News

Racing for the House

Four candidates lined up for District 46, the only Santa Fe seat in the lower chamber up for grabs in the June primary

Two hopefuls will challenge Democratic incumbent state Rep. Andrea Romero in the June 7 primary in Santa Fe’s only contested race for the House of Representatives, with the winner facing the lone Republican come November.

Four other Democrats will run unopposed to represent the remaining districts that touch Santa Fe County: 45, 47, 48 and 50.

House District 46, where the action is, covers the region north of the city including Pojoaque, Tesuque and Nambe; it also encompasses slices of the city, notably the Railyard and the area northeast of Siler Road. The district also shares land with four pueblos: Nambé, Pojoaque, Tesuque and San Ildefonso.

The issues dominating the race are familiar to Santa Fe voters: affordable housing and water scarcity.

Newcomer Ryan Erik Salazar says that when we think of affordable housing, we focus on how best to support low-income residents. But he argues that middle-income families have been priced out of Santa Fe.

Middle-income households, burdened by college debt and insufficient wages, haven’t received the support necessary to invest in homes, Salazar says.

“We need a larger middle class and it’s shrinking,” says Salazar, adding, “I see it especially living in Santa Fe County.”

A lifelong resident of the district, Salazar, 30, works for Los Alamos National Laboratory as a buyer for federal acquisitions. He sees a need to provide legislative support to small businesses as a way to help middle-income families and secure better rights for workers.

With so many Santa Fe County residents working in the service industry, Salazar says that many are “juggling three jobs, three 20-hour jobs, minimum wage, just to put a roof over their heads and sometimes their family. And that’s a lot of people in Santa Fe County.”

Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal, 52, sees the district’s affordable housing crisis as inextricably linked to the region’s fragile relationship to water.

According to the Aamodt settlement agreement, the state engineer severely restricted the drilling of new wells in the Nambe, Pojoaque, Tesuque basin, Roybal says. He laments the difficulty for property owners in this region to drill new wells to supply water for new housing, “even in some areas where they want to subdivide a piece of property.”

Roybal explains that new wells can be drilled under recognized water rights, but his constituents complain that the process is overly complex and has prevented new drilling from taking place.

He says regional leadership needs to work with the state engineer to renegotiate how the community can access water to support new development and ease the pressure on the housing market that has driven median single-family home prices north of half a million dollars.

Wrapping up his second term representing District 1 on the commission, Roybal says he already has good relationships with his constituents. And that would extend to the House district, given the overlap.

“I make sure that I’m responsive and I answer my phone,” he says. “I give my personal number.”

Roybal points to $2 million in federal funding he secured to expand broadband infrastructure along State Road 76 as a success on the commission. Improvements to the Pojoaque Valley Recreation Complex mark another.

Behavioral health initiatives are another priority Roybal says he’d tackle if elected. “We’re looking at just the crime rate that’s going on, homelessness, opioid addiction,” Roybal says, citing indicators of the need to provide better behavioral health services to the communities.

The housing situation also occupies the incumbent’s thoughts.

“I’m greatly concerned about affordability for those seeking…a stable place to live, and there are a lot of folks who are having to change housing and look for more affordable options,” says Romero, 35, who is completing her second term in the House. “But unfortunately, they really just don’t exist right now.”

Romero is pursuing a law degree at the University of New Mexico in addition to running a business that sells probiotic eggs.

To address the lack of supply, which Romero attributes to the overabundance of homes rented through Airbnb or other vacation companies, she would like to “figure out how to potentially get additional revenues for those homeowners that are treating their homes as a business and really try to incentivize them to think about long-term rentals over short-term rentals.”

To further support renters, Romero hopes to modernize landlord-tenant laws to provide more time for lack of payment. The current timeline, Romero explains, only affords renters three days after payment is due before a landlord can serve an eviction notice. She wants to extend that to at least 11 days.

Romero celebrated the passage of the Cannabis Regulation Act, which she co-sponsored, noting not only economic benefits of the historic legislation, but also the protections included in the legislation to regulate water use for growing cannabis.

She says cannabis growers face “the most rigorous water protections that we have for any industry in the state, and I think that’s sort of the gold standard for how you might look at other industries in the state but also how we manage water.”

The incumbent has outraised her opponents many times over, raking in upwards of $53,000, according to her first campaign finance report. Salazar’s filed report shows he has raised just over $1,000; Roybal’s report indicates he’s collected over $5,000.

Though he won’t face a challenger in June, Jay Groseclose will appear on the ballot in November as the Republican candidate for House District 46. Groseclose, 70, unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2020, earning just 23% of the vote in a race against Romero. Groseclose has $4,000 in his war chest, according to his campaign finance report.

Water issues are a top concern for Groseclose, whose background is in engineering and includes a stint with the state Interstate Stream Commission. He believes there’s room for improvement in the management of water and other natural resources.

“The whole question for New Mexicans is, how do we want to live?” Groseclose says. “One thing that I value highly is our vast landscapes, our beautiful horizons.”

He argues that the way communities are being developed, with taller apartment complexes and more wind and solar energy infrastructure, doesn’t align with his hopes for New Mexico’s future.

Groseclose also wants to tackle taxation in New Mexico, by eliminating a tax on Social Security income, which legislators partially accomplished this past session, and reducing the gross receipts tax rate.

The seat for House District 47, soon to be vacated by Speaker Brian Egolf, will go to his chief of staff, Reena Szczepanski, who is running unopposed in both the primary and general election. Francisco Lopez attempted to run against her, but Lopez was disqualified for failing to gather enough signatures from qualified voters.

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