Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Voters across a broad swath of Albuquerque – from the Northeast Heights to the West Side – will help determine who controls the state House for the next two years.
With all 70 seats on the ballot, Democrats are looking to expand their 38-32 edge in the New Mexico House of Representatives.
Republicans, in turn, are campaigning to win back their majority, after having controlled the House as recently as 2015-16. Political analysts say that will be a tall order, given the political climate and the departure of seven Republicans who decided to step down.
Either way, the Albuquerque area is emerging as a key battleground this year – in the older Northeast Heights, North Valley and northern West Side. Competitive races are also expected in some rural areas, especially in southern New Mexico and some districts east of Albuquerque.
“There are about a dozen seats that are in a play,” political analyst Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said in an interview. “Some of them flip every two to four years just because of the mood of the state and nation.”
House District 24 – covering a chunk of the mid-Northeast Heights, near Indian School and Eubank – is a telling example. It’s now represented by Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, but it’s changed hands every two years this decade.
Republican Trey Morris, an officer in the Air Force reserve, is hoping to keep that trend going this year, challenging Thomson, a physical therapist, in one of New Mexico’s most competitive districts.
Altogether, New Mexico voters will decide 37 contested races this year, and there will be plenty of turnover, no matter how the results turn out.
At least 13 House members who participated in the 30-day session earlier this year won’t be back for 2019. Ten incumbents opted against seeking re-election, and three others were defeated in the June primary.
“I think the range of possible outcomes is fairly wide,” said Ryan Gleason, executive director of the state Republican Party. “On the upside, I do think there are enough seats that are in play that we could make a run at getting back at or near the majority.”
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, doesn’t see it that way. He expects Democrats to pick up seats this fall, he said, with help from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham, who now represents the Albuquerque area in Congress.
“There are a lot of opportunities in Albuquerque to increase the majority,” Egolf said. “There’s no doubt that Michelle’s strength is creating coattails for Democratic candidates for the House and other offices in Albuquerque.”
Democrats, he said, are also helped by having two open seats in the Northeast Heights and North Valley – because Republican Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Nate Gentry aren’t seeking re-election.
Gleason, meanwhile, said Republicans are running strong candidates in those districts – longtime Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter in District 15 and retired Navy Cmdr. John L. Jones, the husband of former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, in District 30.
Winter faces Democrat Dayan Hochman, a lawyer. Jones is competing against Democrat Natalie Figueroa, a teacher.
A variety of political factors, of course, are outside the control of the candidates themselves.
The presence of Republican Donald Trump in the White House, for example, may help Democrats. The party out of power at the federal level often picks up seats at midterm elections.
On the other hand, midterm elections often feature lower voter turnout and an electorate more favorable to Republicans.
Incumbency is also a powerful factor, said Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico.
Of the 10 House members from the last legislative session who aren’t running for re-election, seven are Republicans.
“Open contests are more competitive, naturally,” Atkeson said.
Sanderoff, the pollster, said it’s shaping up to be a challenging political environment for the Republican Party.
“Given the mood of the state and the nation – and the other dynamics – I think the Republicans should be content if they hold the number of seats they have,” Sanderoff said.
No matter what happens, House Republicans will lose some influential members of their caucus. Gentry is stepping down after having served as the Republican floor leader.
Rep. Larry Larrañaga, a leading voice on budget matters, also retired this year, shortly before his death this month of a rare brain disorder.
Competing to replace Larrañaga in House District 27 – which covers part of far Northeast Albuquerque, including neighborhoods along Academy – are Republican Robert Godshall, a retired federal immigration officer, and Democrat Bill Pratt, a retired physician.
The Democratic caucus may move to the left. Two influential, business-friendly Democrats were defeated in the primary election – Debbie Rodella of Española and Carl Trujillo of Nambé – by more progressive-leaning candidates.
Democrat Susan Herrera, former executive director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, is unopposed and will replace Rodella in District 41.
Replacing Trujillo in District 46 will be either Democrat Andrea Romero, an ostrich farmer and former executive director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, or Heather Nordquist, a Democrat and scientist who’s running as a write-in candidate.
Here’s a look at some of the other key races:
• District 22: Republican Gregg Schmedes, a surgeon, and Democrat Jessica Velasquez, a business owner and educator, are competing for the East Mountains and Placitas district that was once held by Republican Jim Smith, who retired. Schmedes was appointed to the seat this summer.
• District 23: Democratic Rep. Daymon Ely, a lawyer, faces a challenge from Republican Brenda Boatman, an Army veteran, in a district covering Corrales and a slice of Albuquerque’s West Side. Ely defeated a Republican incumbent two years ago by less than 1 percentage point.
• District 28: Republican Rep. Jimmie Hall, a retiree with banking experience, is facing off against Democrat Melanie Stansbury, a consultant, in a district that covers much of the foothills area in Albuquerque. Hall has held the seat since 2005.
• District 29: Republican Rep. David Adkins, a business owner and pastor, won re-election by just nine votes two years ago. He is facing Democrat Joy Garratt, an instructional coach for Albuquerque Public Schools, in a district that covers far Northwest Albuquerque.
• District 32: Democratic Rep. Candie Sweetser, a broadcaster, has been challenged by Republican Laura Boyd, a doctor. The district covers Deming and the Bootheel area. Sweetser won the seat by less than 3 percentage points two years ago.
• District 39: Democratic Rep. Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez faces a challenge from ex-state Sen. Lee Cotter, a Republican, in a district that covers part of Las Cruces and stretches west to Silver City. Martinez beat an incumbent to win the seat in 2016 by about 2 percentage points.
• District 68: Republican Rep. Monica Youngblood, a real estate agent, faces a challenge from Democrat Karen Bash, a retired minister. Youngblood won the seat by 10 percentage points in 2012 and has been unopposed since, but she was convicted last month of aggravated drunken driving.
The state Senate, where Democrats hold a 26-16 majority, isn’t on the ballot this year. Senators serve four-year terms and will be up for election in 2020.
The Governor’s Office, however, will change hands. After eight years in office, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run because of term limits.
Two members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation – Republican Steve Pearce and Democrat Lujan Grisham – are campaigning for governor.
Q-and-A’s online: To find out a candidate’s positions on key issues, go to ABQJournal.com/election2018. The site also includes links to Journal stories on statewide, legislative and county-level races, district maps, key election dates and other voter resources. It will be updated regularly with new candidate profile stories and other information.