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Open seat in New Mexico Senate draws 3 Republicans, 3 Democrats

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Democrat John Sapien won reelection by less than a percentage point four years ago.

Now a diverse field of six candidates is scrambling to replace him in Senate District 9, a district covering Corrales, Bernalillo, Placitas and parts of Rio Rancho.

John Stahlman Clark

Sapien is stepping down at the end of the year, setting the stage for what could be one of the most competitive races of 2020.

Democratic and Republican voters each have three candidates to choose from in the June 2 primary, establishing the general election matchup for the fall.

Campaigning on the Republican side are economic development executive Bridget Condon and business owners Tania Dennis and John Stahlman Clark.

Kevin Lucero

Seeking the Democratic nomination are Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy Kevin Lucero, congressional staffer Brenda McKenna and business owner Ben Rodefer, who served in the state House in 2009-10.

Lucero, a law enforcement officer who previously worked as a livestock inspector, said he has a strong understanding of the criminal justice system and the need for expanded mental health and treatment services. He grew up in Ponderosa, now serves as a village councilor in Corrales, and is eager to work hard for the district, he said.

Ben Rodefer

“I have a keen sense of what these little communities need,” Lucero said. “I know what the culture is. I know what the priorities are.”

He comes from a ranching and farming family, he said, and still helps his dad with alfalfa.

McKenna, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, said she would bring a fresh perspective to the Senate as a woman from Nambé Pueblo. She has also worked in health care and volunteered for the League of Women Voters in Central New Mexico.

Brenda Grace Agoyothé McKenna

McKenna said her tenure under Haaland has given her insight and experience into the importance of helping people – regardless of political affiliation – who must navigate government bureaucracies.

“I’ve really learned how to be very present, to be an active listener and how to advocate for constituents,” she said. “I feel that experience would serve me well as a public servant in the Roundhouse.”

Bridget Condon

Rodefer, who served for two years in the House, is a past president of an association of renewable energy companies – an industry that can help produce high-paying jobs and strengthen New Mexico’s economic recovery, he said. If elected, he said, he intends to address wealth disparity.

Tania Dennis

Rodefer said his legislative service after the Great Recession puts him in good position to help New Mexico rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In these difficult times,” Rodefer said, “we need someone with experience – someone who can hit the ground running and get things done, and I think that’s me.”

McKenna and Rodefer have a financial edge. McKenna reported about $17,000 in recent donations and had about $20,000 in her campaign account, according to reports filed earlier this month.

Rodefer had about $18,000 in his account, and Lucero had about $2,400.

Condon, director of business development at the Sandoval Economic Alliance, said she knows firsthand how difficult it can be to recruit companies to New Mexico because of the state’s tax code and other policies. She said she would bring a young, necessary voice to the Senate with specific ideas for simplifying tax credits and putting New Mexico on the right track.

“As someone who’s from the state and wants to stay in New Mexico,” Condon said in an interview, “I’m really frustrated with what’s happening in Santa Fe. … The choices they’re making are really going to impact if I can have a job, raise a family here.”

Dennis, in a written statement to the Journal, said the state’s tax burden is too heavy on businesses. The state budget needs an overhaul, she said, and the education system should treat students as individuals, not test scores.

“I am not a politician, and I feel that’s one of my biggest strengths,” Dennis wrote. “I’m running because I want to be a change maker in my community and make New Mexico stronger. I want this state to be a place full of opportunity so that our children want to stay here and grow!”

Clark didn’t respond to email and phone messages seeking an interview.

None of the candidates has a significant financial advantage over the others so far. Condon had $1,100 in her campaign account, Dennis had about $1,300 and Clark had about $2,300, according to reports filed this month.

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