Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – There’s a rumble in New Mexico’s oil patch – and it’s not just the sound of big rigs rolling down the road.
Republicans Gregg Fulfer of Jal and David Gallegos of Eunice are locked in an increasingly hard-hitting primary election contest for the Senate District 41 seat Fulfer has held since 2018.
Gallegos, who is giving up his state House seat to challenge Fulfer, has raised the incumbent’s 2019 vote in favor of a Democratic-backed $7 billion budget bill in his attempt to oust the incumbent.
He also says Fulfer used his connections as a former Lea County Commission member to get appointed to the Senate during the final days of ex-Gov. Susana Martinez’s second term in office.
“Being in a safe seat, it’s a huge risk (to forego a reelection bid), but I’d rather give the people a choice,” Gallegos said.
For his part, Fulfer said he voted for last year’s budget because he and other Republican senators worked to get $389 million included for road and highway repairs statewide – with much of that money earmarked for southeastern New Mexico.
“It’s easy to sit back and not negotiate anything (and just vote ‘no’),” Fulfer said.
Senate District 41 stretches across New Mexico’s southeastern corner. It includes parts of Hobbs and Carlsbad, and sits atop the Permian Basin where oil production levels skyrocketed in recent years before recently slowing due to falling global prices.
It’s a GOP-leaning seat, and no Democrats or Libertarians filed to run in the district this year. That means whoever wins the Republican primary will have a free ride in November.
Fulfer, who owns Fulfer Oil and Cattle Co., acknowledges he was a “little bit shocked” when he found out in March that Gallegos was running against him in the primary election.
He has reported raising $134,900 for his reelection bid, though that figure includes $85,000 in loans made from his business to his campaign. He also has the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
For his part, Gallegos, a retired supervisor for New Mexico Gas Co., has raised about $79,650 for his campaign. Among his donors are several oil field companies.
Gallegos has served in the state House since 2013 and founded the Legislative Prayer Caucus in 2016. He said the caucus now includes about 34 members, both Democrats and Republicans.
While both candidates have local government experience, Fulfer said he brings more firsthand oil industry experience to the Senate than Gallegos would. He also said he would work to expand New Mexico’s manufacturing of oil and natural gas products.
“Being in business, you end up understanding a lot about budgets and how regulations affect businesses,” he said.
However, he has faced criticism from his opponent for recusing himself from voting on a 2019 bill dealing with recycled water from oil production.
“I think that’s the wrong person to have there standing up for oil and gas when they’re going to recuse themselves,” Gallegos said.
Fulfer said in an interview that the legislation was too closely related to his business for him to vote on it but that he does not feel a conflict of interest exists on other oil-related bills.
The two candidates have also disagreed over teacher pay raises, with Fulfer supporting 6% raises provided last year and Gallegos claiming it would have been more fiscally prudent for the state to give teachers bonuses, not raises, when it had a big budget surplus.