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Three compete in GOP primary for chance to face Haaland

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The 1st Congressional District Republican race has failed to draw the hefty amounts of campaign cash that the other, higher-profile congressional races in New Mexico have.

And neither are the candidates flooding the television and radio airwaves with attacks against their opponents as in the 2nd District race.

But the three candidates in the 1st District GOP primary are serious in their bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Deb Haaland, who is seeking a second term in the district that includes most of the Albuquerque area.

Deb Haaland

Former New Mexico Attorney General chief of staff Michelle Garcia Holmes – a political campaign veteran – is facing political newcomers Brett Kokinadis and Jared Vander Dussen in the June 2 primary for the right to challenge Haaland, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary.

“I am running because the present leadership has done nothing to move New Mexico towards prosperity,” said Garcia Holmes, 58, who also served as a police officer and detective with the Albuquerque Police Department. “I have a passion for our state. I have lived in Albuquerque all my life, and I want to go to Washington to eliminate double taxation on Social Security, make sure federal monies go to where they are needed, and work on legislation that protects the unborn, seniors and veterans.”

She has been a candidate for mayor in Albuquerque and was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Kokinadis said he’s running because “Haaland has dropped the ball by not addressing the key issues that affect families in New Mexico, such as solid immigration and border security plans, sound approaches to health care and drug costs, real solutions to the opioid crisis and helping small business, all which rest in the hands of Congress.”

As a small-business owner, he said, he fights every day to solve problems, and “now I’m ready to fight for New Mexico.”

Kokinadis, 39, a former Democrat, is the owner of Openfax, a software and telecom company. The Illinois native sold his interest in New Mexico finance company GoRoadWorthy and is the former chief operating officer and investor of SportXast, a computer vision and amateur sports technology platform. He moved to New Mexico from Seattle in 2010.

Vander Dussen, 26, an Albuquerque attorney who grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Clovis, said the status quo is killing the state’s potential, saying that New Mexico “has been left behind, and elected officials didn’t notice.”

“It’s time to challenge the status quo and restore common sense to Congress,” he told the Journal. He has voiced concerns about young people leaving the state for more opportunities elsewhere.

He practices environmental and agricultural law. Vander Dussen serves as general counsel for his family’s dairy farm.

Garcia Holmes calls for an evaluation of government and the elimination of nonessential departments as the nation rebounds from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy. She also calls for delaying employer payroll taxes and offering tax breaks on exports. And she feels small-business loans should be promoted.

Kokinadis has advocated for lifting some of the restrictions in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health order, implemented to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“We have to keep up the pressure,” he said. “We have to keep standing up for our rights.”

He told the Journal that “small businesses can operate safer than any big-box store.”

Vander Dussen thinks Congress should “streamline government permitting and regulatory requirements to allow businesses to quickly come back online.”

“I believe that President Trump’s administration is working hard every day to ensure Americans have what we need to get through this pandemic,” he said. “Sure, there is more work to be done, and this should be used as a learning experience for the future, but we are seeing great accomplishments from their work.”

The three express similar views on abortion and gun laws. They are opposed to late-term abortions and federally funded abortions, and they say they support Second Amendment rights, including opposing a federal ban on the sale of military style semiautomatic rifles. Garcia Holmes and Vander Dussen called for more aggressive prosecution of violators of gun laws already on the books.

Garcia Holmes, Kokinadis and Vander Dussen call for changes in immigration laws.

“Being a border state, we must recognize the impact that illegal migration, drug trafficking and human trafficking has on our resources and citizens,” Garcia Holmes said. “Sensible legislation will modernize our immigration policies and help address many problems as well as needs.”

She calls for a resolution of the issue with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Kokinadis said the process of “becoming a citizen is expensive and complicated, which we must address along with helping the ‘Dreamers.’ ”

“Individuals following immigration laws have nothing to fear,” he said.

Vander Dussen said he would support a system in which undocumented residents can start the process to become citizens if they “are working, contributing to society or raising a family.”

“We must secure the southern border and completely overhaul our broken immigration system,” he adds.

Contributions in the race for the entire election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission, have topped $1.3 million, with Haaland raising more than $1 million of that total. Contributions for the U.S. Senate and 2nd and 3rd congressional district races have topped $3 million each.

Vander Dussen was the top Republican fundraiser for the first quarter of the year, which ended March 31, pulling in $30,000 during that time. Garcia Holmes raised $13,681, and Kokinadis raised $375.

“I think the 3rd Congressional District Democratic race in the north and the 2nd Congressional District Republican race in the south have stolen some of the buzz this race might have created,” political pollster Brian Sanderoff said. “Because Deb Haaland won the district by 22% or 23%, outside groups associated with either party aren’t putting money into the race like they are the others.”

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