Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – This year’s race for attorney general – often a launching pad for ambitious New Mexico politicians – pits an incumbent Democrat, Hector Balderas, against two younger, lesser-known challengers.
Libertarian Blair Dunn and Republican Michael Hendricks say they would bring fresh ideas to the office that helps fight crime, enforce open meetings and public records laws, and provides legal advice to state agencies.
Balderas, 45, a former state auditor, is highlighting his record of prosecuting government corruption – including the 2017 conviction of ex-Sen. Phil Griego, a Democrat who’s now in prison for his role in the sale of a historic state building and pocketing money from his campaign account.
“For years, politicians have abused campaign funds, and we’re the first prosecutors to really investigate and prosecute those as crimes,” Balderas said in an interview. “We’ll continue to be fearless.”
Dunn and Hendricks, in turn, say it’s time for a change.
Dunn – who won a Dixon First Amendment Award from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government last year – said Balderas hasn’t done enough to enforce the state’s transparency laws, which ensure New Mexicans can inspect public records.
He describes himself as someone who will take on the judiciary itself when needed, after an unsuccessful lawsuit against the state Supreme Court. A federal judge imposed sanctions on him as part of the litigation – a move that Dunn contends was political.
“We have a judiciary right now that very commonly tramples people’s civil rights and has no accountability,” Dunn said.
Hendricks, who’s making his first run for office, said he would focus on fighting crime and protecting children by working well with local law-enforcement agencies.
“My children – I don’t feel like they’re safe walking down the street,” Hendricks said.
He said he would also target late-term abortions in New Mexico. State law, he said, requires that those abortions happen at an accredited hospital, not at a Downtown Albuquerque abortion clinic.
“It’s not a political issue,” Hendricks said. “It’s a legal issue.”
Balderas led the race in a Journal Poll conducted in mid-September, and he had an enormous financial edge.
Balderas had about $986,000 in his campaign account, according to a Sept. 10 report filed with the secretary of state. Hendricks had about $24,000, and Dunn had about $6,500.
Serving as attorney general in New Mexico is often a steppingstone to running for a higher office. Of the last seven attorneys general before Balderas, three went on to become either a U.S. senator or governor – Sen. Tom Udall, former Sen. Jeff Bingaman and former Gov. Toney Anaya, all Democrats. Two of the others ran for governor and one for U.S. House of Representatives.
Balderas himself weighed a possible run for governor last year before deciding to run for re-election instead.
Past campaigns for attorney general have been incredibly tough for the GOP. Hal Stratton, who won the office in 1986, is the only Republican to have won in the past 90 years.
Balderas, a former state representative from Wagon Mound, said he’s “lived many of the struggles” faced by New Mexico families, including poverty.
He says his record as attorney general demonstrates his commitment to transparency – his office outlined a “disturbing pattern of concealment”at the University of New Mexico in a recent report – and to fighting crime, including the prosecution of the man accused of killing Albuquerque police officer Daniel Webster.
“My only priority is to take on powerful interests on behalf of the citizens of New Mexico,” Balderas said.
Hendricks, as the son of Baptist missionaries, spent much of childhood in Mexico. He speaks Spanish and has served as the consulting attorney for the Mexican Consulate in New Mexico. He initially began a campaign for the U.S. House but switched to attorney general because of the chance, he said, to make an immediate difference in the lives of New Mexicans.
He now handles immigration and personal injury cases, among other legal work, but he said he has a deep background in business management.
Hendricks, 36, said he would bring strong leadership skills to a job that involves overseeing 200 employees.
“I don’t lead by telling people; I lead by example,” he said.
Dunn, also 36, said he has a broad record fighting for people’s access to public records. He also handles civil rights and natural resources cases.
Dunn has highlighted his own experience in a divorce and custody dispute as an example of the “men and women who have had their rights trampled” in family court. And he vows to bring an independent voice to state government.
“The good thing about Libertarians is that nobody tells us what to do,” he said. “We do what we think is right.”
Dunn ran for a state Senate seat as a Republican in 2016. He is the son of Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn.