Urging voters to participate in elections and declaring the importance of doing so may seem like pro forma rhetoric. But the Nov. 8 general election carries particular significance, as it will be the first true chance for the electorate to weigh in on significant national issues in the wake of the 2020 election. Those issues include voting rights and access to abortion, both of which are in play in New Mexico.
Our endorsements at the top of the ticket for US Congress, governor and secretary of state lay out arguments for the Democrat incumbents, who have demonstrated their commitments to those issues, as well as to improving the state’s infrastructure, education and health care. These endorsements were based on our interviews with those candidates who made themselves available, as well as reviews of public materials.
We also weigh in on the lengthy ballot’s choices for other state races, as well as proposed state constitutional amendments and an explainer for New Mexico’s sometimes-confusing hybrid system for electing judges. You’ll also find state and Santa Fe County bond questions on this year’s ballot, and we’ve broken down how those funds would be allocated. There’s a lot to parse, but not to worry: Early and absentee voting doesn’t start until Oct. 11!
—Julia Goldberg and Julie Ann Grimm
US Representative: Congressional District 3
Long a stronghold for Democrats, New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District received a makeover during redistricting last year. Now, while still enveloping much of Northern New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, CD3 also now has portions of Republican-leaning counties in the southwestern part of the state.
Nonetheless, Democrats still comprise 47% of registered voters in the district, compared with 30% Republican and 22% other. Political forecasting from FiveThirtyEight also puts the 3rd Congressional District in the “solidly Democrat” column.
We hope it is so.
In her first term, US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández has demonstrated her ability to work with the rest of the state’s congressional delegation to help secure funding desperately needed as New Mexico recovers from the economic toils of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating wildfire season.
Leger Fernández has been a particularly strong voice championing the needs of the Mora and San Miguel County residents who have suffered significant loss from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire and a stentorian critic of the US Forest Service for its role in the disaster. She campaigned for her first term in some part on her rural credentials, and has continued advocating for the district’s rural residents, be it on issues of health care, veterans’ services or protecting water resources. She co-sponsored legislation for federal investment in energy investments for Native American tribal communities and helped lead the US House effort extending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to compensate New Mexico communities still suffering from the effects of radiation exposure. And with every vote counting, Leger Fernández, if re-elected, will be another crucial voice fighting to protect voting rights and women’s constitutional right to abortion.
Republican Alexis Martinez Johnson ran for this seat two years ago as well, garnering 41% of the vote. She was one of the Republicans in this year’s general election who made herself available for an endorsement interview and we appreciate the opportunity to speak with her. Like many of the Republicans on the general election ballot, Martinez Johnson is running on a platform highly critical of President Joe Biden’s administration, with an emphasis on crime, the border, energy policy and the economy. She also holds the federal government responsible for the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, but maintains that had she been in Congress, the prescribed burn would not have happened—a claim that lacks plausibility given how the federal government actually works. Moreover, Martinez Johnson supports the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, relying on the usual strawman/bogeyman discussions of late-term abortions in her reasoning. The US House is likely to flip to Republican control, which will have a significant impact on the next two years. We would endorse Leger Fernández even without those dynamics at play, but this year’s race makes holding onto that seat even more crucial.
Much of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s first term has transpired during an unprecedented global pandemic, which then overlapped with the most devastating wildfire in the state’s history. Her critics blame her for all of the above and then some. To their way of thinking, locking down New Mexico at the height of COVID-19′s surge through the state was unjustified, even if it was done to save lives (which it most certainly did). To our way of thinking, Lujan Grisham has responded aggressively to this slate of crises—badgering the federal government for resources during the pandemic and loudly demanding compensation for the US Forest Service’s role in the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. Even with those calamities, the governor also shepherded the legalization of cannabis; the expansion of college scholarships; bills to increase teacher pay; bills to fund early childhood education; bills to fund more law enforcement hires, among many other initiatives. She has done all that while trying to rebuild a state government largely decimated by her predecessor, particularly in the area of behavioral health. And, when the US Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, Lujan Grisham sprang into action to protect patients and providers and to expand services here, where abortion remains legal, also in part thanks to her.
Make no mistake: We have plenty of criticisms of the governor, some big, some small. Her legal battle with the Legislature regarding authority over federal pandemic dollars last year was a waste of time and money. We disagree with her plans to revamp the state’s pre-trial detention system (read more about that in our Q & A with her on page 17). Her advocacy for hydrogen energy in the face of significant and credible environmental criticism in the last legislative session proved controversial and counterproductive.
But our criticisms of Lujan Grisham could be 20 pages long —which they aren’t—and she would still be, far and away, a better choice than Republican Mark Ronchetti.
Ronchetti did not respond to our requests for an interview, an unsurprising development. Former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez also did not much care for talking to us and, in fact, we sued her administration for discrimination and public records violations. We won the records claims but did not prevail on the discrimination claim, based on state law. We maintain public officials should provide equal access to journalists, regardless of how they perceive their politics. Ronchetti campaign spokesman Enrique Knell, however, in August blocked a Source New Mexico journalist from an event, reasoning to the Albuquerque Journal that Source was “a left-wing advocacy group, not a legitimate news organization.” Knell also was Martinez’s spokesman during the era SFR sued her administration.
Ronchetti is also long on criticisms of the incumbent, but short on specific proposals or solutions.
Finally, if a woman’s right to an abortion is a deal breaker—and it is for our paper—Ronchetti isn’t just a non-viable choice: He’s a real threat. Like other Republicans across the US, he’s tried to backpedal his opposition to abortion access, scrubbing his website to post more moderate views. We don’t support his proposal to put forth an abortion question via a constitutional amendment (an undertaking that would require working successfully with the Legislature). Abortion is already legal here and should stay that way. We believe Lujan Grisham will ensure it does. Moreover, we believe her plans for a second term, which include ongoing initiatives to tackle the state’s endemic poverty; to transition to renewable energy; to improve the lives of New Mexicans, deserve another four years to come to greater fruition.
Secretary of State
The Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol transpired thousands of miles from New Mexico, but its impacts quickly hit home. One participant, former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin—who was ultimately convicted on a misdemeanor charge for his actions—returned home to New Mexico from that event and continued to perpetuate misinformation, even refusing to certify that county’s primary election vote last June until forced to by the Supreme Court. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver didn’t hesitate to take the Otero County Commission to court in that situation, just as she hasn’t hesitated to confront the corrosive and ongoing misinformation campaigns that have metastasized since the 2020 election. She has taken legal action, testified to Congress, set up a website to debunk election conspiracy theories and continues to champion legislation at the state level to protect poll workers and to continue expanding voting access. She has done so at a personal cost, receiving threats to herself and her office serious enough to warrant law enforcement involvement.
Of course, the last few years in the Secretary of State’s office also involved running elections during a pandemic, as well as a devastating and early wildfire season.
Toulouse Oliver has proven up to all of these challenges, and she has the knowledge and experience to both oversee the office’s myriad responsibilities and push for improvements, such as the current overhaul of its campaign finance information system. She intends to re-champion several of the important facets of election bills that failed to pass in the Legislature’s 2022 session, including the reinstatement of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated; codifying the Native American Voting Rights Act into the state’s election laws; and creating a single sign-up concept allowing voters to always receive absentee ballots in the mail if they choose. She also will be pushing for more compensation and protection for poll workers.
Sadly, the latter is needed because poll workers have also faced violent threats in the face of ongoing campaigns seeking to delegitimize the electoral process.
Toulouse’s opponent, Republican Audrey Trujillo, did not respond to SFR’s request for an endorsement interview. But she has reportedly described the 2020 election as a “coup,” and perpetuated other debunked theories about voting machines (she also briefly tried to trade guns for campaign contributions before learning it was illegal). Libertarian Mayna Erika Myers also will appear on the ballot.
When she’s not running the Secretary of State’s Office, Toulouse Oliver is a Ph.D student in the University of New Mexico’s political science department. We don’t know if the events of the last two years will factor into her dissertation, but her knowledge, commitment and interest in New Mexico’s electoral process make her re-election a no-brainer.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez handily defeated state Auditor Brian Colón for the Democratic nomination for the $95,000-a-year job to lead 200 employees with a $35-million annual budget. We recommend him, a Harvard and Stanford-educated New Mexican with experience in the state’s most populated district, over Gallup Republican Jeremy Michael Gay, a former judge advocate in the Marine Corps.
Former two-term Santa Fe City Councilor Joseph Maestas earned political cred as a councilor, then mayor in Española and is a retired engineer wrapping up a term on the Public Regulation Commission. After defeating upstart Zach Quintero in the Democratic primary, he’s our favorite over Travis Steven Sanchez, a Libertarian with no demonstrated relevant experience.
The state treasurer’s race features two Montoyas, but one comes with more relevant experience. Former Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya is well known in the north, yet former Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya is most prepared for the job after serving in that elected post and representing the Treasurer’s Affiliate at the Legislature. We recommend her.
Incumbent Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard’s first term in that office follows three successful terms as a state legislator. A former teacher, the Los Alamos resident has applied diligence to public lands administration. We recommend keeping her in office over challenger Jefferson Byrd, a member of the Public Regulation Commission from southern New Mexico.
House District 46
Incumbent Rep. Andrea Romero bested two others in the Democratic primary and now faces a second challenge from retired professional engineer Jay Groseclose, whom she defeated in the 2020 election. Romero’s articulate advocacy for cannabis legalization was particularly impressive, and her overall experience is valuable to Santa Fe’s representation. We recommend her over Groseclose, whose platform includes a promise to “adopt pro-life laws.”
Read More Election Coverage:
- Vote! 2022 Election Guide: SFR’s general election endorsements and more
- Back of the Ballot: A primer on constitutional amendments proposals and bond issues
- Dates and Details: General Election voter registration, vote by mail and polling places
- Elect, Retain and Amend, Oh, My: How to interpret all the (sometimes confusing) judiciary-related questions on Election Day
- Protecting the Vote: A Q & A with Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver
- “I Love My Job”: A Q & A with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham