WED: Longtime Senators Lose Seats In N.M. Primary, Leger Fernandez Defeats Plame, + More

Jun 3, 2020

New Mexico Senate Leaders Lose Primary Bid Amid Liberal Push - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Two key leaders in the New Mexico Senate have lost their primary bids amid a push by liberal advocacy groups to unseat Democratic lawmakers who have resisted their progressive agenda.

Senate President Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Senate finance committee leader John Arthur Smith of Deming were defeated as more votes were tallied Wednesday.

Papen has been a member of the Senate since 2001 and hadn’t faced a primary opponent in years. She’s an advocate for mental health services, but she fell behind Carrie Hamblen, CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. 

Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, a former vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, defeated Smith.

Smith, a member of the Senate since 1989, arguably has been one of the Legislature’s most influential voices on budget matters. He is known for keeping the state’s spending in check.

While he has no regrets, Smith said he may resign from his seat after an upcoming special legislative session so other lawmakers could take the lead on crafting the next state budget.

The session that will begin June 18 will focus on budget and economic recovery matters as New Mexico takes its first major steps toward reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Three other Democrat incumbents also lost their primary bids.

Two were targeted for their more moderate positions on everything from state spending to the minimum wage, abortion laws and the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Incumbent Clemente Sanchez was defeated by retired teacher Pamela Cordova of Belen. She was running under the banner "unbought and unbeholden."

Sanchez, a Grants bank executive and chairman of the Senate's corporate affairs committee, was among the incumbents targeted by abortion rights and gun control advocates. Liberal critics also had attacked him for reluctance to tap one of the state's permanent trust funds to increase spending on early childhood education.

In other races, embattled Sen. Richard Martinez — who was convicted of drunken driving after ramming into a car stopped at a traffic light — lost his bid for the Democratic nomination in a northern New Mexico district.

Martinez was seeking a sixth term amid an uncertain political future following his conviction. He lost to Leo Jaramillo, a Rio Arriba County commissioner and Española resident. Jaramillo has acknowledged a drunken driving conviction more than 20 years ago.

State Senators Face Stiff Competition In New Mexico Primary - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

An embattled state senator convicted of drunken driving has lost his bid for the Democratic nomination in a northern New Mexico district. 

Sen. Richard Martinez's defeat came Tuesday as several longtime legislators who have resisted initiatives ranging from spending increases to the legalization of recreational marijuana faced stiff opposition from challengers. 

Martinez of Ojo Caliente was seeking a sixth term but lost to Rio Arriba County Commissioner Leo Jaramillo. 

Senate President Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Senate finance committee leader John Arthur Smith of Deming and Clemente Sanchez of Grants all were locked in tight races as ballot counting stretched into Wednesday.

Sen. Gabriel Ramos of Silver City fell short Tuesday, losing his bid for the Democratic nomination to Siah Correa Hemphill. She was endorsed by the governor. Ramos had held the seat since 2019, when he was appointed to fill a vacant seat left by Lt. Gov. Howie Morales.

A small number of votes separated Papen and Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces. A member of the Senate since 2001, Papen — an advocate for mental health services — hadn't faced a primary opponent in years.

Smith trailed Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, a former vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. Smith, a member of the Senate since 1989, arguably has been one of the Legislature's most influential voices on budget matters. He is known for keeping the state's spending in check.

Sanchez, chairman of a committee on corporate affairs, was narrowly trailing his challenger, retired teacher Pamela Cordova of Belen.

Muñoz defended his seat from Democrat Noreen Kelly of Church Rock.

The incumbent senators broke ranks with a majority of Democrats in 2019 to uphold the state's dormant criminal ban on abortion. Critics also have said the incumbent Democrats helped to water down a House-approved version of the state's 2019 minimum wage hike and have resisted efforts to spend more from a state education trust fund. 

The primary coincides with New Mexico's first major steps toward reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, as a special legislative session looms on budget and economic recovery matters on June 18. 

The pandemic response is expected to quickly wipe out state reserves despite more than $1.2 billion in related federal assistance.

Democratic Nomination Eludes Ex-CIA Operative Valerie Plame - By Morgan Lee And Russell Contreras Associated Press

Attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez defeated former CIA operative Valerie Plame to win the Democratic nomination in New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District in Tuesday's primary. 

Leger Fernandez is a professional advocate for Native American pueblo communities and voting rights issues. 

She overcame six competitors including Plame to win her party's nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján as he runs for U.S. Senate. Sen Tom Udall is retiring.

She could become the first woman to represent the state’s 3rd Congressional District. Her nomination is likely to be decisive in the vast northern district where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1.

Meanwhile, Republican primary voters embraced a well-known former television weatherman, Mark Ronchetti of Albuquerque, as their Senate nominee. 

Former state Rep. Yvette Herrell won the GOP nomination for a second time to the southern 2nd Congressional District, setting up a rematch with Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces. 

Herrell ran as a Trump loyalist against petroleum executive and former lobbyist Claire Chase of Roswell, a first-time political candidate.

The coronavirus pandemic did not stand in the way of voter turnout, as the popularity over absentee balloting soared.

Overall statewide voting exceeded 375,000, over the combined 2016 presidential primary turnout of about 320,000, according to the secretary of state's office.

Absentee ballots accounted for roughly 250,000 votes.

Uncontested in the primary, Rep. Luján hailed the heavy turnout as a victory in itself.

Former Vice President Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination for president in New Mexico, while Trump also won his party's statewide nomination to pursue reelection.

Three contenders vied for the GOP nomination in the 3rd District. They included Navajo Nation member Karen Evette Bedonie of Mexican Springs, environmental engineer Alexis Johnson of Santa Fe and former Santa Fe County commissioner Harry Montoya. As of Wednesday morning, Alexis Johnson leads by two percentage points with 78% of precincts reporting. 

Democrats have monopolized the 3rd Congressional District with the exception of one special election, starting with former Gov. Bill Richardson in 1982.

In New Mexico's metropolitan 1st Congressional District, former police detective Michelle Garcia Holmes won the Republican nomination to take on Haaland. The compact district overlapping Albuquerque hasn't been represented by a Republican since 2009.

More Coronavirus Cases Confirmed Among Inmates In New MexicoAssociated Press

State health officials say they have confirmed 25 more coronavirus cases among federal inmates being held at a lockup in southern New Mexico.

The state Health Department on Wednesday said the cases from the prison in Otero County brought the statewide total to 8,140. More than 160 state inmates being held at the same facility also have tested positive.

The state also reported eight additional deaths — all from McKinley and San Juan counties. Those areas have been hit the hardest and account for more than half of New Mexico’s infections.

More than 40 long-term care and acute care facilities around the state also have reported at least one case among residents and staff over the last month.

New Mexico Reports 116 New Virus Cases Among State Inmates - Associated Press

New Mexico health officials have reported an additional 227 coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total to more than 8,000. 

The figures released Tuesday include 116 new cases among inmates in the custody of the New Mexico Corrections Department that are being held at a lockup in Otero County. 

That comes after health officials said a day earlier that a male inmate in his 30s there had died after being infected. The inmate had preexisting conditions. 

It was the first COVID-19 inmate death for the southern New Mexico facility. 

State officials also reported that 92 detainees at a federal processing center in Otero County also have tested positive, along with 66 inmates in federal custody at the facility. There are also confirmed cases among federal inmates at correction centers in Torrance and Cibola counties.

One case each has been reported at the state penitentiary near Santa Fe and the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Valencia County.

Five additional deaths were reported statewide Tuesday, bringing the total to 367. 

Navajo Nation Reports 54 New COVID-19 Cases, 4 More DeathsAssociated Press

The Navajo Department of Health has reported 54 new cases of coronavirus on the Navajo Nation and four more known deaths.

That pushes the numbers to 5,533 positive COVID-19 cases and 252 known deaths as of Tuesday night.

Tribal officials also say preliminary reports from nine health care facilities indicate about 1,960 people have recovered from COVID-19 with more reports still pending.

The vast Navajo Nation reservation stretches into northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah.

Navajo Nation Reports 131 New COVID-19 Cases, 2 More DeathsAssociated Press

The Navajo Department of Health has reported 131 new cases of coronavirus on the Navajo Nation and two more known deaths.

That pushes the numbers to 5,479 positive COVID-19 cases and 248 known deaths as of Monday night.

Tribal officials also say preliminary reports from eight health care facilities indicate about 1,920 people have recovered from COVID-19 with more reports still pending.

The vast Navajo Nation reservation stretches into northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico and southeastern Utah.

New Mexico Close To Historic All-Female Us House Delegation - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

New Mexico has moved closer to possibly sending a historic delegation of all women of color to the U.S. House.

Democrats nominated two Latinas and a Native American woman in primaries on Tuesday. Republican voters also nominated a member of the Cherokee Nation and a Hispanic woman for two of those races. A third GOP primary hasn't been decided but a Hispanic woman is leading.

Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, who is Laguna Pueblo, is running for re-election for her Albuquerque seat and Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who is Mexican American, is running for re-election for her southern New Mexico seat. 

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 490 women have filed as candidates for House seats nationwide in 2020, a record high. The numbers could grow because filing deadlines have yet to pass in around a dozen or so states.

Thieves Take 150 Pistols, Rifles From Albuquerque Gun Store - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Dozens of handguns and rifles have been stolen from a gun shop in New Mexico's largest city.

That has prompted federal authorities to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. Federal firearms authorities said Wednesday that the heist at JCT Firearms took place early Monday.

They say 115 handguns and 35 rifles were taken. The theft is being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Albuquerque police.

The $10,000 reward is part of a national initiative in which the National Shooting Sports Foundation matches ATF rewards in cases of firearm thefts from federally licensed retailers.

With Wins In 7 States And DC, Biden Closes In On 

Nomination - By Steve Peoples Ap National Political Writer

Joe Biden has taken a big step toward winning enough delegates to be the Democratic presidential nominee. 

The former vice president swept the seven states that conducted presidential primaries on Tuesday, including New Mexico, plus the District of Columbia. 

Those victories have put hundreds more delegates in Biden's corner ahead of the summer nominating convention. 

Biden could lock down the nomination during next week's primaries in West Virginia and Georgia. 

Charges In New Mexico GOP Building Vandalism Dropped - Associated Press

Vandalism charges against a former Democratic aide accused of tagging the building of the Republican Party of New Mexico have been dropped. 

The Bernalillo County District Attorney's office last week dismissed charges against Cameron Chase McCall. 

He was charged in February with criminal damage to property after authorities compared video footage of the vandalism with a photo of him on his Facebook page. 

But prosecutors say there was not enough evidence in the case and there were discrepancies involving the vehicle used. 

Republican Party of New Mexico spokesperson Mike Curtis declined to comment.

Report Finds Child Disparities Highest In US South, West - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

A new report says childhood disparities are worst among rural, black-majority counties in the American South and isolated counties with large Native American populations.

A Save the Children report released Tuesday found that children in the most disadvantaged counties die at rates up to five times of children elsewhere in the same state.

The report says children in those counties also are 14 times as likely to drop out of school and are three times as likely to lack healthy food and consistent meals.

The report examined 2,600 counties using federal data from 2018. The group recommends expanding early childhood education programs.

So far, children in some of the poor counties cited in the report live among the areas hardest hit by COVID-19. New Mexico's McKinley County, which sits on the Navajo Nation is ranked near the bottom in child hunger and graduation rates.

According to the report, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico are the lowest-ranked states for these childhood disparities.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire earned the highest marks.

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