered a referendum on Tuesday night on recreational marijuana, which could create some competition for New Mexico for tourism dollars.

The state Senate district races that could decide the fate of recreational marijuana in the upcoming Legislative session are SD 10, SD 20 and SD 35.

Related: Which legislative races could decide the fate of marijuana legalization

Another issue at play in the state Senate this election year is the $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. Efforts to tap into it beyond the five percent that comes out for education have repeatedly died in the state Senate Finance Committee, which former long-standing powerful Democrat John Arthur Smith chaired. But now with the oil and gas bust that happened earlier this year during the beginning of the pandemic, and the budget crisis that looms for the state Legislature, there will be increased pressure to revisit the state’s regulations around how that is used.

The state Senate will also face redistricting next year during a special session. The state has not changed its districts since the early 1990s.

Another Democrat who will likely hold her seats in the state Senate is Liz Stefanics, who represents state SD 39. With partial results in, Stefanics led with 55 percent of the vote over  Republican challenger Joseph Tiano. 

State Senate Republican Greg Baca, the incumbent for swing district SD 29 defeated his Democratic challenger Paul Baca with 51 percent of the vote and all precincts reporting. Republican Gregg Schmedes also likely will pick up state Senate District 19. He led with 53 percent of the vote as of midnight Wednesday. Schmedes has represented House District 22 since 2018. Schmedes defeated incumbent James White in the Republican primary.

Updated to include state Sen. George Munoz.