As Trump wins nationwide, Dems take House, expand Senate majority

In a disastrous night for Democrats nationwide that saw Republican Donald Trump win the presidency, the state party actually did well, retaking the House of Representatives and expanding the party’s majority in the state Senate. The scope of the advantage in both chambers isn’t yet known, as there could be up to four automatic recounts, two in each chamber. Democrats also won back the Secretary of State seat when Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver easily defeated Republican Nora Espinoza. “What a difference two years makes,” Toulouse Oliver told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, referring to her 2014 loss to Republican Dianna Duran. Duran resigned last year hours before pleading guilty to counts of misusing campaign funds, for which she spent 30 days in jail.

Michael Sanchez loses in expensive legislative race

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez will not be returning to the state Senate for another term. The Democrat from Belen fell to Republican Greg Baca in a race that saw Republicans spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat him, largely on television ads that went after Sanchez for blocking crime legislation. At the state Republican Party watch party in the Albuquerque Convention Center, Baca said “we just want to work toward a better state here.”

“Let’s start talking about things like safer streets, better education, more jobs, more opportunities for everyone,” Baca said. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez stood beside Baca congratulating him. “Sixteen years ago I did the same thing,” John Sanchez, a Republican, said.

After onslaught of ads, Dems target PAC for shaky claims

New Mexico Democrats are at war with a political action committee tied to Gov. Susana Martinez that is spouting a seemingly endless stream of negative, unfactual ads and mailers. The PAC, Advance New Mexico Now, is using a lot of resources against state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen, a longtime Martinez nemesis who has led the Senate to oppose many of her core policies. Its most recent ad and mailer show the wife of a slain Rio Rancho police officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner officer claiming Sanchez was “cold and dismissive” when she met him and told him to support tough-on-crime laws. Sanchez, who faces a tough reelection against Republican Gregory Baca, said this meeting actually never happened. “I have never met the widow of Rio Rancho police officer Benner, not once,” Sanchez said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

State law doesn’t address concerns in latest GOP complaint against PAC

The state Republican Party is targeting a liberal political action committee for donating directly to Democratic candidates in state legislative races. The Republican Party of New Mexico wrote a complaint to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office citing donations from Enchantment PAC to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Democrat Natalie Figueroa, who is challenging state House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, as “against New Mexico statutes” and “in clear violation of the law.”

Enchantment PAC, which is also funding liberal advocacy organizations like Organizing in the Land of Enchantment, gave $1,000 to Sanchez and $600 to Figueroa during the general election cycle. State law, however, does not address the type of spending the GOP cited in its complaint. Reached by phone, GOP spokesman Tucker Keene referred to the written complaint, which he said the party sent in the mail to the Secretary of State on Tuesday. “Independent expenditure committees are not supposed to spend directly to candidates, they’re required by law to be independent,”  Keene said earlier in a statement.

House Majority Leader gets help from PAC in reelection race

A federal PAC is coming to the aid of the state House Majority Leader, even as House Republicans seek to keep control of the state House. That’s the news from the Santa Fe New Mexican, which spoke to Mark Murphy, who is a major donor to GOAL-West PAC. GOAL-West PAC also received attention last year for trying to influence Las Cruces municipal elections. Now, the PAC is seeking to aid Republicans in state House races. Most are on the list of swing districts, like Andy Nuñez of Hatch in District 36 or Christina Hall of Albuquerque in an open seat in District 24.

Pro- and anti-abortion rights groups spend thousands on local races

In a campaign season dominated by Donald Trump’s comments on groping women and several allegations against him of doing so, media attention on traditionally hot-button electoral issues like abortion access has been relegated to the side. But that doesn’t mean advocates aren’t using the issue of abortion to influence elections this year. On the local level, two political action committees on opposing sides of abortion rights are injecting thousands of dollars to influence down-ballot races. Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, for example, raised $10,000 to target four hotly contested state legislative races that could help decide which party controls the state House of Representatives and state Senate. The Right to Life Committee of New Mexico PAC, on the other hand, has spent more than $4,500 in the primaries and general election to encourage its base, which opposes abortion rights, to vote in a year that’s expected to be an uphill climb for Republicans.

Sanchez, allies rally in the middle of a tough race

In his race to retain his Senate seat, Michael Sanchez never mentions the name of his opponent. But he does frequently mention his political nemesis over the last six years, Governor Susana Martinez. That’s because Sanchez, the Senate Majority leader from Belen, is the top target of Republicans this year. Advance New Mexico Now, a Republican super PAC with close ties to Martinez, is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to defeat the Democratic Senate leader. “There’s no way that I can raise the amount of money that Advance New Mexico and this governor can raise against me,” Sanchez told NM Political Report.

Senate leadership back in Roundhouse, discussing budget

Showing possible signs of movement from the Senate Monday, the chamber’s majority and minority leadership have been spotted around their respective offices in the Roundhouse even though the chamber voted to adjourn early Saturday morning. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, told NM Political Report Monday that he, President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, are among the senators who returned to the state capitol building as the House hears, and amends, budget bills originally sent from the Senate. Sanchez wouldn’t go into detail about what they were doing or if they are going to hear any House bills, but confirmed there is some sort of conversations happening. “We’re visiting, trying to figure some things out,” Sanchez said. Sanchez didn’t say if they were speaking to the House.

Senate passes budget bills, adjourns

The Senate, saying their business was done for the legislative session, passed a number of bills to fix the budget deficit this year and the recently-completed fiscal year that ended on June 30, adjourned sine die. This means the Senators can go home. The state constitution provides that the House would need to stay in session for three days—not including Sundays—to force Senators to come back. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee passed a feed bill that would fund the Legislature during the special session for three days; the Senate passed their own version.  

Budget fix

As for the actual budget, the Senate passed eleven bills, including the bill to fund the special session.

Four GOP candidates get attention from national GOP group

A national Republican group highlighted four high priority state races in the upcoming elections. The Republican State Leadership Committee put four New Mexico races in their “16 in ‘16: Races to Watch” list earlier this week, including the high-profile Secretary of State race. Outside of the presidential race, election to replace Dianna Duran as Secretary of State is the lone statewide non-judicial race this fall. That race pits Republican State Representative Nora Espinoza against Democratic Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver. The other three races on the list are legislative races.