As voters across Santa Fe, the state and the nation cast ballots for the Nov. 3 general election with a focus on the White House, Northern New Mexico's contests offer far less competition. As this issue goes to press, it's been just one week since the start of voting, and already more than 71,000 people have cast ballots. Hundreds of thousands have asked for mail-in ballots, which are on the way.
The preponderance of ballots likely to be filled out at kitchen tables this season versus inside polling places means voters have more time to investigate candidates' positions and read up on this year's ballot questions.
Be sure to check out the nonpartisan League of Women Voters guide for more details.
Whenever or however you vote, SFR offers its recommendations on this year's ballot.
House of Representatives:
Teresa Leger Fernandez, Democrat
Leger Fernandez wasn't the Democrat with the most name recognition heading into the June primary but, once she started to stand out among six (seven or eight, depending on the week) candidates, her campaign took off. The Santa Fe lawyer remains our pick for the seat, as she was in the primary, because of her experience and agenda, including support for a single-payer health care system. As a lawyer who has represented tribal interests for decades, she has earned relationships and expertise that will be crucial in representing the district.
Alexis M Johnson trounced two Republicans in the primary. Her appeal to Santa Fe voters who are anti-abortion and anti-mask might carry some weight across the north, but not with us.
Ben Ray Lujan, Democrat
When Sen. Tom Udall announced his plan to retire, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan quickly saw an opening to move. His straight-line race to a six-year term seemed defined from the start, with no Democratic rivals lining up to challenge him. Since entering Congress, his toughest race was his first six-way primary in 2008, when he emerged with 42% of the vote. Since then, he's steadily risen to maintain low 60% percentiles in each contested race. Lujan told us at the March state Democratic Party pre-primary convention that some of his priorities should he be elected will include legislation to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that created corporate personhood; lowering prescription drug costs; addressing gun violence; and helping return the US to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti sent a lot of emails but, when it came time to reply to SFR's request for an interview, we heard crickets. His close, if convenient, alignment with the president and his hardline right-wing views against abortion rights and other issues are not a good fit for this district.
Bob Walsh, who is running on the Libertarian ticket, has some outside-the-box ideas including stabilizing and selling the US Postal Service and considering immigration a human right. However, even he admits the point of his candidacy is not to win but to help the party stay on the ballot.
Watch a debate with all three candidates on Oct. 5 hosted by KOB-TV and The Santa Fe New Mexican here.
New Mexico's amoeba-shaped legislative districts reach across county lines and wiggle through neighborhoods in ways that defy simple description. Not sure which district you live in? You are not alone. Check your voter registration details at nmvote.org to find out. We'll make it easy, though. In each of the Santa Fe-area statehouse races where incumbent Democrats are facing challenges, we recommend voters stick with the current officeholders. In races where the incumbent recently retired or is running for another seat, we nod to the upstart Dems who beat out primary contenders.
That's not to say we find these Democrats faultless but, given what's at stake nationally, this is not the year to cast a vote for an outlier who barely campaigned or meets your druthers on one issue. We're going with the principle of greatest good for the most people. Plus, as noted below, many of the Republicans did not respond to SFR's request for endorsement interviews nor to the League's questionnaires.
House of Representatives:
Linda Serrato, Democrat
Linda Serrato defeated four others seeking to replace Rep. Jim Trujillo in June after he announced his retirement following 17 years in the state House. We said then that Serrato's experience as a political director for US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan and her perspective as the working mother of a young child would benefit the district and the Legislature as a whole. Trujillo formally stepped down last month and the Santa Fe County Commission, legally bound to name a replacement, justly put Serrato in the spot. The election will make it official.
Libertarian candidate Helen Milenski also is on the ballot; she did not reply to SFR's requests for an endorsement interview or to the League of Women voters.
Andrea Romero, Democrat
Andrea Romero had a hard-fought path to this seat when she ousted Carl Trujillo in 2018, but seems to have established herself among the base. The entrepreneur who has pivoted from ostrich farming to "probiotic egg development" drew no challenger in the June primary as she seeks re-election to her second two-year term. Romero is a 17th generation New Mexican—we loved those radio commercials with her abuela—and she has a Stanford University education in political science. During the last session, she served as vice chair of the five-member House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. Her freshman term included passage of a law that allows cities to issue economic development leases on state land designated for their use, as well as a misstep with an anti-transparency bill she was forced to quickly withdraw.
Republican Jay Groseclose, a professional engineer retired from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission did not reply to SFR requests or the League of Women Voters survey, but his website says he wants to "reduce taxes, protect your 2nd Amendment and all constitutional rights, adopt pro-life laws."
Brian Egolf, Democrat
Lawyer Brian Egolf leads the House Democrats as speaker from a district he's represented since 2009—through the dark years when Susana Martinez was governor and into the blue wave of control for his party. Lyla June Johnston, an early primary challenger, dropped out of the contest long before voting began, leaving Egolf free to fight harder on behalf of vulnerable seats for his colleagues. It's important to the whole state as well as voters in Santa Fe, he explains, that the Democratic majority increase enough to axe an antiquated New Mexico state law that denies access to abortion—especially if the US Supreme Court is on its way to overturning Roe v. Wade.
Raye Byford is also on the ballot. The Republican spent 28 years as a police officer, including as deputy chief in Santa Fe. Among other positions with which both SFR and Egolf disagree, Byford opposes legalization of cannabis.
Matthew McQueen, Democrat
Matthew McQueen has put his conservation chops to work representing the mostly-rural district that swings through the Galisteo and Estancia basins and wraps across the Manzanos south of Albuquerque. He serves as chair of the House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Committee and is a member of House Judiciary. He sponsored the House-passed Public Corruption Act in 2019 that would have removed pension and other benefits from elected officials who commit certain crimes while in office, and has backed transparency measures and free speech. We agree with his progressive support of increasing the state minimum wage and legalizing recreational cannabis, and think his understanding of energy policy is important for all New Mexicans, too.
Also on the ballot are Jerry Gage, a Libertarian who lives in Rio Communities (near Belen) and Christina Estrada, a Republican from near Estancia. Gage lost us at "all lives matter," and it's not clear Estrada has relevant experience.
Nancy Rodriguez, Democrat
Nancy Rodriguez was first elected to the seat in 1996 and has served the statehouse continuously for the 23 years since. She is a member of the Senate Finance Committee who seldom draws party opposition in elections and who did not have a challenge for the 2020 primary. She's a supporter of progressive strategies, including the Energy Transition Act and Early Childhood Education Act and wants the state to establish an Office of Broadband to increase connectivity. She opposes the doctrine of qualified immunity, which protects police officers from personal liability in wrongdoing. A community center near Agua Fría bears her name, a sign of her popularity.
Also on the ballot for the Republican Party is Leighton Cornish. He told SFR he took a three-week camping trip in September and was then unable to schedule an endorsement interview, but his website explains that his priorities include repealing the state's new red flag gun law.
Peter Wirth, Democrat
As Senate majority leader, Peter Wirth is known for being level-headed, and he likes to tout his efforts at bipartisanship. Re-election for this Santa Fe lawyer would give him a fourth term and keep his tax and regulatory know-how at hand for New Mexico. SFR is keen on how much attention he pays, and tries to get others to pay, to the state's water issues (See his comments in last week's cover story "Dead in the Water" about the wasted money and energy that went to the Gila Diversion plan flop). He favored two gun-control bills that got traction in the 2020 session, one giving courts authority to order weapon seizure and another increasing sentences for crimes with guns.
Ricardo Vargas is on the ballot for the Republican Party. He did not respond to SFR's request for an endorsement interview or the League of Women voters, and we found nothing about his campaign online.
Liz Stefanics, Democrat
Liz Stefanics has proven she's loyal to the hard work of governing, even if her path has not always led to election. She's been back in the Roundhouse for a third, non-consecutive term in the Senate after serving from 1993 to 1996—when she was the first openly gay member of the Legislature—and losing to a challenger. The former Santa Fe County commissioner chairs the Senate Conservation Committee and she's an advocate for legalizing and taxing cannabis. She tackles issues head on and has called out the creation of task forces as a middling response to addressing problems. As she says in the League questionnaire, the state should "address educational inequalities, public safety standards, health and human services and more in every piece of legislation that we consider."
Also on the ballot for the Republican Party is retired law enforcement officer Joey Tiano. He did not respond to SFR's request for an endorsement interview, but unsurprisingly, he's big into the "rule of law" and describes himself as a "Constitutional Originalist."
Constitutional Amendment One
Short version: Should the PRC be appointed rather than elected?
FOR: The Public Regulation Commission was born in the mid 90s through a constitutional amendment. Then, voters clearly believed the new body was a way of ridding New Mexico of the corruption and problems faced by the former State Corporation Commission. It didn't work. The PRC has been similarly plagued over the years by unqualified commissioners and, yes, ongoing corruptions. Groups such as Think New Mexico have worked hard to address these issues, with legislation aimed at professionalizing the agency and instituting requirements for regulators. Some would argue these laws need more time on the books before reconfiguring the PRC into an appointed versus an elected body. We disagree.
This constitutional amendment would allow this important body—whose work impacts every New Mexican—to operate outside the realm of electoral politics. Moreover, it would provide an opportunity for renewed public trust in a beyond-beleaguered agency. It's worth a try.
ReTake Democracy Now hosted a Zoom debate on the topic Oct. 5 between PRC candidate Joseph Maestas, who advocates against the amendment, and Noah Long, Western Region Director for Climate and Clean Energy with the National Resources Defense Council, in favor of it. Watch here.
Constitutional Amendment Two
Short version: Can the Legislature make laws to standardize the terms of office for county officeholders?
FOR: This amendment was proposed in the wake of what lawmakers refer to as the 2019 election cleanup law. It moved city and school board elections from their spring timelines to the fall, to line up with state elections in odd years. The law didn't affect county and multi-county office holders such as district attorneys because of concerns that synchronizing those elections violated the state constitution. If adopted, voters would give the Legislature the authority to make such changes in the future.
FOR: General obligation bonds are instruments that allow the state to borrow money against property tax revenue to pay for buildings, equipment and other mostly-tangible things. SFR favors this method of raising money for important statewide needs and has listed some local highlights below.
The State Board of Finance estimates that over a 10-year period, the three state questions on the ballot worth just under $200 million would cost a property owner approximately $10.99 per $100,000 of asset value. (A, $1.83, B, $0.54, C $8.62).
Read the Legislature's entire bond package here.
A: $33.2 million for senior citizen facilities: The Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center would get $3.6 million for various projects.
B: $9.8 million for libraries: $3 million each to the Department of Cultural Affairs, Public Education Department and Higher Education for statewide projects.
C: $156.4 million for higher education, special schools and tribal schools: $700,000 to IAIA, $2 million to SFCC; $700,000 for Santa Fe Indian School; $5.3 million for New Mexico School for the Deaf.
Santa Fe County is seeking three general obligation bonds for capital projects that total $20 million. Voter approval would not result in a tax increase, but rather would keep the county's current property-tax rate in play. Check out the county's explanations of the projects and the process here.
1) $4.8 million for open space, trails and parks: The bulk of this ask is for $3.5 million to construct the next section of the Santa River Trail, from Siler Road to San Ysidro Crossing. Rail Trail improvements are also on the list.
2) $11.4 million for roads: Big projects on the list include the Ojo de la Vaca crossing on County Road 51, which has a pricetag of nearly $1.9 million. Projects are proposed in each of the five commission districts. We especially like the addition of sidewalks to Lopez Lane.
3) $3.75 million for water and wastewater: Most of this category would pay for a $2.4 million project at the Abajo Lift station on the southern edge of the Santa Fe city limits.
Due to SFR's litigation against the City of Santa Fe being heard in state District Court and for other reasons, we decline to issue retention and election endorsements in these contests.
The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission offers reviews of judges who are standing for retention, meaning they must earn 57% voter approval to remain on the bench. SFR encourages readers to study individual reports for more details.
In the First Judicial District, which serves Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, the commission recommends retention for: T. Glenn Ellington, Sylvia F. LaMar, Francis J. Mathew, Mary Marlowe Sommer and Matthew Justin Wilson. It determined there had been insufficient time on the bench to evaluate Jason C. Lidyard and Maria E. Sanchez-Gagne.
Also on the ballot for District Court are judges who have been appointed by the governor since the last election and must be elected to remain on the bench: Shannon Broderick Bulman, Bryan Paul Biedsheid and Kathleen McGarry Ellenwood.
Court of Appeals
The ten-person Appeals Court reviews decisions from lower courts and, for appellate opinions, judges act on panels of three. Judges Zach Ives, Shammara H. Henderson and Jane B. Yohalem are running for election to three positions on the court after being appointed by the governor. A Republican slate challenges them: Barbara V. Johnson, Gertrude Lee and Thomas C. Montoya, respectively. Stephen P. Curtis is running on the Libertarian ticket for the seat Henderson occupies. Jacqueline R. Medina is seeking retention, but JPEC did not issue a recommendation due to her short time on the bench.
Justices Shannon Bacon and David K Thomson are Democrats who earned their places on the court after a bipartisan nominating commission provided Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham with a short list. State law requires them to stand for an election after nomination. GOP challengers are Ned s. Fuller, of Farmington, and Kerry J Morris, of Albuquerque, respectively.
Early voting continues through Oct. 31: noon to 8 pm Tuesday through Fridays and 10 am to 6 pm Saturdays at these early-voting sites in Santa Fe County. Early voting at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center takes place from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Voters can check the status of their absentee ballots here.