This is the Journal’s recommendation in the contested Democratic 1st Congressional District primary. Six Democrats are running for the seat, which is currently held by U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham. A Democrat, Lujan Grisham has chosen to run for governor rather than seek re-election. The 1st Congressional District includes almost all of Bernalillo County, all of Torrance County, and small portions of Sandoval, Valencia and Santa Fe counties.
The candidate emerging from the Democratic primary with the most votes will face off against Republican Janice Arnold Jones and Libertarian Lloyd Princeton in the November general election.
1st Congressional District
Damon Martinez – Democrat
Damon Martinez’s background, track record and willingness to tackle politically thorny issues head-on make him the right choice in the Democratic primary for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. Martinez is an Albuquerque native who earned a bachelor’s degree, Master of Business Administration and law degree from the University of New Mexico, and served as New Mexico’s U.S. attorney from 2014 to 2017.
He has also been an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces for about 15 years, enlisting after the Sept. 11 attacks. He understands the importance of New Mexico’s national laboratories and military bases, and would be an effective advocate for Kirtland Air Force Base in the event of another Base Realignment and Closure round in Congress.
Martinez has worked in Congress for Sen. Jeff Bingaman and then-Rep. Tom Udall, serving as Bingaman’s legislative assistant and later as Udall’s legislative director. He knows how the system works and would be able to hit the ground running if elected to Congress.
He also picked up invaluable experience as a federal prosecutor and later as a U.S. attorney. President Obama appointed him to the position in 2014, and he held that post until President Trump removed him and 45 other U.S. attorneys in March 2017.
“I can make hard decisions. I’m not afraid to make people unhappy,” Martinez told the Journal’s editorial board during a recent interview.
He certainly did that in his role as U.S. attorney. He led the local U.S. Attorney’s Office during the Department of Justice’s investigation and settlement agreement with the city of Albuquerque over the city police department’s use of force, including numerous deadly shootings. The DOJ found APD had a pattern of excessive force and the department is in the midst of a yearslong reform effort that is being overseen by a federal judge.
As U.S. attorney, Martinez also went after the University of New Mexico for its handling of sexual assaults and a system Martinez says benefited the perpetrator at the expense of victims. Martinez’s office also prosecuted former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella for civil rights violations. Rodella was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Taking on APD, UNM and a northern New Mexico sheriff couldn’t have been easy, and it certainly didn’t win him any popularity contests. Martinez did it anyway because he felt it was the right thing to do, and Democrats in CD1 should take that into account when they’re casting their votes.
During his tenure as a U.S. attorney, Martinez also focused on targeting the state’s “Worst of the Worst” offenders, making them a priority for federal prosecutions. His office worked with other law enforcement agencies in the state to identify the most dangerous repeat criminals here, and it built federal cases against them, resulting in longer prison sentences for those who were convicted.
Martinez supports common sense gun control legislation, such as a ban on bumpstocks; universal background checks; red-flag systems for domestic violence convictions, temporary restraining orders and certain mental illnesses; raising the age for long-gun purchases; and improvements to the federal database and better use of technology to flag problematic purchasers.
On immigration, he supports DACA and favors clean legislation giving those who were brought here as children, and have committed no felonies or serious misdemeanors, a path to citizenship.
On addressing the crisis of opioid addiction at the federal level, Martinez says the HOPE Initiative, which he started in partnership with UNM Health Sciences focusing on treatment, prevention and education, should be adopted nationally.
“We cannot prosecute our way out of the heroin-opioid epidemic,” he says.
Another candidate in the CD1 Democratic primary who has set himself apart from the pack is Paul Moya, 30, who returned home to New Mexico after earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Notre Dame, and a master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard Graduate School of Education. He started his own company, Millennial Labs, a business strategy consulting firm, when he couldn’t find a job in New Mexico after graduation. Moya has demonstrated he is smart, reasonable and someone who has a bright political future, should he choose to continue pursuing elected office.
But on the whole, Martinez’s experience, background and courage to do the right thing regardless of the potential political implications make him the right choice in this race. The Journal endorses Damon Martinez in the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.