Primary election sets stage for state House control

SANTA FE – Olin Clawson is campaigning for votes in northwest New Mexico one small sack of pinto beans at a time, trying to unseat a member of the state House in the June 3 primary election.

He’s hanging the two-pound burlap bags bearing his name on doors in House District 9, where he and two other Democrats are running against Democratic Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup.

“Pinto beans are very much a part of all our lives,” explained Clawson, a fourth-generation member of a McKinley County ranching and farming family.

“Pinto beans are very much a part of all our lives,” explained Clawson, a fourth-generation member of a McKinley County ranching and farming family.

Lundstrom, who is in her seventh term and is vice-chairwoman of the influential Appropriations and Finance Committee, is among seven House members facing challenges in the June 3 primary.

That’s when Democrats and Republicans statewide will choose their nominees for the big showdown – the Nov. 4 general election, which determines which party controls the House.

Democrats have a 37-33 edge now, but Republicans hope to claim a few more seats and gain control of the chamber for the first time in 60 years.

There are no state Senate races this year; senators aren’t up for election again until 2016.

In District 9, the Democratic primary winner is likely the next representative, since no Republican is on the ballot in November. Minor party, independent and write-in candidates, however, can file next month for the general election.

The race is notable because Clawson, an electric utility consultant and former Gallup city employee, had thrown more than $100,000 of his own money at the campaign as of a couple of weeks ago, dwarfing Lundstrom’s contributions of just over $36,000. The fundraising by the two other Democratic candidates – social worker Jordon Johnson and homemaker Yolanda Ahasteen-Azua – has been minimal.

Clawson, until last fall a Republican, says he switched parties because Democrats are more in line with his views on health care and family-friendly social programs.

“I just find it curious that someone would lend themselves that kind of money for this race, for an unpaid job,” said Lundstrom, who was surprised to see such an infusion of cash.

Lundstrom caused a stir a few months ago when the director of a legislative agency, the Legislative Finance Committee, asked the Department of Game and Fish – then quickly withdrew the request – for information on Clawson’s possible hunting and fishing violations. Lundstrom blamed a miscommunication with the LFC staff, and the attorney general found no state law was broken.

Pivotal races

Republicans need to hang on to the number of seats they have, and pick up another three, in order to become the majority. They’re hoping the presence of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez at the top of their ticket as she runs for re-election will provide the boost they need.

Democrats, meanwhile, would like to widen their majority margin and give themselves more breathing room. In this year’s legislative session, with two Democrats absent because of serious health problems, some votes were extremely close.

The state budget bill failed on a tie vote the first time around when one Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, voted with the bill’s GOP opponents.

eff was knocked off the primary ballot because she didn’t have enough valid signatures on her nominating petitions. She has said she will file as a write-in candidate for the general election.

The answer to which party will control the House next year likely depends on the outcome of races in 10 districts that are considered winnable by either side – decisions that voters won’t make until November.

High on the list of competitive races is the Doña Ana County contest between second-term Republican Rep. Terry McMillan and Democrat Joanne Ferrary. She lost to him two years ago by just eight votes, and is back for a rematch in District 37.

Another GOP lawmaker, freshman Paul Pacheco of Albuquerque, beat a Democratic newcomer in District 23 by 78 votes last time; he has a different opponent this time around, lawyer Catherine Begaye.

Democrats are eager to recapture the seat of the late Democratic Rep. Stephen Easley in District 50, which stretches from just outside Santa Fe to the Belen area. Republican Vickie Perea of Belen was appointed to the position last year by Martinez after Easley’s death; Democrats hope conservation lawyer Matthew McQueen of Galisteo, buoyed by the Santa Fe area vote, can unseat her.

Republicans, meanwhile, have their sights on the Los Alamos seat held by Democratic Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, who beat a Republican incumbent two years ago in a close race. But first, there’s a GOP primary in District 43; the candidates vying to run against Garcia Richard are Los Alamos County Council Chairman Geoff Rodgers and former County Councilor Vincent Chiravalle.

The more moderate Rodgers could prove more difficult for Garcia Richard to beat in November; the district was represented for two decades by a moderate Republican, the late Jeannette Wallace.

Democrats are also eyeing District 7, the Valencia County seat of freshman GOP Rep. Kelly Fajardo. In 2012 she defeated Andrew Barreras, the Democratic former representative who had been ousted from the seat two years earlier. This year, Barreras is back in a primary contest with newcomer and fellow Democrat Teresa Smith de Cherif; the winner takes on Fajardo in November.

Republicans are trying to pick up two Albuquerque seats occupied by freshmen Democrats: District 15, where Rep. Emily Kane is challenged by Republican Sarah Maestas Barnes; and District 24, where Rep. Elizabeth Thomson faces Republican Conrad James, a former one-term House member whom Thomson defeated two years ago.

In Doña Ana County’s District 36, Hatch mayor and newly minted Republican Andy Nuñez – who has been a Democrat and an independent in the past – is running in November against Democratic Rep. Phillip Archuleta. Archuleta, a first-term lawmaker who missed this year’s session for health reasons, defeated Nuñez two years ago. Nuñez was the incumbent at the time; he had been elected as a Democrat but had left the party and was running as an independent.

Another swing seat is District 53 in Doña Ana County, where Democratic Rep. Nate Cote isn’t seeking re-election. The GOP’s Ricky Little – who held the seat previously but was ousted by Cote – is running against Democrat Mariaelena Johnson.

And in San Juan County’s District 4, Democrat Harrison Todacheene is challenging GOP Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage. She defeated a seven-term Democratic incumbent, Ray Begaye, two years ago to win the seat.

Incumbent challengers

Other incumbents with challengers from within their own parties on June 3 include the House’s longest-serving member, Democrat Nick Salazar of Ohkay Owingeh, who is in his 42nd year in the House. Ex-Rep. Bengie Regensberg of Cleveland is running against him in District 40, as he did in 2012.

Another veteran lawmaker, Rep. James Roger Madalena of Jemez Pueblo, faces Sandoval County Commissioner Orlando Lucero in the Democratic primary in District 65. Madalena has been in the House since 1985.

Democratic Rep. Mary Helen Garcia of Las Cruces has two primary challengers in District 34, retired New Mexico State University professor Bealquin “Bill” Gomez and former Sunland Park City Council member Christian Lira.

Democratic former lawmaker Richard Vigil of Ribera is trying to retake the District 70 seat he lost to Democrat Tomas Salazar of Las Vegas two years ago.

On the Republican ballot, Rep. Zach Cook of Ruidoso has a challenge from former Lincoln County GOP chairman Jim Lowrance.

And in an Albuquerque race, GOP Rep. Thomas Anderson faces businessman and pastor David Adkins in West Side District 29.

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