Some elections can devolve into popularity contests. But one issue on the ballot in New Mexico will be whether or not one of the state’s key regulatory bodies should be made up of elected or appointed officials.
Currently, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission is made up of five elected officials, each representing their own area of New Mexico. But voters will have the chance to decide whether or not to change the state’s constitution and make the commission a three-member body, with commissioners appointed by the governor.
At least one mailer sent out to voters does not seem to explicitly advocate for one side or another, but does frame the issue as professionals versus politicians.
“Look for constitutional amendment #1 on your ballot in the fall!” the mailer reads.
It also compares health experts guiding Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic and states that the amendment “would require real experts with defined credentials to oversee our utilities, and these professionals would be prohibited from having any financial interest in any public utility.”
The PRC, which is independent from the governor’s office and the legislature, has been the target of scrutiny from other elected officials for years, and even more so since the Legislature passed what is now known as the Energy Transition Act, a step away from the state’s reliance on coal powered energy.
The mailer that rhetorically asks voters, “qualified professionals or politicians?” was paid for by a group called Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers. The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office does not have a record of such a group registering as a political committee, but a spokesman for the office said the next deadline for groups to register is not until October.
Bob Perls, a former New Mexico lawmaker and sponsor of a 1996 constitutional amendment that created the PRC, said he thinks the push to change how the commission is made up was not well thought out. Like all New Mexico constitutional amendments, this one started as legislation.
Outside the New Mexico State Capitol on Thursday morning a small group of men and women gathered to spread the word that candidates should not need an R, D or L after their names to win a race. The group also hoped to reach the almost quarter of New Mexico voters not registered with a particular party and show them not everyone has to choose from established major-party candidates. “Buenos días de Dios. I’m Tweeti Blancett,” one of the candidates called to about a dozen people outside the Roundhouse, “I’m running for state representative for District 40 and I’m an independent.”
Blancett is a rancher from northern New Mexico and a former Republican legislator. Blancett’s campaign announcement also helped launch Unite New Mexico, a local partner of Unite America.
A growing number of voters don’t want to register as either Republicans or Democrats, so a bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing legislation that would allow independents to vote in New Mexico primary elections. Independent and third-party voters can’t participate in New Mexico’s June primaries, often a point of contention because 23 percent of the state’s voters are not affiliated with the major political parties and state funds pay for the primaries. “New Mexico has the highest percentage of non-competitive elections in the nation,” said Bob Perls, a former Democratic lawmaker, who heads a group called New Mexico Open Primaries. It is pushing two measure that would change how primary elections are run. One proposal, House Bill 206, would allow unaffiliated voters to choose either a Democratic or Republican ballot in primary elections.
While Democrats and Republicans in New Mexico began casting ballots weeks ago with early and absentee voting, today is election day where tens of thousands more are expected to cast their ballots. While much of the attention will be focused on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders duking it out in the presidential primary, there will be a number of down-ballot races with big implications going forward. We took a look at the thirteen races you need to watch tonight when polls close at 7:00 p.m.
Senate District 17
Democratic incumbent Sen. Mimi Stewart’s runs to retain the senate seat in SD17. In 2014, the Bernalillo County Commission appointed her to fill the vacancy left by Tim Keller when he became State Auditor. Former State Senator Shannon Robinson, who held the SD17 spot for 20 years before losing to Keller in 2008, will face Stewart and try to reclaim his old Senate seat.
New Mexico’s Democratic and Republican candidates are readying for a primary election in less than a month. They have been canvassing neighborhoods and raising money for weeks. But they might not be the only candidates in the ballot come November. Candidates who are members of minor parties or are independent and not part of any political party cannot file to run until almost two months after their major party counterparts. Robert Bridgwater, the former chairman of the Independent American Party for New Mexico, told NM Political Report that minor parties in New Mexico face an uphill battle during election season.
A proposal that would allow voters to decide whether or not those outside the two major political parties can participate in primary elections passed its first committee on Saturday. Right now, only Democrats can participate in Democratic primaries and only Republicans can participate in Republican primaries. The proposal brought forward by Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, and Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, would change that. The bill passed on a narrow 5-3 vote, with all four Democrats on the panel being joined by committee chair James Smith, R-Sandia Park.