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State senator to join race for governor

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces

SANTA FE – Joseph Cervantes, a southern New Mexico state senator, announced Wednesday that he is wading into next year’s race to replace Gov. Susana Martinez.

An attorney who has served in the Legislature since 2001, Cervantes is the fourth Democrat to enter the 2018 race and will try to become the first sitting legislator elected governor since 1974.

He said he’ll focus much of his campaign on ways to create jobs and stem a recent exodus of New Mexico college graduates, citing renewable energy and outdoor recreation as two sectors of the state economy that could be expanded.

“It’s become abundantly clear in the last few years of this administration that New Mexico’s long-term future was not being considered,” Cervantes said in a recent interview.

Cervantes, who comes from a prominent southern New Mexico farming family, indicated he plans to invest some of his own resources into the race, saying, “That’s important, to show my level of commitment.”

He also said he’s not daunted by the candidacy of U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a fellow Democrat who has already raised a hefty amount of campaign cash, and received endorsements from several union groups and Attorney General Hector Balderas, among others.

“Unlike others who are in the race, I’m not a career politician,” said Cervantes, who studied to be an architect before going to law school and eventually opening his own law firm.

Cervantes, 56, was elected to the Doña Ana County Commission in 1988. He was appointed to the state House of Representatives in 2001 and after holding that seat for 11-plus years, he was elected to the Senate in 2012.

As a legislator, he sponsored the 2010 Whistleblower Protection Act and worked with Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, on 2016 legislation that set up a regulatory framework for ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft.

Cervantes said his tenure as a legislator would allow him to hit the ground running as the state’s chief executive.

“Too often, governors are unprepared for the job,” Cervantes told the Journal. “The state is in a fiscal crisis right now and there isn’t time or opportunity to begin learning about the complexities of our state from scratch.”

In addition to Lujan Grisham, the other Democrats running for governor next year are Jeff Apodaca, a former media executive from Albuquerque, and Peter DeBenedittis, an anti-alcohol activist from Santa Fe.

The state Democratic Party will hold its pre-primary convention after the 2018 legislative session. New Mexico’s primary election will then be held in June.

No Republicans have formally launched campaigns yet, though U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce and Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn have both said they’re considering getting into the race.

Martinez, the state’s two-term GOP governor, is barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office.