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After a long battle that caused some long-time state lawmakers to lose their seats, the state Senate shifted left in 2020.
Long-time state Senators John Arthur Smith in SD 35; President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen in SD 38; Clemente Sanchez in SD 30; Richard Martinez in SD 5 and incumbent Gabriel “Gabe” Ramos in SD 28 all lost their seats to progressive Democrats in the June primary election. Of the progressive Democrats who won the primary: Neomi Martinez-Para against Smith; Carrie Hamblen against Papen; Pam Cordova against Sanchez; Leo Jaramillo against Martinez; and Siah Correa Hemphill against Ramos, only Martinez-Parra and Cordova lost the general election to Republicans.
The Nov. 3 election also turned out to be a good night for reproductive rights, as Democrats who support reproductive rights won six seats in the state Senate, including SD 10, which Democrat Katy Duhigg won over Republican Candace Gould; SD 20, which Democrat Martin Hickey took, defeating the Republican candidate and taking a seat formerly held by Republican William Payne. The Democrats also won SD 23, with Democrat Harold Pope Jr., who took the seat when he defeated Republican incumbent Sander Rue.
New Mexico voters also embraced candidates in the November election that have historically been underrepresented, including women, in elected office.
The shift began with the primary election when progressive Democrats picked up several gains. Even despite the restrictions that the COVID-19 pandemic placed on campaigning just a few months prior to the June primary, several progressive Democrats, almost all women, defeated their mostly male, more conservative Democratic opponents.
For Martinez-Parra, who ran and won in June against 32-year-long political veteran Smith, for SD 35, the failed repeal in the 2019 Legislature of the 1969 abortion ban was a major reason to challenge Smith.
Seven conservative Democrats, including Smith, sided with Republicans in the 2019 Legislature and voted against repealing the antiquated law. Reproductive rights experts and organizations, such as Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, believe that repealing that law is crucial to keep abortion legal and safe in New Mexico.
Abortion rights organizations such as Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Action Fund raised money to get behind the seven progressive Democratic candidates in the 2020 primary. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain Action Fund spent $390,000 on the June primary, and spent the bulk of its money on three candidates: Martinez-Parra’s race against Smith, as well as, Siah Correa Hemphill’s fight to unseat Ramos and Pam Cordova’s challenge against Sanchez.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico spent $150,000 to educate voters in two districts – SD 28 on the race between Correa Hemphill and Ramos and SD 30 on the race between Cordova and Sanchez.
Several progressive Democratic challengers said it was time to put new voices into the state Senate. In addition to Martinez-Parra defeating Smith, Correa Hemphill, an educator in Silver City, raised competitive sums of money against Ramos. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham endorsed Correa Hemphill shortly before the primary election.
The June primary turned into a significant win for progressive Democrats, with Correa Hemphill, Hamblen, Jaramillo, Martinez-Parra all winning their seats.
Two candidates, Correa Hemphill and Cordova, won handily.