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Six compete to succeed 24-year GOP senator

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Six candidates are campaigning to replace Republican Sen. William Payne in a district that covers parts of the Sandia foothills and Northeast Heights in Albuquerque.

It’s already an expensive race, with two Democrats having raised well over $60,000 each.

Payne, the Senate minority whip, is retiring after 24 years in the Legislature, clearing the way for a vigorous campaign to replace him in Senate District 20.

Campaigning for the Republican nomination in the June 2 primary are Karin Foster, a lawyer and former prosecutor, and John C. Morton, a retired Air Force intelligence analyst and nuclear security specialist for the Energy Department.

Four Democrats are seeking the nomination: retired physician and health care administrator Martin Hickey, former state Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena, retired scientist and educator Nancy Savage, and film location manager Rebecca “Puck” Stair.

Each of the four Democrats is well-funded, with at least $21,000 available in their campaign accounts, according to finance reports filed earlier this month.

But Hickey and Stair have raised the most money. Hickey reported nearly $104,000 in monetary donations, and Stair reported about $68,000.

Savage has raised over $10,000 in recent donations. Lechuga-Tena has had less than $3,000 in recent donations, but she lent her campaign over $30,000.

Hickey said his medical and business background – he’s a former CEO of Lovelace Health Systems, among other leadership roles – would be especially helpful as New Mexico works to strengthen its economy and health care system amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He described himself as someone well prepared to sift through meaningful data to guide decision-making and solve problems.


Martin Hickey

“Getting everyone on the same page is something I’ve done throughout most of my career,” Hickey said.

Rebecca Stair

Stair, a former teacher who now works as a location manager, said her work in the film industry has taken her across New Mexico, where she has met and worked with all kinds of people. She is a collaborative problem-solver, she said, with lots of energy to serve the state.

“I know how to listen,” Stair said. “I know how to ask the right questions. I know how to get the right people in the room to collaborate.”

Savage said her scientific expertise – including involvement in missile testing at White Sands – would be an asset in New Mexico’s push to build local businesses based on research at Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories. She also taught math and other subjects in a state prison, she said, giving her insight into the necessity of rehabilitating inmates who will reenter society.

Nancy Savage

“Frankly,” Savage said, “I’m very concerned about our state, about our country, about our environment, and I don’t see a lot of progress.”

Lechuga-Tena, a consultant who served in the state House in 2015-16, said she is a hard worker and good listener with deep roots in Albuquerque. She has a proven record, she said, as a former legislator and volunteer for community groups.

“I am the only candidate in the race with the experience to hit the ground running on Day One,” she said in a written statement, “and the only one who was raised in Albuquerque.”

Lechuga-Tena faced a legal challenge in 2018 when she sought election to the House. She was kicked off the ballot after her residency in the district was challenged.


Idalia Lechuga-Tena

She is registered at a different address now, but both locations – her new address and the one she had cited as her permanent residence in 2018 – are in Senate District 20.

Lechuga-Tena said this week that she believes she met the residency standards in her 2018 race and that she was fighting to ensure voters had a choice on the ballot.

GOP contenders

Karin Foster

John Morton

On the Republican side, Foster said serving in the Senate is a logical next step for someone with a strong legal background – including work as a prosecutor in the Bronx – and a history of advocacy. She has served as a lobbyist for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, and advocated for independent oil and gas producers.

“I know how to negotiate the different parties to get a bill passed and work across the aisle,” Foster said. “I’ve had to, as an advocate.”

Morton said his experience making life-and-death decisions – such as analyzing intelligence for use in a combat zone – is a good fit for the Senate. He said he is willing to stand on principle when needed, acknowledge when he needs to do more research and work with colleagues regardless of political affiliation.

“I’m a fighter,” he said. “I love New Mexico – that’s why I want to make the proper changes.”

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