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Ex-lawmaker faces residency challenge in new campaign

SANTA FE — A Democratic member of the state House has accused a rival — and predecessor — of failing to live in the district they’re competing to represent.

Debbie Sariñana

State Rep. Debbie Sariñana, who represents neighborhoods along East Central Avenue in Albuquerque, filed a lawsuit alleging that her opponent, former Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena, has created a “sham residence” to circumvent eligibility requirements.

In the lawsuit, Sariñana says she believes neighbors will testify that Lechuga-Tena rents out the home where she’s registered and hasn’t live there in a few months, at the least.

“It is common sense that a candidate running for office must actually live in the district the candidate seeks to represent,” Sariñana’s lawsuit contends, citing state law and previous court cases.

Idalia Lechuga-Tena

Lechuga-Tena didn’t immediately return requests from the Journal for comment.

Sariñana narrowly defeated Lechuga-Tena to win the seat two years ago. The two are now facing off in the Democratic primary.

No one is running on the Republican side.

Bernalillo County commissioners appointed Lechuga-Tena to the House in late 2015 after then-Rep. Mimi Stewart moved over to the state Senate. Lechuga-Tena was appointed with the backing of two Republicans and a Democrat, over the objection of two Democratic commissioners.

Lechuga-Tena found herself in almost immediate controversy. She acknowledged in media interviews before the appointment that she had voted before she was a U.S. citizen, though she said it was an honest mistake.

She was a legal resident and college student, she said, when she signed up during a 2003 voter registration drive.

For the record

Articles in the Wednesday and Thursday editions of the Journal incorrectly stated that Idalia Lechuga-Tena was appointed to the state House to fill a vacancy created by then-Rep. Mimi Stewart’s move to the Senate.

Lechuga-Tena actually succeeded Stephanie Maez, who served about nine months as Stewart’s replacement before resigning and reopening the vacancy.