New Mexico Republicans on Tuesday chose former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti to face off against incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the November election.
With 58% of the ballots cast in his favor as of presstime, Ronchetti dispatched with his top opponent, state Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences, who garnered 16% of Republican votes in Tuesday’s primary, according to early, unofficial results. The also-rans included retired Brig. Gen. Greg Zanetti (14%), Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block (10%) and Ethel Maharg, the former mayor of the Village of Cuba and an anti-abortion activist who earned just 2%.
This marks Ronchetti’s second try with the state’s voters. He lost the 2020 US Senate race to Ben Ray Lujan, but showed well with 46% of the vote. He rolled to victory this time around in a relatively low-turnout affair.
Santa Fe County saw 28% of voters pull levers for their favored candidates. SFR is reporting on contested races in which local voters have a say—from a magistrate judge to a pair of county commissioners to the sheriff—all of which happened to be Democratic contests.
Statewide, the turnout was a bit lighter at 25%. Out of 1,032,015 registered New Mexico voters, nearly 260,000 cast ballots with more than 91.4% of precincts reporting. About 21,000 people voted absentee and another 103,000 doing so early, in-person.
Acrimony marked the GOP governor’s race, with Ronchetti and Dow, in particular, hitting each other in campaign ads and on the debate stage as not conservative enough. Both candidates tried to cozy up to the specter of Donald Trump on the campaign trail—a strategy they clearly believed would win over New Mexico’s Republican voters.
“Why are our kids moving out of New Mexico for a better life?” Ronchetti said during his victory speech in Albuquerque. “We will deliver that life right here.”
The longtime, well-known meteorologist at KRQE-TV in Albuquerque also took his share of shots at Lujan Grisham during the primary cycle, often railing about the impacts COVID-19 shutdowns had on small businesses and schools.
On paper, Ronchetti will have a steep hill to climb come Nov. 8 when he faces off against Lujan Grisham, a former state health secretary, Bernalillo County commissioner and three-term congresswoman who is seeking four more years in the Governor’s Mansion. That’s because Democrats outnumber Republicans 44% to 31% on the state’s voter rolls, though the fastest-growing voting bloc is now registered as “declined to state,” with 22% claiming that designation. (Jeff Proctor)
Mendoza re-elected as Santa Fe County Sheriff
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza handily slipped past longtime Santa Fe Police Department Lt. David Webb in the Democratic primary.
Unofficial results showed the incumbent starting off strong as tallies rolled in Tuesday evening. By the end of the night, Mendoza had claimed 56% of the votes to Webb’s 44%. No Republicans are on the general election ballot for the job.
That means Mendoza, 49, will serve another four years after navigating the COVID-19 pandemic during his first term. He plans on taking strides in recruitment and retention, expanding the department’s ability to provide community-based health services for people with addictions and improving communication by shoring up gaps in radio transmissions.
Voters exiting the polls Tuesday showed concern about the available manpower at the sheriff’s office. Tina Brennan, for instance, wants a larger and more balanced presence.
“It seems like patrolling goes around more wealthy areas than anywhere else, and they’re really needed in neighborhoods that are falling apart, because there’s no police protection there,” she says outside the Santa Fe County Fair building.
The two candidates jockeyed for local support leading up to the election, each receiving endorsements from various county officials. Webb was backed by the Santa Fe County Deputy Sheriffs Association, which also delivered a letter to county officials in January, saying its members had taken a vote of no confidence in Mendoza’s leadership. Mendoza claims the letter was politically motivated, although Webb denied any involvement.
Mendoza looks forward to getting back to work. His next step, he tells SFR, is to reassess the department—internally and externally—to see what areas can be improved.
“I think we stood on our proven leadership and the things we accomplished over the last three and a half years,” Mendoza says. “I think people saw that and recognize that we’ve kept Santa Fe County safe and I think they appreciate the vision we have for the next four years. I think they didn’t appreciate the negativity of the campaign and I think that goes a long way.” (Grant Crawford)
Greene, Bustamante win Santa Fe County Commission seats
Santa Fe County will have two new commissioners—Justin Greene for District 1 and Camilla Bustamante for District 3—after the pair defeated their opponents in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, according to unofficial election results. No Republicans are on the ballot for either post in the November general election.
Greene received 37% of the votes, compared to Jon Paul Romero’s 31% and Orlando Alfonso Romero’s 32% for the northern district. Bustamante, meanwhile, beat out incumbent District 3 Commissioner Rudy Garcia and Santa Fe City Councilor Chris Rivera for the southern district, pulling in 63% of the votes. Garcia and Rivera respectively received 14% and 23% of the votes.
Greene, 52, worked as an architect for private firms before helping develop the City of Santa Fe’s Railyard and Community Convention Center. The owner of Dashing Delivery, he has served on the Santa Fe Planning Commission, the Pueblo of Tesuque Development Committee and the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee.
Bustamante, 58, was dean for the School of Trades, Advanced Technologies, and Sustainability at Santa Fe Community College for seven years. Before that, she was dean of Community, Workforce, Career Technical Education at Northern New Mexico College. She also has over 20 years of experience in environmental science and health safety work.
After getting out and talking with constituents, Bustamante credits her message of working toward a better quality of life. Next, she plans to work with the city, towns and communities she will serve to achieve that goal.
“I think, clearly, the constituents [are] going in the direction they know is going to be best for their interests,” Bustamante tells SFR. “I just really got out and listened to people and I really have to say thank you for trusting me. The priority now is: How do we all do this together.” (GC)
Khalsa to serve as Magistrate Court judge
Dev Atma Singh Khalsa will take over the Division 2 Santa Fe County Magistrate Court bench, defeating three others on the Democratic primary ticket vying to replace Judge George Anaya, Jr., who served for more than 25 years.
Khalsa received 40% of the tally, according to early returns, edging out Melissa Mascarenas who claimed 30%. John Baca and Michael Roybal finished with 14% and 15%, respectively. No Republicans filed for the position, meaning Khalsa gets the job after the general election.
Magistrate judges deal with a variety of criminal misdemeanors, landlord-tenant disputes and traffic violations. They spend much of their time on DWI cases, but they also hear civil cases with an amount in controversy of up to $10,000, as well as felony preliminary hearings to determine probable cause.
Khalsa was the only attorney to run for the bench seat. He previously handled cases in private practice for two years before moving to the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office in 2019. As an assistant DA, he juggles a docket of about 60 to 80 felony cases at the Rio Arriba Magistrate Court.
On the campaign trail, he developed a five-point plan to focus on court transparency; housing equity; “rights-focused DWI cases;” identifying addicted populations; and ending violence. It’s those types of proposals that Khalsa thinks set him apart.
“I think I’m the only person that put forward any kind of plan,” he tells SFR. “I think I came across as professional and also unassuming. I take the responsibility very seriously and I feel incredibly humbled.”
His first goal as the new judge is to install a domestic violence specialty court.
“I’m not sure what that looks like in terms of a state grant-funding calendar, but I will be on day one reaching out to the people that I know to try to get that ball rolling,” Khalsa says. (GC)
Torrez takes attorney general race
In the race for state attorney general, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez survived a bitter primary contest marked by darkly soundtracked TV ads and a gloves-off flavor to beat state Auditor Brian Colón with 53% of the vote, according to early, unofficial results.
Torres slammed Colón on the trail as a pay-to-play-loving, entrenched politician who would offer little more than another four-year term like the two Colón’s friend, former law school classmate and current AG Hector Balderas will complete at the end of this year.
Colón, in turn, whacked Torres for high crime rates in Albuquerque and questionable tactics he used at various times during his career as a prosecutor.
Torrez addressed supporters in Albuquerque shortly before 10:30 pm Tuesday night, evoking the loss wrought by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.
“Those communities have thrived for hundreds of years, and it is not right that the federal government has jeopardized their very future,” he said. “And I guarantee you and promise you that the Attorney General’s Office from day one will be focused on rebuilding the devastated communities in Northern New Mexico.”
Torrez is a former federal prosecutor and in his second term as DA in the state’s largest city. Tuesday marked the third election loss for his opponent, who was defeated in the 2010 lieutenant governor race and again in 2016 in the Albuquerque mayor’s race.
Jane Bernard, a Santa Fe resident of more than 30 years, is a “serial voter,” though like many voters SFR spoke with, she wasn’t casting a ballot with as much zeal as in past elections.
In the AG’s race, Bernard wants a change. She sees Balderas’ decisions in office as politically motivated, so she cast her ballot for Torrez.
Mason Hurlocker, another voter outside Gonzales Community School, tells SFR he was looking for the most progressive candidate on the ballot. So Colón received his vote.
Hurlocker says he doesn’t like Torrez’s prosecuting decisions. And while Colón doesn’t bring prosecuting experience, that’s not a prerequisite for the job. (JP)
Statewide financial offices go to moneyed candidates
Democratic primary races for state auditor and state treasurer went to the candidates who outraised their opponents, according to early returns.
Laura Montoya beat out Heather Benavidez for the Democratic nomination in the treasurer’s contest, leveraging her nearly $36,000 fundraising advantage over Benavidez.
Montoya earned 59% of the votes, unofficial results from the secretary of state show; in Santa Fe County she earned 58% of votes.
“There’s already a proven track record of what I can do as an overachiever to serve New Mexicans, now the sky is the limit,” Montoya tells SFR.
If Montoya defeats Republican Harry Montoya in the November general election, she’ll become the state’s first female state treasurer—and, she notes, the first female of color.
Montoya hopes to serve as a role model to young New Mexicans, saying she plans to “talk to them about financial literacy and how important it is and that they can accomplish anything they want.”
In the race for state auditor, voters opted for political experience in Joseph Maestas to run the office that monitors for waste, fraud and abuse of public funds. Maestas bested his opponent, Zack Quintero, earning 57% of the votes, early returns show.
“Our message that experience matters resonated with voters,” Maestas tells SFR. “Folks want an independent watchdog that will stand up…in the interest of upholding the public trust.”
Maestas will face Jason Vaillancourt, a Libertarian, in the general election.
Maestas is wrapping a two-year term on the Public Regulation Commission and also served as mayor of Española and a Santa Fe city councilor. He outraised Quintero by over $30,000, bringing in more than $170,000 to finance his successful bid for the Democratic nomination. (William Melhado)
Incumbent Rep. Andrea Romero holds seat
Santa Fe’s delegation to the state House of Representatives next year will in all likelihood look very similar to this past year.
The biggest change will be in House District 46, where Democratic Speaker Brian Egolf stepped down and will be replaced by his chief of staff, Reena Szczepanski.
Szczepanski won’t face a Republican challenger in November. Nor will other Santa Fe Democrats, including Linda Serrato, Tara Lujan and Matthew McQueen, representing House Districts 45, 48 and 50, respectively.
The only contested race, for House District 46, went to incumbent Andrea Romero, with 62% of voters casting a ballot to re-elect her, according to early, unofficial results.
Henry Roybal, Santa Fe County’s District 1 commissioner, came in second with 33% of the votes for the Democratic nomination. Ryan Erik Salazar earned 5% of the vote.
Julie Dean cast a ballot for Romero on Tuesday, she says, because of the incumbent’s ability to connect with and represent so many different populations.
“She’s a good voice for women right now, who need that voice,” Dean tells SFR outside Gonzales Community School on Tuesday afternoon.
Romero also earned Claudia Pavel’s vote to secure her third term as a state representative. Pavel cited Planned Parenthood’s endorsement as a major reason for her support for Romero.
The election served as a barometer for Romero about Santa Fean’s perception of her work at the Roundhouse.
“Are we a different place than what I came into as a progressive Democrat, from four years ago? What has the pandemic done?” Romero asks at her watch party on Tuesday evening.
“It just shows that we’re continually on this trajectory trying to move New Mexico forward in a way that is truly progressive,” she tells SFR.
For the upcoming session, Romero says she looks forward to focusing on water and housing affordability, issues on the forefront of her constituents’ minds. (WM)