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Torres Small focused on Congress, not dispute over ballots

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – It’s been a whirlwind month for Xochitl Torres Small, who has had little free time since pulling off a come-from-behind victory in the race for the open southern New Mexico-based congressional seat.

Xochitl Torres Small

In an interview this week from Washington, D.C., Torres Small said she has been busy with new member orientation, discussing possible committee assignments and meeting with other soon-to-be members of Congress – both Democrats and Republicans.

She also said she’s not concerned by a lawsuit filed by her GOP opponent, Yvette Herrell, that seeks to impound more than 8,000 absentee ballots cast in Doña Ana County.

After the absentee ballots were added to the final vote tally, Torres Small defeated Herrell by 3,722 votes in a race marked by big spending by out-of-state groups, according to official results.

“The election results have been certified by the secretary of state … and I am here focusing on governance,” Torres Small told the Journal. “I am glad every vote has been counted.”

A judge granted the impoundment order this week and said Herrell and her legal team can start inspecting the ballots Monday, but barred them from disclosing any information that could be used to identify voters.

Even as the legal case plays out, Torres Small has been gearing up for her first term in Congress.

The 34-year-old will be one of the youngest members of the U.S. House of Representatives once she takes office Jan. 3. She is also the first woman to win election to New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, and just the second Democrat since 1981 to post a victory in the conservative-leaning district.

A Las Cruces water rights attorney whose husband, Nathan Small, just won re-election to a second term in the state House, Torres Small said she plans to return to New Mexico every weekend if possible once she is officially a member of Congress.

She also listed health care and infrastructure issues – including heavily used roads in southeastern New Mexico and internet service – as among her top priorities. Those were among the issues she talked about frequently on the campaign trail.

Torres Small has already faced criticism from the state Republican Party for voting this week for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her bid to reclaim her old job – Pelosi must still win a floor vote in January to secure the position – after previously declining to commit to Pelosi or any other candidate.

The congresswoman-elect said in an interview before the closed-door caucus meeting that “no one should take my vote for granted.”

She also said she would keep an independent streak as a member of Congress, which could put her at odds with the Democratic majority in the U.S. House.

“People aren’t interested in someone who’s going to be in lockstep” with House leadership on all issues, Torres Small told the Journal.

Nationwide, Democrats picked up 41 seats in this year’s elections to win back control of the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives from Republicans, who had held a majority since 2011.

Torres Small and fellow Rep.-elect Deb Haaland are among 101 newly elected representatives, a group that includes 42 women.

She said it has been exciting to be part of the diverse freshman class, but also said she was moved by her encounter with a young congressional intern from Roswell who stopped Torres Small on Capitol Hill and excitedly told her that she and her family were big fans.

“Every time I turn around and see the Capitol, I’m impressed by the responsibility,” Torres Small said.