Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Two Republican members of the state House launched primary challenges against incumbent senators of their own party Tuesday – amid a wave of contested primaries voters will decide in June.
Republican Rep. Gregg Schmedes of Tijeras filed to run against Sen. Jim White of Albuquerque in the race to represent Senate District 19, which encompasses the East Mountains and the Four Hills neighborhood of Albuquerque.
In the southeastern part of the state, meanwhile, Republican Rep. David Gallegos of Eunice will challenge Sen. Gregg Fulfer of Jal in Senate District 41.
Altogether, 22 legislators of both parties will face a primary challenge of some kind, including a number of powerful Senate Democrats who face left-leaning competitors.
Schmedes, a surgeon, said he opted to give up his House seat to challenge White, a retired Air Force pilot, because he believes he's a good fit for a district that includes rural areas, small towns and part of Albuquerque.
“We have a lot of conservative champions in the House, but less in the Senate,” Schmedes said in an interview. “I think it's time to basically take the fight for freedom and individual liberty from the House into the Senate.”
White described the primary challenge as “unfortunate” but said he would work hard to win voters' support.
“I'm a little disappointed,” White said. “I think we're both good legislators.”
All 112 of New Mexico's legislative seats are on the ballot this year. Just nine seats are sure to change hands – because the incumbents are stepping down or opting to run for another office.
Tuesday was filing day for candidates of major parties – Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians. But candidates who are affiliated with minor parties or registered without a party affiliation file later in the summer.
In November, voters will determine whether Democrats maintain their 46-24 edge in the House and 26-16 advantage in the Senate.
But first, voters will choose the major-party nominees June 2.
Republican Sen. Fulfer, a rancher and business owner, is among the incumbents facing a challenge from within his own party. He was appointed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez to the Senate in late 2018.
Rep. Gallegos, senior superintendent for a construction company, said he was eager to serve in the Senate, where the members are more collegial, he said. He also wanted to ensure voters had more than one candidate to choose from, he said.
“Right now, if I don't run, the people don't get a choice,” Gallegos said.
State Republican Chairman Steve Pearce said the party had no involvement in the primary challenges.
But he said Republicans are offering a strong array of candidates in legislative races.
“I think we're going to win seats we've never been competitive in before,” Pearce said. “The progressives in the state Legislature have overplayed their hand.”
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Democrats are feeling confident after picking up a net of eight House seats in the 2018 general election cycle.
“I feel superoptimistic about keeping our current margin, and I think we're in really good shape to increase our numbers,” Egolf said in an interview, citing House seats in Rio Rancho and the East Mountains as possible pickup opportunities. “We're expanding the map.”
He also said high voter turnout could help Democratic candidates, while also claiming that President Donald Trump's reelection bid could pose electoral problems for New Mexico Republicans.
Among the other primary races to watch:
• A few powerful Senate Democrats – who often clash with their more liberal colleagues in the House – face opposition in the primary. They include Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith of Deming, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee Chairman Clemente Sanchez of Grants and Senate Finance Committee Vice Chairman George Muñoz of Gallup.
• Two Democratic senators appointed to fill a vacancy will face primary challenges as they seek election to hold on to their seats.
Sen. Shannon Pinto of Tohatchi – who succeeded her grandfather, John Pinto, after he died last year – faces challenges from Democrats Dineh Benally of Shiprock and Shawn Nelson of Gamerco in Senate District 3.
Sen. Gabriel Ramos of Silver City will face Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill, also of Silver City, in Senate District 28.
• A few House Democrats in rural districts face primary challengers. Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo will compete against Democrat Rebecca King Spindle, a rancher from Stanley and granddaughter of former Gov. Bruce King in House District 50.
And Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo faces a challenge from former Rep. James Roger Madalena of Jemez Pueblo in the Democratic primary in House District 65.
Madalena is one of several ex-lawmakers seeking to return to the Legislature, with others including Republican Ricky Little of Chaparral and Democrats Shannon Robinson of Albuquerque and Ben Rodefer of Corrales.