June 16th, 2024

Democratic voters oust state senator in #MeToo reckoning during New Mexico primary


By Morgan Lee, The Associated Press on June 4, 2024.

FILE - A pedestrian traverses the rotunda in the New Mexico state Capitol building in Santa Fe, N.M., Thursday, March 16, 2023, as legislators debate late into the evening inside House and Senate chambers. New Mexico voters are picking their partisan favorites in the state's primary, Tuesday, June 4, 2024, to reshape a Democratic-led Legislature, with all 112 seats up for election in November. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Democrats ousted a state senator accused of sexual harassment in New Mexico as voters picked their partisan favorites in Tuesday’s primary to reshape a Democratic-led Legislature, with all 112 seats up for election in November.

The votes in the first Senate election since redistricting in 2021 hold implications for Native American communities, the state’s oil industry and the #MeToo movement.

New Mexico has a closed primary system that limits participation to voters who register with major parties, leaving out Independent or unaffiliated voters, but not Libertarians.

Making it through to the general election might hinge on small margins because of generally low turnout. More than 205,000 ballots were cast in early, absentee and in-person voting as polls closed at 7 p.m., out of about 1.3 million registered voters.

Democrats are picking district attorneys in crime-weary Albuquerque and the Santa Fe area, where Alec Baldwin is scheduled to stand trial in July in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer.

NATIVE AMERICAN INFLUENCE

In Senate District 30, activist Angel Charley of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women is seeking the Democratic nomination against pro-business, socially conservative former Sen. Clemente Sanchez in a redrawn district with more Native American influence.

Charley is Diné, with Laguna and Zuni Pueblo ancestry. There are no Republican contenders in the district stretching from Isleta Pueblo near Albuquerque to the Arizona state line, traversing Acoma and Laguna pueblos.

In House District 69, incumbent Democratic Rep. Harry Garcia of Grants is seeking a fifth term, with two challengers in the decisive primary. They are: attorney Michelle “Paulene” Abeyta of To’hajiilee on the Navajo Nation, and state employee and miner Stanley Michael of San Mateo. Two-thirds of registered voters in the district identify as Native American.

ALEC BALDWIN

Democratic primaries could unseat district attorneys in crime-weary Albuquerque as well as Santa Fe, where special prosecutors are preparing to bring Alec Baldwin to trial in July on an involuntary manslaughter charge.

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies has vowed to hold Baldwin accountable for the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Former district attorney Marco Serna hoped to unseat her.

In Albuquerque, incumbent District Attorney Sam Bregman, an appointee of the governor, was running for the Democratic nomination to retain the seat against Damon Martinez, who served as U.S. Attorney for New Mexico under President Barack Obama.

#MeToo MOVEMENT

The Democratic primary in Senate District 15 provided a reckoning over allegations of sexual harassment.

Democratic voters in the Albuquerque district ousted state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying behavior towards women that he disputed. A complaint about his consulting work for county clerks and possible conflicts of interest was dismissed in May.

Progressive challenger Heather Berghmans prevailed in the primary to compete in November against GOP contender Craig Degenhardt. The district extends from the intersection of Interstates 25 and 40 toward the city’s northeastern heights.

In House District 18, four Democrats are vying for an open seat with no GOP competitors Рphysician Anjali Taneja, nurse Gloria Doherty, computer technician Juan Larra̱aga and Marianna Anaya. Anaya, an activist and lobbyist for progressive causes, previously accused Ivey-Soto of groping her at a hotel reception in 2015. The winner succeeds retiring Democratic Sen. Bill Tallman in an eastern Albuquerque district that straddles I-40. Ivey-Soto has said he has no recollection of touching Anaya.

OIL REGION

In Senate District 42 and House District 62, Republicans are competing as oil-industry advocates and conservative standard-bearers.

Oilman and state Rep. Larry Scott of Hobbs is competing against rancher and recently appointed state Sen. Steve McCutcheon of Carlsbad for control of a Senate district in the heart of southeastern New Mexico’s oil economy. McCutcheon was tapped by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last year to succeed retired state Sen. Gay Kernan.

In an overlapping House district, three Republicans from Hobbs are vying to succeed Scott without competition from Democrats – Elaine Sena Cortez, Debra Hicks and attorney D’Nae Robinett Mills.

CONSPIRACISTS

Republicans who backed Donald Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election are seeking the GOP nomination in two state Senate districts.

In District 12, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block of Rio Rancho is competing against Albuquerque-based Republican former state Sen. Candace Gould for the chance to run against Democrat Phillip Ramirez of Albuquerque in the compact urban district. Block voted twice as a commissioner in 2022 against certifying local election results while stoking doubts about election integrity.

In District 9, Audrey Trujillo of Corrales is seeking the GOP nomination for an open seat after running unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2022. She has cheered Trump’s efforts to reverse the will of voters in 2020. Frida Susana Vasquez of Rio Rancho sought the GOP nomination in the district stretching from Bernalillo to Algodones, including portions of Sandia Pueblo. Democrats are choosing between Heather Balas of Corrales of and Cindy Nava of Bernalillo.

INCUMBENTS CHALLENGED

More than 20 incumbents have primary challengers.

In Senate District 13, incumbent state Sen. Bill O’Neill of Albuquerque is competing for the Democratic nomination in a heavily redrawn district against another seasoned politician – Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. The district includes downtown Albuquerque.

In Senate District 3, incumbent Shannon Pinto of Tohatchi on the Navajo Nation prevailed over Democratic challenger Sherylene Yazzie of Coyote Canyon in a decisive primary contest. Pinto succeeded her grandfather, John Pinto, a World War II Navajo Code Talker and the state’s longest-serving senator. The northwestern district includes parts of the Navajo Nation and Gallup.

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