Election registration closes; Democrats eye governor’s seat

March 14, 2018

Democratic New Mexico state Rep. Tomas Salazar of Las Vegas, N.M., center, registers to run for re-election at the Secretary of State's Office in Santa Fe, N.M., Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Major-party candidates seeking election or re-election to the New Mexico House of Representatives, the state's utility-oversight commission and local judicial seats registered to run for office on Tuesday with state and county election regulators. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Two prominent Republican state representatives said Tuesday that won’t seek re-election in districts where Democrats can compete on a relatively even footing, complicating Republican efforts to win back a House majority.

House Republican Minority Leader Nate Gentry and Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, both of Albuquerque, announced their departures from the state’s unsalaried Legislature, citing work and family commitments.

There are 38 Democrats in the 70-member House, and they are aiming to control both legislative chambers as well as the governor’s office as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez can’t run for re-election after two consecutive terms. Elections for the Democrat-controlled Senate take place next in 2020.

In the open seat left by Gentry, high school Spanish teacher Natalie Figueroa filed as a Democrat to run against retired Naval officer John L. Jones, a Republican.

Maestas Barnes endorsed Republican candidate Brad Winter, an Albuquerque city councilor, as her possible successor. He will compete against Democratic attorney Dayan Hochman in the November election. Winter stepped in to run the Secretary of State’s Office for a year after Republican Dianna Duran resigned in 2015 and served 30 days in jail on embezzlement and fraud convictions.

Major party candidates had a single day on Tuesday to register with state and county officials to run in House, utility-commission and local judicial elections ahead of the state’s June primary. Election officials have a week to confirm that candidates meet requirements.

Further complicating Republican efforts, two Libertarian candidates registered to challenge incumbent Republicans in Albuquerque and southeastern New Mexico.

Libertarian William Arnold Wiley is running for the Albuquerque-based seat currently held by Rep. Bill Rehm, who faces Republican primary competition from Mark Boslough. Republican Rep. Greg Nibert of Roswell is being challenged by Libertarian Carl Swinney of Carrizozo.

Libertarian Party candidates have easier access to the ballot than previously, thanks to a strong local showing in 2016 by failed presidential candidate Gary Johnson that provided major-party status.

Republicans last won a House majority in 2014 elections, interrupting six decades of Democratic control. Republicans would need to pick up four seats to reclaim the majority.

“We lost four seats by a little over 1,000 votes two years ago, so anything can happen,” said Rep. Rod Montoya of Farmington, Republican minority whip in the House, who will run unopposed.

Democrat Andrea Romero of Santa Fe registered to run in against an incumbent House Democrat despite criticism about spending of public funds on fancy dinners and liquor in her role as executive director of an agency of municipalities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This year’s election also will determine three seats out of five on the Public Regulatory Commission that oversees investor-owned utilities, the transportation industry and telecommunications. Eleven candidates are vying for the commission seats, including incumbent Democrats Lynda Lovejoy and Sandy Jones.

The agency is guiding a major shift in bulk electricity production away from coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners area where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet — with major financial and environmental implications. The Public Service Co. of New Mexico utility is seeking to recover prior investments as it close the San Juan Generating Station in 2022 and divests its ownership shares in the nearby Four Corners Power Plant when its coal supply contract runs out in 2031.

The registration deadline for statewide offices took place last month, with Republicans uniting around gubernatorial candidate and Congressman Steve Pearce. At least three Democratic candidates for governor are vying for their party’s nomination.

Nationwide, Republicans control two-thirds of all state legislative chambers and hold a trifecta of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in 25 states, compared with just eight for Democrats.

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