Portions of 16 counties wind through New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, encompassing "metro" areas as diverse as Santa Fe in the north and Gallup in the northwest, along with large swaths of rural communities and tribal areas, not to mention Los Alamos National Laboratory. The district is also the state's most ethnically diverse, broken down in the last census as 39.1% Hispanic, 39.3% white and 17.5% Native American.
A Republican has only won the seat one time since it was created in 1982, in a three-way 1997 special election. That race sent Republican Los Alamos minister Bill Redmond to Congress when Green Carol Miller siphoned enough votes away from Democrat Eric Serna (17%, if memory serves). Otherwise, it's been represented solely by Democrats: first by Bill Richardson, who left to become a US Ambassador; then by Tom Udall, who left to become a US Senator; and currently by Ben Ray Lujan, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary to fill the retiring Udall's seat.
Lujan's announced departure a year ago created a large field of contenders and, while a few of them seem to have disappeared, seven stalwarts remained throughout the entirety of the primary season. And when the state declared an emergency March 11, all the campaigns swiftly morphed from a busy schedule of in-person forums to a just-as-busy schedule of online ones.
SFR attempted to keep up throughout. We were in the audience when they revealed their younger selves at a Girls Inc. forum back in January. We were there, armed with hand sanitizer, at one of the last face-to-face gatherings, the Democratic Party pre-primary convention in early March, where all the candidates made their cases to delegates (but only Teresa Leger Fernandez and Laura Montoya won enough votes to appear on the ballot without additional signature gathering with 41.9% and 20.4% of the delegate vote, respectively). And we've been lurking at the virtual forums and the Facebook live events, while also scouring their websites and reading their questionnaires.
Outgoing US Rep. Lujan tells SFR he thinks voters will be served by whomever wins and that it's important to "come together" in the general election "to make sure we're standing up to defeat Donald Trump." (And the winning Democrat will face a general election challenge; three Republicans, former Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya, Alexis M Johnson and Karen Evette Bedonie face off in a primary of their own, plus Republican Angela Gale Morales qualified as a write-in candidate). Specifically, Lujan says, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance in the 3rd Congressional District for more economic diversity, access to broadband and, beyond all, affordable health care. "What has been made clear to everybody is the importance of people being able to see a doctor and get that care when they're sick," Lujan says.
Based on tidbits gleaned from the above-named sources and beyond, here's a quick look at all the candidates, whose platforms and positions can be explored in greater detail on their websites and the Santa Fe County League of Women Voters guide (lwvsfc.org).
Experience: Former New Mexico Deputy Secretary of State, former director of Intergovernmental & External Affairs at the US Department of the Interior; worked for both former US Sen. Jeff Bingaman and US Sen. Martin Heinrich when he was a congressman
Notable endorsements: LGBTQ Victory fund, Equality PAC
Quotable: "I'm running because the families I grew up with in Santa Fe, the families all across this district, are being left out by the dysfunction of what's happening in Washington on Capitol Hill. We've got Republicans who care more about NRA lobbyists than they do about kids getting shot in school. We've got Big Pharma lining their pockets with billions of dollars while we're still paying too much for prescription drugs and crawling out of this opioid epidemic. And we've got a president and Republicans who are pretending the climate crisis doesn't even exist and that's ridiculous." —League of Women Voters Los Alamos virtual forum
Fun fact: Shared his cell-phone number in an endearing ad that showed him talking to potential constituents while walking his dog, showering and getting ready for bed with his husband. It's 505-795-1428, by the way.
Cha-ching: Raised $341,343 raised; $141,205 cash on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings
Hero/mentor: Former US Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM. "It is so rare to see an elected official who is generally in this for the right reason."
Teresa Leger Fernandez
Experience: Lawyer at Leger Law and Strategy, LLC, White House fellow, Homewise board member
Notable endorsements: Emily's List, Sierra Club, Jicarilla Apache Nation
Quotable: "I often say that for a representative to adequately represent this district, she needs to know not only its beauty, but also its poverty. I understand that diversity because I'm from that diversity." —Shondaland.com interview, April 28, 2020
Fun fact: Leger Fernandez posted an Easter message on Facebook that included a glimpse into her family’s standard (aka non-pandemic) traditions: “Lamb plus red chile—my Mom insisting we all hop up and down singing Happy Easter, Happy spring, Happy happy everything, poems written and stuffed into plastic Easter eggs.” Leger Fernandez says her parents helped write the state’s 1973 Bilingual and Multicultural Education Act, which incorporated Spanish and Indigenous languages and history into public school requirements.
Cha-ching: $1,058,115 raised; $640,210.57 on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings
Hero/mentor: Her parents, former state senator and educator Ray Leger and bilingual educator Manuelita de Atocha (Mela) Lucero. "Both he and my mother are my political heroes."
Experience: Sandoval County treasurer, worked as constituent services representative for former US Sen. Jeff Bingaman, worked for state Treasurer's Office and other state agencies
Notable endorsements: State Rep. Christine Trujillo, Mayor Don Topper of Cochiti Lake, Questa activist Joe Cisneros
Quotable: "As a treasurer, I always follow the money…when you look at our campaign finance reports, some of them are not accurate as to who's putting in money where, and a lot of the money…has come from California, New York, Texas, Washington, Maryland, DC, Virginia. Not New Mexico. So, New Mexico is not for sale and neither am I." —League of Women Voters of Los Alamos April 29 forum
Fun fact: Former Reina de Las Fiestas de Las Vegas, participated with Operation Bandanna, distributing masks
Hero/mentor: Former US Sen. Dennis Chavez, the first Hispanic elected to US Congress. "I love that he was…a public servant known for caring about the people who are the most vulnerable and discriminated against.
Cha-ching: $37,136 raised; $6,428 on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings
Experience: Former undercover CIA agent, spy novelist
Notable endorsements: Stephen Stills (from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young); Mike Farrell (actor who played BJ Hunnicutt in MASH); Patricia Madrid, former New Mexico Attorney General
Quotable: "I dropped to the ground and crawled over to Pete, thinking he would know what to do. Despite three months of hard training, my idyllic suburban upbringing had not prepared me for incoming fire and the overwhelming physical sensations that accompanied it. Dragging me a few yards away to a crest of land, Pete pointed at the helicopter: 'Get your ass over there!'"—Chapter, 1, "Joining the CIA," from Fair Game by Valerie Plame
Fun fact(s): had identity betrayed by Bush administration while an undercover CIA agent; author of Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House; portrayed by Naomi Watts in film version of said memoir; retweeted antisemitic article in 2017, apologized and said she hadn't read it carefully, purportedly joined Beth Shalom synagogue
Hero/mentor: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "I love to point to her for how far we have come…Over the years, I've had the chance to meet a lot of fancy people. The only one I was impressed with was meeting Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Santa Fe Opera."
Cha-ching: $1,694,416 raised ; $690,165 on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings
Experience: State legislator for the New Mexico House of Representatives, District 40; Engineer in the Engineering Services Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Notable endorsements: New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters Association, the International Firefighters Association, State Rep. Anthony Allison, D-San Juan
Quotable: "Everyone should be treated with respect and dignity and no one should be judged for who they are. We need to educate society on this issue. We really gotta' enforce and make anti-bullying laws are placed or enforced. I know I was bullied when I was in junior high. I grew up in a place where it was tough." —In response to questions on how candidates will protect LGBTQ students at the Girls Inc. "Smart Girls/Bold Questions" live forum
Fun fact: Plays the saxophone in his family's band, the award-winning Los Blue Ventures
Hero/mentor: John F. Kennedy, "He gave a lot of speeches and inspired a lot of people to get into public service." State Rep. Nick Salazar (whose seat Sanchez filled when Salazar retired): "What I really admired about him was he said you always represent your district first and represent your people."
Cha-ching: $121,612 raised; $92,683 on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings
Experience: District Attorney in the First Judicial District
Notable endorsements: Former Navy reconnaissance pilot and host of Evergreen's Burn the Boats podcast Ken Harbaugh; former Third Congressional Candidate and current president of the Navajo Nation San Juan River Farm Board Dineh Benally
Quotable: "As a leader, you also recognize when your office makes mistakes. Do I believe that the dismissal was the proper remedy? Absolutely not. Do I believe it showed some inefficiencies in the office? It did, absolutely, and we made changes, so we were never placed in that position again." — Discussing the Robert Mondrian-Powell case, in which the accused murderer was dismissed in district court after a ruling that he had been denied a speedy trial by the DA. Monrian-Powell then died before the DA's appeal of that ruling was heard during a Santa Fe County Federation of Democratic Women forum between Serna and Plame
Fun fact: His identical twin brother JonCarlo Serna is his campaign manager; his father, Eric Serna, ran for the same congressional seat in 1997 and lost in a three-way race
Hero/mentor: Cesar Chavez. "He really took a population that no one was paying attention to during that civil rights movement and created [the National Farm Workers Association] with the help of Dolores Huerta to make sure they were protected."
Cha-ching: $643,107 raised; $256,120 on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings
Experience: Public interest environmental attorney; directs the climate and energy program for a non-profit law firm from his office in Taos
Notable endorsements: Aztec Mayor Victor Snover
Quotable: "…I did not build my career or aspire to become a politician. As a public interest attorney, I've spent my career fighting for people in communities living in the shadow of fossil fuel exploitation and holding our federal government accountable to the science and the timeline of climate change." —May 6 Democratic Party of Santa Fe online forum
Fun fact: When asked what superpower he wished he had (at the Girls Inc. forum), Tisdel said Tisdale said he would want the ability "to spread love and compassion amongst our communities."
Hero/mentor:"There are a lot of folks who I get the pleasure of working with day in and day out who inspire me and who are leading in their communities and fighting for change," he says. Historically, he points to Franklin D Roosevelt: "The New Deal not only expanded rights and provided fair labor standards and created a safety net, but he presided over a period that then led to the greatest expansion of wealth and prosperity this country has ever known."
Cha-ching: $64,590 raised; $2,837 on hand, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings