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Primary outcomes shake up PRC

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tuesday’s primary elections brought huge changes to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, with three of the commission’s five seats now slated to change hands come January.

Big election night upsets occurred in southern District 5, where incumbent Sandy Jones lost his bid for re-election to Democratic opponent Steve Fischmann, and in northwestern District 4, where incumbent Lynda Lovejoy lost to Theresa Becenti-Aguilar.

Lovejoy’s loss makes Becenti-Aguilar the de facto winner in the November elections, since no Republican candidate is running for that PRC seat.

Jones’ loss to Fischmann means a new commissioner will take over the southern seat next year, but Fischmann still faces a Republican opponent in November. That could be Ben Hall, who had a 30-vote lead in the final election tally against conservative Chris Mathys. But a recount must take place later this month, since Hall won with less than a 1 percentage point advantage over Mathys.

“The outcome is subject to an automatic recount, so we won’t know who won until the end of June,” Hall said.

In Eastern New Mexico’s District 2, where current commissioner Pat Lyons termed out, Republican candidate Jeff Byrd will face off against Democratic candidate Kevin Sanders in the November election. Byrd beat his opponent, Jerry Partin, with 54 percent of the votes. Sanders faced no opposition in the Democratic primary.

The District 5 general election campaign will likely draw broad voter attention, since a win by Fischmann could put progressive Democrats in firm control of the PRC come January. Environmental and consumer advocacy groups threw their support behind Fischmann in the primary to oust Jones, whom those groups considered too weak on environmental issues and too pro-utility in rate and other cases reviewed by the PRC.

If he triumphs in the fall, Fischmann would join current Democratic commissioners Valerie Espinoza and Cynthia Hall in a strongly pro-environment, pro-consumer bloc at the PRC, said Conservation Voters New Mexico on Wednesday. That group supported Fischmann with $107,299 in television and digital advertising during the primary campaign via its affiliated political action committee, CVNM Verde Voters Fund.

Fischmann could not immediately be reached for comment.

Hall, who has opted for public financing limiting his ability to receive election donations, said PAC spending could have a direct impact on the general election race. Apart from pro-Fischmann spending by environmental PACs during the primary, Public Service Co. of New Mexico also pumped $440,000 into a new PAC, New Mexicans for Progress, to help Jones defeat Fischmann.

“I took public money, but PACs can do what they please, spending all they want for or against somebody,” Hall said. “Follow the money. He (Fischmann) is going to have it.”

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