Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 9:00 pm | Updated: 12:19 am, Sat Apr 5, 2014.
By Steve Terrell
The New Mexican |
In a year when many speculate that the state Republican Party has a decent shot at winning control of the
New Mexico House of Representatives for the first time in decades, legislative leaders of both parties agree that the fate of the House probably boils down to 10 races — two of them in districts that include parts of Santa Fe County.
When asked in separate interviews this week to list the races on which they will focus, Rep. Nate Gentry, the Republican spearheading his party’s House effort, and Rep. Moe Maestas, his Democratic counterpart in recruiting House candidates, agreed on the five best chances for Republican pickups and the five best
chances for Democrats to take seats away from the GOP.
Among seats where incumbents are considered vulnerable are those held by Republican Vickie Perea, RBelen, who was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to fill the position previously held by Rep. Stephen Easley, a Santa Fe County Democrat who died last year, and Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los
Alamos, who ousted a Republican incumbent in a close race last year.
Maestas and Gentry are the House whips for their respective parties. Both represent Albuquerque districts. And though both face challengers from the opposite party, both are considered to be in safe districts.
All 70 House seats are up for election this year, with a primary election set for June and a general election in November. However, no Senate seats will be on the ballot.
Democrats currently control the House by a slim 37-33 margin. The GOP hasn’t had a majority there since 1953.
Republicans first started thinking that control of the House was in sight after the 2010 GOP blowout election, when Democrats lost eight House seats. But Democrats had a modest rebound in 2012, a year in which New Mexico voted to re-elect President Barack Obama by a 10 percent margin.
But Republicans tend to do better in midterm election years. This year, incumbent Republican Gov.
Martinez, who still enjoys high approval numbers and is leading in polls, is at the top of the ticket. As a
result, Gentry said, he thinks the party has a much better chance.
Perea, 67, represents District 50, which includes communities southeast of Santa Fe such as the Eldorado
subdivision, as well as parts of Bernalillo, Torrance and Valencia counties.
Perea is a former Democrat who was on the Albuquerque City Council in the 1990s. Always considered a
conservative Democrat, she switched parties in 2004, partly over social issues such as abortion and gay rights. After moving to Belen, she ran for secretary of state as a Republican in 2006, losing to Democrat
Mary Herrera. In 2012, she ran for the state Senate but lost to Democrat Clemente Sanchez of Grants.
Her opponent for the House seat is Matthew McQueen, 46, a lawyer from Galisteo who has been
involved with various environmental and community groups.
At first glance, the numbers don’t look good for Republicans in District 50. Democrats in the district
outnumber Republicans by about 46 percent of registered voters to 32 percent as of Jan. 31, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Easley in 2012 won the seat with nearly 56 percent of the vote. More than half the votes cast in that race came from Santa Fe County.
But Gentry notes that in 2010, Martinez won 49 percent of the vote for governor. That gives the GOP
hope for Perea this year, he said.
This will be the second election in a row in which the Los Alamos-dominated District 43 is considered a major battlefield. Garcia Richard won a tight race against the Martinez-appointed Jim Hall in 2012. That was two years after she came very close to beating longtime Republican Rep. Jeanette Wallace.
In the 2012 race, Garcia Richard said she’d vote to repeal the law that allows undocumented workers to get state driver’s licenses. However, in 2013 she voted against blasting the bill out of committee to the House floor. Republicans immediately ran automated telephone campaign calls against her. In this year’s
session, the proposed law never made it to the House floor.
There are two Republicans running in the District 43 primary — Geoff Rodgers, chairman of the Los Alamos County Council, and Vincent Chiravalle, a former council member.
Among the other House seats that Republicans will try to pick up:
• District 15 in Albuquerque, where freshman incumbent Rep. Emily Kane will face Republican Sarah
• District 24 in Albuquerque, where another freshman, Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson, will face former
Republican Rep. Conrad James. Thomson defeated James in 2012.
• District 36 in Doña Ana County, where incumbent Rep. Phillip Archuleta faces former Rep. Andy
Nuñez, who is running as a Republican. Archuleta had to miss this year’s entire legislative session
because he had his leg amputated. He defeated Nuñez in 2012 in a three-way race. Nuñez, a Democrat
until 2011, ran as an independent in 2012.
• District 53 in Doña Ana County, which currently is represented by Rep. Nate Cote, who isn’t seeking re-election. Republican Ricky Little, a former legislator who was defeated by Cote in 2012, is running against Democrat Mariaelena Johnson. Both candidates are from Chaparral.
Among the seats Democrats hope to win from Republicans:
• District 37 in Las Cruces, where incumbent Rep. Terry McMillan once again faces Democrat Joanne Ferrary, who lost by a mere eight votes in 2012.
• District 4 in San Juan County, where Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, a Shiprock Republican, will face
the winner of the Democratic primary, Sarah White or Harrison Todacheene; both also are from Shiprock.
Clahchischilliage beat incumbent Democrat Ray Begaye in 2012 in the Democratic-leaning district.
Begaye was caught up in a scandal over travel expenses.
• District 7 in Valencia County, a swing district, where freshman Rep. Kelly Fajardo will face the winner
of the Democratic primary contest between Teresa Smith de Cherif and former Rep. Andrew Barreras, who lost the seat in 2012 to Fajardo in an attempted comeback. Barreras was the incumbent in 2010 when he lost to Republican David Chavez.
• District 23 in Albuquerque, where Rep. Paul Pacheco, who won a close race two years ago, will face democrat Catherine Begaye.
Contact Steve Terrell at email@example.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.