Transgender woman to seek legislative seat

On Thursday, the first openly transgender person to seek a New Mexico legislative seat, Bunnie Benton Cruse, announced her intent to replace Rep. Melanie Stansbury for the state House. Stansbury is the Democratic nominee in the June 1 special election for the state’s 1st Congressional District, a seat Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland vacated when she left the U.S. House of Representatives to take the federal position. Benton Cruse will apply to the Bernalillo County Commission, which will decide who to appoint to HD 28 if Stansbury wins June 1 and leaves the seat. Benton Cruse said she went public with her intention to apply for the HD 28 seat before the June 1 special election because she believes Stansbury will win. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, called Benton Cruse’s decision to seek Stansbury’s seat “historic.”

“It really is super historic,” Martinez said.

NM congressional candidates take part in the New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative forum

Three candidates running in the race to fill the 1st Congressional district vacancy fielded questions on Tuesday night in the election’s first public forum. The New Mexico Black Voters Collaborative organized and moderated the forum, which took place just hours after a Minnesota jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. 

Democratic candidate and current state Representative Melanie Stansbury, Libertarian candidate Chris Manning and independent candidate and former state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn took part in the forum. Republican candidate and current state Senator Mark Moores was notably absent from the forum. According to a press release from the Black Voters Collaborative prior to the forum, Moores originally agreed to participate but later withdrew. 

Questions for the candidates mostly covered ongoing issues in the state and country and how they impact people of color. While the candidates kept a civil tone with one another, they still had different opinions on the issues. 

When asked about police brutality towards people of color and the high rates of death at the hands of police, all three candidates said they were in favor of ending qualified immunity, a judicial doctrine that is often used to protect police from facing civil legal action. 

Dunn said he thinks money towards police training should be a priority and that police who violate the law should be held accountable. 

“I know we have a serious problem and we need to make it a priority and it’s gone for years,” Dunn said. 

Manning said in addition to ending qualified immunity, he would like to see more trust from the public in the justice system. 

“We also need to have faith in our system, that even those who are accused of the most egregious crimes, they get their day in court,” Manning said.

NM’s congressional race is on a tight deadline

In about three weeks, registered voters in the 1st Congressional District can start casting ballots to fill the vacant seat. The rushed and non-traditional nature of this election could prove difficult for the candidates. 

Complicating issues, the state is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that emerged last year, meaning candidates may not see the normal kind of campaign rally turn-out and some will likely not hold in-person rallies at all. Of the candidates for the Albuquerque-area seat that NM Political Report spoke to, only one cited the expedited timeline as a possible challenge to their campaign. Others anticipated their biggest challenges will be getting the word out about their campaigns and raising money. 

Melanie Stansbury, who currently serves as a Democratic legislator in the New Mexico House of Representatives, said the short election period may end up being her biggest challenge. 

“It is a scramble to get out the vote and help educate the public to know that a special election is happening, to introduce ourselves to the broader community and make sure that people know the election is happening and when and how to vote,” Stansbury said. 

Stansbury is currently serving her second term in the state Legislature, but previously worked in the White House as well as a U.S. Senate staffer. 

Republican candidate Mark Moores also serves in the Legislature, as a state senator. Despite numerous scheduling attempts from NM Political Report, Moores could not be reached for an interview. 

Aubrey Dunn, who is running as an independent candidate, seemed to agree that getting people out to vote would also be a challenge, but he said he thinks his biggest challenge will be fundraising.

Democrats pick Stansbury as candidate for CD1 race

Albuquerque State Rep. Melanie Stansbury emerged from a two-day, two-round process to become the Democratic nominee for the 1st Congressional District special election in June. Stansbury narrowly defeated State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, also from Albuquerque, in the second round, with 103 votes from the party’s central committee members in the 1st Congressional District to Sedillo Lopez’s 97 votes. One member abstained. Sedillo Lopez had the most votes in the first round, but failed to reach 50 percent. The party then went to a runoff between the candidates with the fewest number of candidates to reach 50 percent of votes—in this case, two.

PRC reform bill advances with big concerns

A bill to make big changes to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) passed its first committee despite lingering questions over the proposal. After a length debate, the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill Thursday with a vote of 8-5 along party lines. Democratic Reps. Nathan Small of Las Cruces and Rep. Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe presented HB 11 to the committee. The legislation would restructure the PRC with the aim of streamlining operations and improving efficiencies that Small and Trujillo contend are holding the state back and hurting New Mexico residents.

Legislators introduce bill to expand free school lunches

New Mexico Rep. Willie Madrid, D-Chaparral, knows what it is like to go hungry. As a child growing up in the foster care system, he experienced malnutrition, which led to an eating disorder that still leaves him battling to control his weight. “That’s the hard facts of life,” Madrid said. “I struggle with my weight, have to manage diabetes. I had at-risk issues with food as a kid.”

Bill would shine a light on state’s water situation

What do ranchers, environmentalists, counties, scientists and state regulators have in common? They all want to know what’s happening with New Mexico’s rivers, springs, aquifers and reservoirs. The Water Data Act, which unanimously passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee Thursday morning, would help various agencies organize and share their water data. The bill’s sponsors include Rep. Melanie Stansbury, an Albuquerque Democrat, and Rep. Gail Armstrong, a Republican who lives in Magdalena and represents one of the most rural parts of the state. Rep. Melanie Stansbury

Environment-related bills have been moving through the Roundhouse this year, addressing issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy.

Obama endorses Lujan Grisham, state House candidates

Former President Barack Obama endorsed several New Mexico candidates Monday, including the Democratic nominees for governor and lieutenant governor. Obama announced the endorsement of about 200 candidates nationwide on Twitter Monday. His focus, he announced, was  on legislative and statewide races “that are redistricting priorities.”

Michelle Lujan Grisham and Howie Morales were happy with the endorsement, touting it in  a statement shortly after Obama’s announcement. “This election is about bringing energy, vision, and experienced leadership to Santa Fe to build a stronger economy, expand health care access, and create a better future for our kids,” Lujan Grisham said. “That’s why I’m so honored to have President Obama’s support and trust as we work every day to protect and build on his legacy in New Mexico and create real opportunities for families across the state.”

Obama’s endorsement said that Lujan Grisham “stops at nothing to fight for the people she serves.”

“The last eight years have left New Mexicans waiting for a leader like Michelle, a leader who can restore hope and put opportunity back within reach,” Obama said.

Will 2018 be the ‘Year of the Woman’ in New Mexico?

Albuquerque’s Melanie Stansbury decided this was the year to run for office. She filed as a candidate for state representative in Albuquerque, in House District 28 in the Northeast Heights. Republicans have held the seat for over a decade but the Democrat is running an energetic campaign and raising thousands of dollars in donations. Stansbury followed her sister’s lead, a county judge who almost a decade ago went through the Emerge New Mexico program, which trains Democratic woman to run for office. Stansbury joked that she and her sister are the only “Emerge sisters to actually be real sisters in New Mexico.”