Leger Fernandez, a Democrat, filed a declaration of candidacy with Federal Election Commission in late April. In an interview after making her formal announcement at an event in her hometown of Las Vegas, N.M., she described herself as a “daughter of northern New Mexico.”
“I believe that 2020 is going to be an amazing year for Democrats, and an amazing year for this country,” the 59-year-old said.
“And I’m going to be part of that change,” she added. “Me, like everyone else in this district.”
The heavily Democratic district covers much of the northern half of New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Rio Rancho, Farmington, Gallup and Clovis. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is vacating the House seat to run for U.S. Senate.
Leger Fernandez has an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from Stanford. She’s been practicing law locally for 30 years, currently with her “social impact” firm, Leger Law and Strategy. Before that, she represented tribal entities with Albuquerque’s Nordhaus Law Firm.
Leger Fernandez also was the attorney for a group of citizens who successfully sued the city of Santa Fe to force the City Council to implement a voter-mandated ranked choice voting system for the 2018 municipal elections.
“I’ve been in the trenches getting things done,” she said. “… That is what we need. Someone who is from the community and works in the community.”
Other Democratic candidates who have previously declared candidacies or filed papers to run for the congressional seat include Former CIA operative and author Valerie Plame, state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, Gavin Kaiser of Santa Cruz and 1st Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna. Former Navajo nation vice presidential candidate Dineh Benally has said he’s running. The only Republican in the race is Brett Kokinadis of Santa Fe.
Leger Fernandez said she feels “uniquely” qualified, partly because of her experience at both the local and federal levels. From 2013 to 2016, Leger Fernandez was vice chairwoman of the federal government’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation under appointment by former President Barack Obama. From 1994 to 1995, she was a White House Fellow with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in former President Bill Clinton’s administration.
She also emphasized her understanding of the area’s different cultural needs as a local Hispanic woman who also has advocated for issues such as tribal sovereignty and sacred sites on behalf of the Native communities.
“I think it’s actually a model for the nation,” she said of the district’s multicultural makeup. “We know how to talk with each other and come to solutions that respect each other. That ability to both listen to all three cultures and say, ‘This is what makes us strong, and this is what I can represent in Congress.’ ”