Women to hold majority of House seats in New Mexico
Tuesday’s election marked a milestone for women in the New Mexico House of Representatives, as they took more than half the seats for the first time.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, called the 37-33 majority of women in the chamber “a very, very exciting achievement for New Mexico.”
The count, four more women than are currently serving in the House, includes six newly elected Democrats, five new Republicans and one independent. It might be one of the most significant changes in the makeup of New Mexico Legislature.
Democrats, who hold a wide majority in both chambers, gained one seat in the state Senate and were poised for two possible losses in the House — including in a southern district where a Republican challenger was ahead of the incumbent by just eight votes.
The House District 53 race between Democratic Rep. William Madrid and GOP contender Rick Little, both of Chaparral, is up for a recount. Madrid took the seat from Little two years ago in a tight race.
Another House seat, left vacant in August by Democrat Patricio Ruiloba, went to Britney Barreras, an independent.
But Barreras, who bested Democratic write-in contender Art De La Cruz on Tuesday, said she’s always held Democratic values and plans to caucus with House Democrats. Ultimately, Barreras said, she will register as a Democrat.
De La Cruz, meanwhile, was appointed to the House District 12 seat in September by the Bernalillo County Commission to serve out Ruiloba’s term.
The slightly altered Democratic majorities in the Legislature — 27-15 in the Senate and 44-26 in the House — will mean little when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January for the 2021 legislative session.
Still, nearly a quarter of the Senate will be newcomers, including a handful who will take the seats of powerful conservative Democrats ousted by more progressive candidates in the June primary. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said the 42-member body will see 11 new lawmakers in January.
“We gained three, lost two and held our incumbents,” Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Wednesday morning. “Overall, we are very happy where we are.”
Maintaining a comfortable majority of Democrats in both chambers is likely to help Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham push forward legislation she favors, such as repealing an old and unenforceable abortion ban and legalizing recreational marijuana, Wirth said Tuesday night.
Wirth expressed disappointment, however, that GOP candidates seized two seats long held by conservative Democrats. Republican Joshua Sanchez of Belen won the District 30 seat held by Clemente Sanchez of Grants in a race against Democrat Pam Cordova, and Republican Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte soundly defeated Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg in District 35, now represented by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. The 32-year lawmaker, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, long has been a heavyweight when it comes to budget matters.
Other progressive Democrats were successful in their bids to take Senate seats from more conservative members of the party: Leo Jaramillo is replacing Sen. Richard Martinez in Northern New Mexico’s District 5; Siah Correa Hemphill will replace Sen. Gabriel Ramos in the sprawling southwestern District 28; and Carrie Hamblen will take the southern District 38 seat of Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen.
Democrats also picked up two new Senate seats in the Albuquerque area. Katy Duhigg ousted Republican Candace Gould in District 10, and Harold James Pope defeated GOP incumbent Sander Rue in District 23.
Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho said Tuesday night wasn’t a good night for his party.
“The voters voted for who they want, and they basically voted for the status quo,” Brandt said. “That’s their prerogative. We serve the voters.”
He said he felt the presidential election, in which voters in his area clearly supported Democrat Joe Biden over Republican President Donald Trump, created a Democratic wave in the state that “absolutely” played a role in New Mexico elections.
“Without a doubt,” Brandt said.
Rep. Gregg Schmedes, R-Albuquerque, won the Senate District 19 seat held by fellow Republican James White, whom Schmedes beat in the primary. Schmedes successfully fought off Democratic challenger Claudia Risner and Libertarian John Douglas McDivitt in a heavily Republican district that includes part of southern Santa Fe County.
In the House, Republican businessman Luis Terrazas won the District 39 seat in Grant County held by Democratic incumbent Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez.
With the District 53 seat still up for grabs in Southern New Mexico, Egolf said he is bracing for two losses, which would still leave Democrats with a healthy majority.
Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the results of the automatic recount in District 53 will be released Nov. 24 when the State Canvassing Board convenes to certify the count. If either candidate contests the recount, that person may request another one — but he would have to pay for it, Curtas said.