House Salad

Northern New Mexico's legislative races are in the mix for the state's most interesting

A handful of Northern New Mexico legislative races in the upcoming general election will impact the state's balance of power, whether that's between parties or, as is the case in House District 46, within a party.

As they are every two years, all seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs. After a brief stint in power from 2015-17, Republicans ceded control of the House back to Democrats. The current party balance is 38-31, with House District 27 vacant after the death of longtime Albuquerque Republican Larry Larrañaga.

District 46 (Santa Fe, Pojoaque, Tesuque, Nambé)

Long the seat of power in the House under Speaker Ben Luján, upstart Rep. Carl Trujillo has held it for the past three terms. Sexual misconduct allegations derailed Trujillo's re-election bid, and Andrea Romero is now the Democratic nominee in the primary.

But Romero has her own baggage. So much so, in fact, that she's drawn a serious write-in challenge from Democrat Heather Nordquist.

Earlier this year, Nordquist was one of two people who spoke up about spending by Romero in her role as executive director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. Romero footed the bill for pricey dinners, drinks and a ballgame in Washington, DC, and some of the same here at home. She charged the coalition for the spending (it was approved), but it was later deemed improper.

Critics like Nordquist say Romero should have known not to spend big on the public dime. Romero says she's paid back what the coalition told her to after reexamining the spending.

Aside from being the party's elected nominee—or perhaps because of it—Romero has the fundraising advantage. She's tallied $98,000, though more than half that was raised during her hard-won primary against Trujillo. She has $16,000 ready to spend in her effort to claim the seat.

Nordquist has raised a respectable $23,000, but she's had to spend briskly to boost her name recognition. She's been financing many expenses herself, and reported just under $1,000 on hand with a month to go, though it's likely she'll both raise and spend more than that down the stretch.

Romero lives in Santa Fe and is a consultant and sometime Ostrich rancher. Nordquist is a nuclear safeguards specialist at Los Alamos National Lab.

District 43 (Los Alamos, White Rock, Jemez Springs, Cuba)

When Stephanie Garcia Richard announced she was abandoning her hard-won House seat in order to run for state land commissioner, Republicans started salivating. The post had been held by the GOP's Jeannette Wallace for decades before Garcia Richard, and even in the last redistricting plan, the district showed a tendency to perform slightly better for Republican presidential candidates.

Republicans are running to the right on this one. Lisa Shin is a Los Alamos optometrist and big Donald Trump supporter. Los Alamos and White Rock are definitely conservative—but whether they're this conservative is another question. While Republicans can do well here, they've done so on the strength of independent voters and crossover Democrats. Just 30 percent of the district's voters are registered as Republicans, with a full 25 percent declining to affiliate with a party.

Christine Chandler is one of two Democrats on the county council who ran for the nomination. She's proven an able fundraiser, taking in $128,000, which includes a $26,500 loan to herself. She reported $73,000 on hand to spend in the campaign's final month. She'll need to leverage the get-out-the-vote efforts of the Democratic Party to make sure she's not done in by high Republican turnout in the conservative parts of the district.

Shin didn't face a primary opponent, so the $66,000 she's raised has only gone to the general election effort. She has kept almost $30,000 at the ready for the home stretch. That's a lot, and even if you subtract Chandler's loans to herself, that's more than $75,000 between the two candidates to pump into mailboxes, radio stations and maybe even TV ads over the final four weeks of the race.

District 50 (Eldorado, Galisteo, Mountainair, Edgewood, Moriarty, Rio Communities)

It might seem likely that voters would return attorney Matthew McQueen to his seat. He's considered among the more capable, involved House lawmakers. But independent candidate Jarratt Applewhite has raised his profile much higher than most unknown challengers. The massive district includes Eldorado and leans Democratic, but it stretches to include parts of more conservative communities like Edgewood and Moriarty, and there are enough rural voters to make things interesting if they break for Applewhite.

That scenario looks something like this: While not especially motivated by Applewhite, Republican and independent-minded voters who aren't affiliated with a party turn out to vote for top-of-the ticket races like governor and Senate. As they work their way down the ballot, they come to the McQueen vs. Applewhite race and decide to try something different. Coupled with the voters who are motivated by his candidacy, Applewhite lands a surprise gig at the Roundhouse.

It's not the likeliest of scenarios, especially if any new polls show a widening gap for governor or Martin Heinrich's US Senate seat. But it's not crazy.

What's working against Applewhite—other than McQueen's reputation—is McQueen's bank account. Though the two have both raised about $60,000, McQueen still has $49,000 to spend and the Democratic Party infrastructure when it comes to getting out the vote.

What's working for Applewhite is that he's plugged into a national network of nonpartisan candidates and seems to be fundraising through it. He's also loaned himself $27,500 for the campaign, so his $3,300 cash-on-hand balance isn't the anchor that it might seem. Applewhite is a entrepreneur and civil servant, and a passive investor in Albuquerque's Bow & Arrow Brewing Co.

He also has the notable distinction of having received $140 from Nirvana bass guitar player Krist Novoselic, who listed his profession as "accordionist."

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