Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
With Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, running for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, the expansive House District 40 is open in 2020.
Two distinctly different Democrats are now running to replace Sanchez, with the winner of the June 2 primary taking on Republican Justin Salazar-Torrez in November.
Roger Montoya, a longtime community organizer in the Española Valley, said his experience starting multiple nonprofits and a charter school has prepared him to tackle the issues facing the residents of District 40.
“I think a voice like mine in the state House will be unusual, but valuable, because of that particular understanding of community needs,” he said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still ravaging parts of the country, Montoya stressed the importance of providing local residents with physical and emotional health resources.
“If our population is not healthy and doesn’t have access to basic needs, it’s going to be very, very rough,” he said.
He said his previous career in the performing arts and community work gave him “a different vantage point” for solving the complex problems facing New Mexico.
Montoya, who has lived in Velarde since 1984, recently gained national attention for his advocacy. He was one of 10 people nominated as CNN’s Hero of the Year, due in large part to his work with Moving Arts Española, which provides artistic and after-school opportunities to local children.
This attention has also brought him support from many Democrats in the Roundhouse. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday she would endorse Montoya for the primary. He’s also received campaign donations from Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo; congressional candidate Teresa Ledger Fernandez; and Santa Fe School Board President Kate Noble.
A newcomer to politics, Montoya imagines he’ll have a lot to learn if elected, but said the key is keeping the skills he already possesses.
“The more critical part is always remaining a voice for the people … and responding with a sense of public service,” he said.
District 40 covers an immense amount of territory, sprawling across an area in three counties about the size of Vermont. However, for many years, the northern New Mexico district has been represented by those living in the small piece of Rio Arriba County that makes up the district.
Cimarron City Councilor Matthew Gonzales said the district needs someone familiar with all the communities in District 40 to represent them in the Roundhouse.
“Roughly one-third of legislators represent the county of Bernalillo,” he said. “You have large land masses in rural New Mexico that are often underrepresented.”
Despite being only 36, Gonzales has served multiple political roles as city councilor, school board member and working for former Lt. Gov. John Sanchez. He said this prior experience in crafting budgets and policies will make him a more effective legislator in Santa Fe.
“I would be equipped to advocate for the citizens of District 40 because I already understand the inner workings of Santa Fe,” he said.
Access to health care, Gonzales said, is the most important issue facing rural New Mexicans, as many have to travel long distances for different kinds of treatment. He also said he wants to bring more industry to northern New Mexico to slow down the number of young people leaving.
Gonzales also said his political stances distinguish him from Montoya and show how he would vote in the Roundhouse. On his campaign website, Gonzales said he is anti-abortion and against restrictions on firearms.
Asked if his beliefs have pitted him against the state’s Democratic establishment, Gonzales said they “will to a certain extent.”
Gonzales currently trails far behind Montoya in terms of money raised and has only $1,500 on hand, according to campaign finance reports. He also has loaned himself the majority of his campaign’s funds.
But Gonzales views this as a benefit because he does not want to ask residents to donate money during an economic crisis, he said. He also said his campaign’s on-the-ground strategy will be his advantage in the race.
“That’s where we’re winning the race is on the ground,” he said. “We really are grassroots.”