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Las Cruces state senator will face 2020 primary challenge

SANTA FE — Another incumbent New Mexico Senate Democrat will face a primary challenge in 2020.

Melissa Ontiveros of Las Cruces, who works for a southern New Mexico nonprofit group that helps local families, plans to officially announce her candidacy next week for the Senate District 31 seat currently held by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.

In a statement, Ontiveros, who is also co-president of the New Mexico Public Health Association, cited universal health care, renewable energy and protecting New Mexico’s environment as top priorities if elected.

She did not directly levy any criticisms against Cervantes, but did say senators should be available to their constituents year-round — not just during legislative sessions.

Cervantes, an attorney who has served in the Legislature since 2001 and in the Senate since 2013, said in a Thursday interview he “absolutely” plans to run for re-election next year.

But he said he’s currently more focused on the upcoming 30-day legislative session than on next year’s election cycle.

A member of a prominent farming family and chairman of the Senate Conservation Committee, Cervantes ran for governor last year but was defeated in a three-way primary race by Michelle Lujan Grisham, who went on to win the general election.

Other Senate Democrats who face 2020 primary challenges include Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants and Sen. Gabriel Ramos of Silver City.

Some of those moderate Democrats have drawn criticism from progressives for stymieing bills dealing with more money for early childhood programs from the state’s largest permanent fund, legalizing recreational marijuana use and repealing a long-dormant state abortion ban.

All 112 legislative seats — 70 in the House and 42 in the Senate — will be up for election next year.

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