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TUES: New Mexico voters to decide on nominees for AG, treasurer, and governor's race, + More

Election 2022-New Mexico
Morgan Lee/AP
/
AP
A ballot drop box awaits deposits at an early voting center in Santa Fe, N.M., on Wednesday, June 1, 2022. Absentee and early in-person voting were underway in advance of Election Day on June 7. Democrats are deciding between two candidates for attorney general to compete in an open race in November. Five Republican candidates are pursuing the nomination for governor to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in the November general election. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

New Mexico voters to decide democratic nominees for attorney general and state treasurer - Bryce Dix, KUNM News

Democratic voters will be deciding on a nominee for New Mexico’s top law enforcement position Tuesday.

Vying for the nomination of Attorney General is current New Mexico state auditor Brian Colón and Bernalillo County District attorney Raúl Torrez––both of whom share very similar values and beliefs and are aiming to succeed termed-out Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Colón is using his work as State Auditor to highlight his tough attitude towards misuse of government funds––like his audit of Ex-Las Vegas Mayor Tonita Gurule-Giron, who was convicted by a jury for violations in ethical principles and receiving illegal kickbacks on city contracts.

Torrez is currently prosecuting the New Mexico Civil Guard, a right-wing militia that brought rifles to a peaceful protest-turned shooting surrounding the Spanish Conquistador Juan de Oñate’s statue in Albuquerque’s Oldtown.

Both candidates have signaled they will support abortion access and enforcement of state gun laws.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, the two have received a total of $2.5 million dollars in campaign contributions––with Torrez receiving lots of support from in-state lawyers and firms, while Colón has received support from out-of-state sources and from the current Attorney General Hector Balderas’ political committee.

From the Republican side, U.S. Marine Veteran Jeremy Gay is running unopposed and will go head-to-head with the Democratic primary winner in November’s General Election.

Historically, Republicans have held the AG position 3 times in New Mexico. Balderas won his race with over 60% of the vote back in 2018.

Also going head-to-head for the Democratic nomination for New Mexico’s next Treasurer in Tuesday’s primary election is Heather Benavidez and Laura Montoya.

The two are looking to replace Tim Eichenberg, who is responsible for managing state debt, cash flow, and investments.

On one hand, Benavidez is a top official in the State Treasurer’s office and is Eichenberg’s personal appointee.

On the other, Montoya is the former treasurer for Sandoval county that encompasses the city of Bernalillo and the towns of Corrales and Placitas, among other townships and Pueblos.

Though, the race isn’t without controversy.

Recently, Eichenberg––who cannot re-run for the position because of term limits––has weighed in on the race by filing an ethics complaint against Laura Montoya accusing her of violating New Mexico campaign finance and financial disclosure laws.

Montoya pushed back on this claim, and said it was inappropriate for Eichenberg to get involved with the race. In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Montoya says this came after she filed a request for her challenger Heather Benavidez’s state salary and work history.

Back in March, a pre-primary convention in Roswell pointed to Montoya rising slightly above Benavidez, receiving 58% of democratic delegate votes.

5 Republicans vie for governor in New Mexico primary - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Republican voters were choosing a nominee for New Mexico governor from a field of five candidates in Tuesday's primary election campaign dominated by concerns about the economy, violent crime and security at the southern U.S. border.

The winner of the GOP contest will take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she seeks a second term after guiding New Mexico through the coronavirus pandemic with aggressive public health restrictions and a surge in state government spending linked to record-setting oil production.

Former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti and state Rep. Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences are prominent Republican contenders that spent extensively on ads.

Also pursuing the nomination were Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, investment adviser Gregory Zanetti and anti-abortion activist Ethel Maharg.

Former Republican President Donald Trump has not weighed in directly on the race after losing the New Mexico vote in 2020 by 11 percentage points and fleeting attempts to challenge the result through a lawsuit and a slate of fake electors.

Ronchetti, a seasoned broadcaster and household name, lost a Republican bid for U.S. Senate in 2020 by 6 percentage points to Democrat Ben Ray Luján. None of the GOP candidates has held federal or statewide elected office.

New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. The last incumbent governor to lose reelection was Democrat Bruce King, defeated in 1994 by then-Republican Gary Johnson.

Amid bruising attack ads, candidates in the Republican primary have emphasized plans to send soldiers or law enforcement personnel to the state's remote international border with Mexico, which echoes border deployments by Republican governors in Texas and Arizona.

Support for gun rights and opposition to abortion were on prominent display in the primary, along with concerns about New Mexico's last-place employment rate and lagging student proficiency in schools.

The fall election will test the staying power of a Democratic governor who revoked a state ban on most abortion procedures, ushered in new controls on gun access and sought greater police accountability by lifting immunity provisions for law enforcement agencies amid concerns about police brutality.

In Tuesday's vote, new same-day registration provisions allowed unaffiliated voters to participate if they registered with a major party — even briefly.

New Mexico still follows a closed primary system that restricts participation to voters registered with a major party, who cannot switch parties once early voting begins.

A steady stream of voters attended polls at a church and an elementary school in central Santa Fe. About 55,000 ballots were cast as of 1 p.m. on Election Day, with Republicans and Democrats voting in roughly equal numbers. Nearly 180,000 ballots were cast overall, including absentee and early in-person voting — equivalent to 13% of registered voters.

Registered Republicans had the higher rate of participation at about 26% of registered voters and climbing.

Democratic voters were deciding on a nominee for the top law enforcement post as Attorney General Hector Balderas terms out of office. Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raúl Torrez was competing against State Auditor Brian Colón for the nomination. The winner will compete against Republican attorney and U.S. Marine veteran Jeremy Michael Gay of Gallup.

First-term congresswomen were seeking reelection to New Mexico's three congressional districts, without primary challengers.

In the 1st District that includes most of Albuquerque and rural communities to the south, the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury was being sought by shooting range owner Louie Sanchez and former police detective Michelle Garcia Holmes.

In the 2nd District of southern New Mexico, Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez was vying against rural physician Darshan Patel for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell.

Two Democratic candidates were vying to succeed Colón as state auditor in the race between Zackary Quintero of Albuquerque and Public Regulation Commissioner Joseph Maestas, without a Republican contender in the general election.

Former Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya was competing for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer against former magistrate judge and treasury official Heather Benavidez of Albuquerque to replace termed out State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg. The winner confronts Republican former Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya.

'Viewpoint discrimination' case may head to Supreme Court - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A lawsuit claiming that New Mexico county commissioner and Cowboys for Trump cofounder Couy Griffin engaged in "viewpoint" discrimination could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a test-case for free speech rights on social media platforms.

Chaplain and local Democratic Party leader Jeff Swanson lost a federal appeals court ruling in February in a lawsuit claiming he was blocked by Griffin from social media discussions about public county business on Griffin's Facebook page.

Swanson, a Marine veteran, says he was blocked in a discriminatory fashion after criticizing Griffin about the upkeep of a courthouse and urging Griffin to not mix politics and religion. Swanson's attorney on Monday confirmed the petition to the Supreme Court, which has not said if it will take the case.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in February sided with Griffin in the dispute over his social media account and whether it functioned as a public forum concerning county affairs, with implied guarantees to public access and free speech.

The appeals court in the dispute found no clearly established right to First Amendment free speech protections for public discussions on social media platforms.

Advocacy groups including the ACLU assert that First Amendment rights should apply to social media accounts when public officials use accounts as an extension of their office.

Griffin has said that he used his Facebook page to express personal opinions as just one member of a three-member county commission.

A lawsuit claiming that New Mexico county commissioner and Cowboys for Trump cofounder Couy Griffin engaged in "viewpoint" discrimination could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a test-case for free speech rights on social media platforms.

Chaplain and local Democratic Party leader Jeff Swanson lost a federal appeals court ruling in February in a lawsuit claiming he was blocked by Griffin from social media discussions about public county business on Griffin's Facebook page.

Swanson, a Marine veteran, says he was blocked in a discriminatory fashion after criticizing Griffin about the upkeep of a courthouse and urging Griffin to not mix politics and religion. Swanson's attorney on Monday confirmed the petition to the Supreme Court, which has not said if it will take the case.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in February sided with Griffin in the dispute over his social media account and whether it functioned as a public forum concerning county affairs, with implied guarantees to public access and free speech.

The appeals court in the dispute found no clearly established right to First Amendment free speech protections for public discussions on social media platforms.

Advocacy groups including the ACLU assert that First Amendment rights should apply to social media accounts when public officials use accounts as an extension of their office.

Griffin has said that he used his Facebook page to express personal opinions as just one member of a three-member county commission.

The dispute emerged in 2019 — long before Griffin, an elected commissioner in southern New Mexico's Otero County — was suspended indefinitely from social media accounts, including Facebook, following his arrest in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin was convicted of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds, where he appeared on an outdoor terrace and tried to lead the crowd in prayer without entering the building.

He was acquitted of engaging in disorderly conduct during the riot that disrupted Congress from certifying Joe Biden's presidential election victory.

Griffin is not running for reelection in November.

2022 midterms: What to watch in primaries in 7 states - By Michael R. Blood Ap Political Writer

Primary elections in seven states Tuesday will set the stage for U.S. House and Senate races this fall, with many contests shaped by political fissures in both major parties and the lingering shadow of former President Donald Trump.

With control of Congress in play, a string of Republican House incumbents are contending with challenges from the political right, and some rivals are embracing Trump's baseless claims of election fraud in his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden.

No incumbent governors or senators appear to be in imminent danger. In Iowa, several Democrats are jockeying for the chance to take on seven-term Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, with the campaign showcasing the breach between the Democratic Party's progressive and establishment wings.

Former Trump Cabinet member Ryan Zinke is seeking the GOP nomination in a newly created House district in Montana.

What to watch in Tuesday's primaries in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota:

NEW MEXICO

Five Republican candidates are competing to take on Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The incumbent is favored to keep her job in a state where Democrats control every statewide office and dominate the Legislature.

Former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti and state Rep. Rebecca Dow are prominent GOP contenders in a contest touching on concerns about U.S. border security, urban crime, inflation and the teaching of race and ethnicity in a heavily Latino and Native American state.

Democratic voters are deciding on a nominee for the state's top law enforcement post to succeed Attorney General Hector Balderas. Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raúl Torrez is competing against state Auditor Brian Colón in a hard-fought campaign with few ideological divisions.

CALIFORNIA

California is a Democratic fortress where the party holds every statewide office and its voters outnumber registered Republicans by nearly 2-to-1. Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla face little-known competitors.

But Republicans retain pockets of strength in some U.S. House districts that are expected to be among the most competitive races in the country.

In a heavily Democratic district in the state's Central Valley farm belt, Republican U.S. Rep. David Valadao is seeing blowback for his vote to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Republican Chris Mathys has made Valadao's vote a centerpiece in his campaign to oust him.

In a Democratic-leaning district north of Los Angeles, several Democrats are hoping to take on Republican Rep. Mike Garcia, who is expected to advance to November with one of the Democrats as the top two finishers in the race. Garcia rejected electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania being cast for Biden and opposed Trump's impeachment after the Capitol insurrection.

The crowded Los Angeles mayor's race is shaping up to be a fight between Rick Caruso, a pro-business billionaire Republican-turned-Democrat who sits on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who was on Biden's shortlist for vice president. If no candidate clears 50%, the top two finishers advance to a November runoff.

In another closely watched election, San Francisco voters are considering whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a progressive Democrat who critics say has failed to prosecute repeat offenders, amid widespread frustration with crime and homelessness.

IOWA

Republicans have gained an advantage in the state over the past decade, and the Democratic Senate primary provides a snapshot of the minority party's battle for relevance.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Michael Franken is waging a competitive contest with former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer in a bid to take on the 88-year-old Grassley, who has been endorsed by Trump.

Finkenauer is a 33-year-old, former two-term state representative who argues her youth and more recent experience in Iowa make her a better fit to challenge a Republican first elected to the Senate in 1980. She has made term limits a centerpiece of her campaign.

Franken, 64, is promoting a progressive agenda, including adding a public insurance option to the Affordable Care Act. He is from conservative western Iowa and argues he could be more competitive against Grassley by whittling into the senator's margins in heavily Republican areas.

Physician Glenn Hurst, a councilman for a small western Iowa city and the Iowa Democratic Party's chair for its rural caucus, is running to the left of both Finkenauer and Franken.

Meanwhile, three Republicans are competing for a chance to run against Iowa's lone Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Cindy Axne.

MISSISSIPPI

Republican U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo is facing his largest-ever field of challengers after a congressional ethics watchdog raised questions about his campaign spending.

A 2021 report by the Office of Congressional Ethics found "substantial reason to believe" Palazzo, a military veteran who serves on the Appropriations and Homeland Security committees, abused his office by misspending campaign funds, doing favors for his brother and enlisting staff for political and personal errands. His then-spokesperson, Colleen Kennedy, said the probe was based on politically motivated "false allegations."

His six opponents include a sheriff, Mike Ezell, and a state senator, Brice Wiggins. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, a runoff will be June 28.

Mississippi's two other Republican congressmen, Trent Kelly and Michael Guest, face primary challengers who support Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

MONTANA

It's the first time since 1993 that the state will have two House seats, after one was added to account for Montana's growing population.

Zinke, Trump's former Interior Department secretary, technically is in an open race for the new seat. But the former Navy SEAL is widely considered the de facto incumbent, since he twice won elections for the state's other House seat before stepping down in 2017 to join the Trump administration.

His opponents are drawing attention to Zinke's troubled tenure at the agency, which was marked by multiple ethics investigations. One investigation determined Zinke lied to an agency ethics official about his continued involvement in a commercial real estate deal in his hometown. He's faced a smear campaign over his military service from the extreme right wing of his party and questions about his residency following revelations that his wife declared a house in California as her primary residence.

His opponents in the GOP primary include former state Sen. Al "Doc" Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon and hard-line conservative who has tried to paint Zinke as a "liberal insider."

Three Democrats are vying for their party's nomination: public health advocate Cora Neumann, Olympic rower and attorney Monica Tranel and former state Rep. Tom Winter.

In the state's other district, first-term Rep. Matt Rosendale, who has Trump's endorsement, will look to fend off three Republican primary challengers.

NEW JERSEY

A dozen House districts are on the ballot.

Trump said in 2021 he would back a challenger to long-serving Republican Rep. Chris Smith, but that never happened. The absence of an endorsement hasn't stopped conservative talk show host Mike Crispi, one of Smith's Republican challengers, from claiming Trump's mantle.

In northern New Jersey, former state Senate minority leader Tom Kean Jr. has a fundraising edge and establishment support over five rivals. Kean, the son of former Republican Gov. Tom Kean Sr., is hoping for a rematch with Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, who won a close contest two years ago.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez's son, Rob, is running for a seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Albio Sires. Menendez, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey commissioner, locked up party support upon entering the race.

SOUTH DAKOTA

A trio of Republican incumbents face primary challengers running on their political right.

Gov. Kristi Noem, who is considered a potential White House prospect, is favored to win the GOP nomination. One rival, state legislator Steve Haugaard, has argued that Noem spent more time trying to build a national political profile than focusing on her job at home. She's mostly ignored him.

U.S. Sen. John Thune faced Trump's ire after dismissing the former president's election fraud claims. However, no well-known challenger has emerged in Thune's reelection bid. One of his opponents, Mark Mowry, was among the crowd that demonstrated near the Capitol on Jan. 6.

In the House, Republican state lawmaker Taffy Howard is trying to unseat GOP Rep. Dusty Johnson in the state's lone district. Johnson touts his conservative voting record while keeping an ability to work across party lines, but Howard has tried to paint him as a foot soldier for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

New Mexico man gets 2 life in prison terms for 2009 murders - Associated Press

A New Mexico man convicted in a 2009 double homicide case has been sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms.

Prosecutors said 49-year-old Robert Chavez's sentences will run consecutive with previous sentences, including a 26-year prison term for drug trafficking and life in prison plus 21 years for another murder.

Chavez was convicted last month of the 2009 double homicide of Max Griego Jr. and Mary Hudson Gutierrez and sentenced last Thursday.

Prosecutors said Chavez was the leader of the "AZ Boys" organization allegedly connected to drug trafficking.

Court records show Griego and Hudson Gutierrez were found fatally shot at her Alamogordo home in July 2009 and two men plus a driver were seen fleeing the scene.

The case went cold for almost a decade until Chavez and two other suspects were indicted in January 2019.

Roswell 'ballot bins' urge residents to pick up, not litter - By Juno Ogle Roswell Daily Record

A little humor can go a long way in delivering a serious message, Kathy Lay learned, so now Roswell residents and visitors can vote with their cigarette butts on questions about UFOs, aliens and New Mexico's ubiquitous chile question.

Keep Roswell Beautiful has placed three yellow "ballot bins" at downtown bus stops that pose the questions "Is there life on other planets?" "Did aliens crash near Roswell?" and "Red or green?" Smokers can vote for their answer by placing their cigarette butts in the corresponding side of the bin.

Lay, the city's volunteer and outreach coordinator and staff liaison for Keep Roswell Beautiful, said the bins are part of the organization's litter prevention campaign, the Roswell Daily Record reported. Lay said when she was researching what kind of campaign the organization could do, she was surprised to see many references to cigarette butts being the No. 1 most-littered item and the dangers they pose to the environment.

"Both of those facts shocked me," she said.

According to a 2009 study at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco, cigarette filters are made of plastic materials that will break down under sunlight but are not bio-degradable. Further studies show the filters contain residues of the chemicals used to grow and process tobacco and manufacture cigarettes and can leach more than 4,000 chemicals into soil and water.

The study also stated that 5.6 trillion cigarettes were consumed worldwide in 2002 and that an estimated 1.69 billion pounds of cigarette butts wind up as litter worldwide.

"Even after those filters have turned into plastic dust, the toxins remain in the soils, and so we're trying to keep them out of the general land areas and especially out of the waterways," Lay said.

Because the cigarette butts are light, they can be easily be blown around and could eventually end up in the Spring River or Hondo River and then the Pecos River, she said. Their small size can also make them more difficult to remove from waterways, as they can get caught in vegetation, she said.

"The one fact that blew me away is that one cigarette butt in a liter of water kills half the fish," she said. "If they get in small pools, two or three cigarettes in that area will make that part of the water toxic and start killing fish," she said.

In designing the campaign, Lay said she didn't want it to appear to be critical of those who do smoke.

"I didn't want to come across as if it was trying to attack anyone, I just wanted people to understand how serious it was and how harmful they were so that people who do smoke would understand the impact and take actions that would change their behavior," she said.

She began to research campaigns on cigarette litter and found that a humorous approach using the ballot bins — voting with your butt — has seen success.

"Every place they did these, it got a lot of buzz. Everybody would laugh and then they look into what is it about, and then they were more open to receiving the message and not feeling that it was shoving it down their throat," she said.

She chose the questions as a fun way to reflect local and state culture, she said.

"I just wanted to hit just a couple of the things that are unique to Roswell and unique to New Mexico," she said.

The campaigns are popular in Europe, and unable to find U.S. supplier for the ballot bins, she ended up buying them from the United Kingdom.

Lay said as she learned about the effects cigarette filters can have on wildlife, she wanted to incorporate animals into the campaign while keeping the humor. She worked with the city's graphic designers and videographer to create billboards, social media graphics and videos featuring animals mostly native to New Mexico for a #NoButts4Me angle of the campaign.

The graphics feature animals such as an elk saying "No one wants to see your butts" and giving facts and disposal tips about cigarette filters. The short videos — posted on the Keep Roswell Beautiful Facebook page and city YouTube channel — feature different "talking" animals.

The bins have been in place for a couple of months. Lay said bus stops were chosen because those are areas where cigarette butt litter is often noticeable as people discard a cigarette before getting on the bus.

Lay collects the cigarette butts herself, she said, and sends them to a New Jersey company, Teracycle, that recycles cigarette waste. Anyone 21 or older can register to send cigarette butts to the company for free.

According to the company website, users can print off a mailing label to send a package of waste to the company.

Lay said there aren't plans at this point to add more bins. The message is the most important part of the campaign, she said.

"I don't know that they're going to be that instrumental in stopping litter in that spot. I do think they're instrumental in getting people's attention. It's a tool, not just for the immediate area, but as a tool to leverage to get the word out," she said.