Three challengers have picked up election packets, including 25-year-old Houston Johansen, who seeks to bring a fresh voice to the council, 36-year-old Doug Nava and Gilbert Garcia.
It’s not as though Bushee will be easy to beat. By election time, she will have served 18 years on the council, making her the longest sitting current member. Though this comes with significant advantages, it also could turn off an electorate that sometimes skews against incumbents during hard economic times.
“It’s very hard for anyone in a position for that long to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking,” Johansen tells SFR.
City election voter turnout is often low. In 2010, 27 percent of Santa Fe’s registered voters showed up.
Sandra Wechsler, a political consultant who’s worked on local campaigns including Mayor David Coss’ re-election bid last year, says a candidate who reaches out to the city’s younger professional crowd could make a compelling case.
“There are voting blocs of young people that haven’t been tapped yet,” Wechsler tells SFR.
“People are leaving because there’s no opportunity.” Johansen echoes that talking point—and, currently without a steady job, he’s a living example of it.
For the time being, he’s volunteering and working with a few nonprofits, including Earth Care International. (Johansen also interned for Bill Hume when Hume was Gov. Bill Richardson’s water advisor.) His campaign platform includes a push for increased access to broadband and improving Santa Fe’s food and water sustainability.
Bushee, for her part, says she welcomes a lively debate. She will continue to focus on allowing instant runoff voting in city elections, curbing crime in her district and bringing an International Mountain Bicycling Association convention to the city, she says.
Bushee’s territory also grew through redistricting, meaning she’ll have to introduce herself to new voters from the city’s west side. Those voters formerly belonged to District 3, known for its low voter turnout.
The March elections will also mark the first time the city uses the public campaign financing rules approved by voters in 2008. Candidates can qualify for $15,000 in city campaign funds as long as they get separate $5 contributions from 150 registered voters in their district. But they can also opt for private donations, where they’re limited to $1,000 per donor.
Bushee says she’s excited to publicly finance her campaign next year. Candidates also need signatures from one half of one percent of registered voters in their districts to make the ballot.
Aspirants have until Nov. 5 to submit petitions.