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Prominent NM lawmaker to face primary challenge

Influential state Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming will face a primary election challenge in 2020.

Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, the former vice chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, announced Thursday she will run against Smith in next year’s primary election.

A licensed teacher who is currently taking time off to care for her elderly mother, Martinez-Parra cited education and health care access as among her priorities in the race.

“We’re always forgotten about because we’re a rural district,” she told the Journal, while accusing Smith of not being responsive to constituents’ concerns.

The Senate District 35 seat encompasses New Mexico’s southwest corner, stretching from the state’s Bootheel region east into Las Cruces. The rural district includes all or part of three different counties that supported Republican Steve Pearce over Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham in last year’s gubernatorial race.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Smith is currently New Mexico’s third-longest serving legislator, having been in the Senate since 1989.

A fiscal conservative who has clashed with recent governors from both political parties, Smith is one of several moderate Senate Democrats that angered progressive groups during this year’s 60-day legislative session by helping put the brakes on high-profile bills, including a measure that would have repealed a long-dormant state abortion ban.

He said Thursday that he’s told colleagues he plans to run for re-election in 2020, but has not yet made a formal announcement.

Smith also suggested his final decision would not be affected by a primary challenge, saying, “I’ve been challenged before.”

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