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Democrats expand majority in state House

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico voters shook up the state House late Tuesday as Democrats appeared to seize two open seats in Albuquerque and defeat several Republican incumbents, according to partial, unofficial election returns.

Democrats held a 38-32 majority in the past two regular legislative sessions but looked poised to pick up six to 10 seats, based on unofficial results.

Rep. Monica Youngblood – once seen as a rising Republican star – was among the losses for the GOP late Tuesday, falling to Democratic challenger Karen Bash, a retired minister, in House District 68.

Youngblood was convicted of aggravated drunken driving earlier this year and spent a day in jail.

At least two other Republican incumbents in Albuquerque also were defeated: Jimmie Hall lost to Democrat Melanie Stansbury in House District 28, and David Adkins was beaten by Joy Garratt in District 29.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Democrats would remain committed to bipartisanship, even with an expanded majority. But he said the extra seats could make it easier to increase education funding, including for early childhood programs, and to hire more teachers.

“Tonight, we have an unprecedented opportunity to put in place a plan that will lift a generation of kids out of poverty and give them an opportunity for a real future with a world-class education and economic opportunity that we’ve not seen in multiple generations in our state,” Egolf said.

Garratt, who won in Northwest Albuquerque, said she and other Democrats worked to connect with voters in person.

“Something (the campaign) showed me is the power of good old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing,” Garratt said in an interview. “I knocked on thousands of doors and listened to people, and I think that made a difference.”

The Democratic gain was a remarkable reversal from four years ago, when Republicans won a narrow majority in the House. But they held it for only two years, as Democrats won back the House in 2016 and expanded their advantage in Tuesday’s general election.

Now Democrats could have their largest majority in at least eight years.

Albuquerque emerged as a key battleground.

Besides defeating incumbents, Democrats also appeared to win two open seats – vacancies created when two Republican lawmakers – House Minority Leader Nate Gentry and Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes – opted against seeking re-election.

Democrat Dayan Hochman led longtime Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter to succeed Maestas Barnes, and Democrat Natalie Figueroa won Gentry’s old seat.

The expanded Democratic majority comes as a Democrat, Michelle Lujan Grisham, won the race for governor, giving Democrats control over the Governor’s Office and both legislative chambers for the first time in eight years.

State senators weren’t on the ballot this year. Democrats hold a 26-16 majority in that chamber.

Here’s a look at some of the key House races Tuesday, according to unofficial returns:

• District 20: Democrat Abbas Akhil had a narrow lead over Republican Rep. Jim Dines in Southeast Albuquerque. Dines, a retired lawyer, was a key player in securing passage of legislation for Tuesday’s constitutional amendment establishing an ethics commission.

Akhil is an energy consultant who’s retired from Sandia National Laboratories.

• District 22: Republican Gregg Schmedes, a surgeon, and Democrat Jessica Velasquez, a business owner and educator, were locked in a tight race to represent the East Mountains and Placitas. Schmedes was appointed to the seat this summer, and it would represent another pickup for Democrats if Velasquez were to win.

• District 24: Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, a physical therapist, defeated Republican Trey Morris, an officer in the Air Force Reserve. The district covers a chunk of the mid-Northeast Heights, near Indian School and Eubank, and it had flipped back and forth between the parties in recent election years until Thomson won re-election Tuesday.

• District 27: Democrat William Pratt had a narrow lead over Robert Godshall in a Northeast Heights seat that was held for 23 years by Republican Larry Larrañaga, who died earlier this year.

• District 63: Republican Martin Zamora, a business owner and rancher, and Rep. George Dodge, D-Santa Rosa, were locked in a tight race to represent a stretch of eastern New Mexico, including Santa Rosa and Clovis.

Journal staff writer Maddy Hayden contributed to this article.

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