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Key Democratic New Mexico senator won’t seek reelection

New Mexico Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, left, and his aide, Sisto Abeyta, greet visitors to the state Capitol on Jan. 21, the first day of the legislative session. Sapien, who represents a swing district outside Albuquerque, says he will not seek reelection this year. (Russell Contreras/Associated Press)

RIO RANCHO – New Mexico Sen. John Sapien, a key moderate Democratic senator who represents a swing district outside Albuquerque and who has been a champion for early childhood education, will not run for reelection.

Sapien told The Associated Press on Sunday that he concluded during the current legislative session that it was time to retire as a state lawmaker. His current term ends this year.

The insurance salesman and financial adviser said he’s entertaining new career options and thought long about whether to continue in the Senate.

“A lot of career opportunities have presented themselves in recent weeks, and I think I should pursue then,” Sapien said. “I was committed to reelection, but I decided to go another route.”

For 12 years, Sapien has represented a district that includes the affluent liberal areas of Placitas and Corrales, part of conservative Rio Rancho and all of Bernalillo – one of the poorest communities in the state.

As a state senator, Sapien helped secure around $300 million over 10 years for early childhood education programs and sided with moderate Democrats in western and southern New Mexico to limit spending. Sapien also signaled he didn’t support the recently failed proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

Republicans have long targeted Sapien to flip the seat because the district is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Sapien won his last two races by about 1,000 votes. With Sapien out, the district almost certainly will be the focus of both parties in 2020 amid looming battles over abortion, recreational marijuana and energy.

Sapien said he believed Democrats could keep the seat before redistricting. But he said the nominee would need to be a moderate Democrat.

“I am a pro-business, moderate Democrat, so any Democratic nominee would need to have a moderate sense,” Sapien said. “It’s a middle-of-the-road district.”

Democrats hold a 26-16 edge over Republicans in the New Mexico Senate.

Including Sapien, there are now seven state lawmakers not seeking re-election this year. The others are Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque; Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe; Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec; Rep. Tomás Salazar, D-Las Vegas; and Rep. Abbas Akhil, D-Albuquerque.