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Two jump into race for Luján’s seat; many more ponder a run

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – There apparently will be no shortage of candidates for northern New Mexico’s U.S. House seat next year.

A Democratic state representative from the Española area and a Raton businessman on Monday jumped into the race for the position right away, soon after U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of Nambé announced he will not seek re-election and instead will run for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde – a first-term representative from District 40, engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a rancher – and fellow Democrat Mark McDonald of Raton, regional business developer for a medical helicopter company who ran for a state House seat last year, said they will be candidates to succeed Luján in the 3rd Congressional District.

Meanwhile, several others – including some familiar political names – said they are looking into joining the fray.

Those include one potential candidate with a national-level profile. Valerie Plame of Santa Fe, a former member of the CIA who was controversially outed as a covert officer during the presidency of George W. Bush, said she’s considering running for either Luján’s House seat or the U.S. Senate position being vacated by Democratic incumbent Tom Udall and which Luján is now seeking.

“I was in public service, I love serving my country, it got curtailed, it ended sooner than I anticipated, and suddenly this opportunity has opened up and I take it seriously,” said Plame, who is also a novelist and has lived in Santa Fe for several years.

Another Valerie – Valerie Espinoza, a member of the state Public Regulation Commission and a former Santa Fe County clerk – also said she might run for the seat Luján is vacating.

“I’m leaning toward running, because it would be an honor to serve and an opportunity to extend my service,” said Espinoza, who is prevented by term limits from seeking her PRC seat again in 2020.

Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull, a Republican, also is not ruling out a potential candidacy for the U.S. House.

“At this point, we’re having communications with my family members, friends and supporters, and giving it a serious consideration, but have yet to make a decision,” he said.

Republican Pat Lyons of Cuervo is mulling either the House or Senate seat. Lyons has served two terms on both the PRC and as state land commissioner, and also was a state senator for 10 years. But he lost a bid to take back the land commissioner’s office last year.

“We’re going to find supporters and evaluate the political environment, and see if we could win,” Lyons said.

In an email to the Journal, former state Rep. Carl Trujillo said he has not made a decision on the race yet.

“There are many discussions to be had with supporters and, most importantly, my family before making a decision on whether or not I will run,” said Trujillo, who represented Santa Fe County’s District 46 from 2013-18 and lost his re-election last to Rep. Andrea Romero in a bitter primary race after he was accused of sexual harassment by a lobbyist. Trujillo denied the allegations.

A legislative investigation found sufficient evidence to move forward with a charge against Trujillo, but the case was dismissed after his accuser declined to testify. Trujillo has filed a defamation suit against his accuser that is pending.

State Sen. Carlos Cisneros, a Democrat from Questa, said he wouldn’t rule out a congressional campaign. “For the moment, I’m electing to recover from the legislative session before I jump into any deep-end thinking about opportunities,” he said.

Former Santa Fe City Councilor and Española Mayor Joseph Maestas is also a potential candidate. “Some folks have approached me, but my response has been (that) a lot has to happen before then,” he said. “Now that (Luján made it) official, I can begin considering it.”

Sanchez, who declared his candidacy Monday, said in his announcement, “I view the opportunity to run for the CD3 Seat as an opportunity to create and further policy having a larger, more positive impact on our northern New Mexico communities.”

McDonald, the other candidate already in the race, said, “We must be bold enough to elect someone to that seat who will fight for new ideas, a cleaner and more resilient future, a more fair economy, and equality for everyone; not just those who can monetarily afford it.”

Carol Miller, a former Green Party leader from Ojo Sarco who has run twice for the 3rd District seat, said she’s on the sidelines for now. “Right now, I am an interested observer, but also never say never,” she said.

Among those who said Monday that they won’t run for Luján’s House seat were Attorney General Hector Balderas; Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber; state House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe; Democratic State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, who beat Lyons last year; and two Republicans who ran unsuccessfully against Luján in the past: PRC member Jefferson Byrd and Farmington business owner Thomas Mullins.

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