Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
The race for the District 40 seat of the state House of Representatives will pit two vocal community members of the Española Valley together for a seat that has historically faced one party.
Republican Justin Salazar-Torrez is running against the Democrat Roger Montoya, both aiming to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, who lost his bid for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District.
Salazar-Torrez, 29, has held a seat on the Española City Council for the past two years and said it’s his youth that sets him apart from other legislative candidates.
“I’m young enough that I bring energy and new ideas,” he said.
Naturally, many of his ideas revolve around the societal struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Salazar-Torrez emphasized the struggles the pandemic has caused local businesses and places of worship, citing restrictions imposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as primary causes.
He said small businesses can’t afford to the loss in business like larger corporations can.
“I’m fighting for the little guy here, because of course big box industries can survive things like this,” he said. “They are financially set.”
Salazar-Torrez also said he would like to see occupancy limits on houses of worship increased from their current limits.
Religion plays a major role in his campaign in other ways too. Salazar-Torrez has repeatedly highlighted his anti-abortion views and said he thinks the issue will be a winner among the district’s more conservative voters.
“It’s a conservative district,” he said. “I’ve had an abundance of support from both sides of the aisle.”
A Republican has not won the reliably Democratic seat in decades, with longtime representative Nick Salazar holding the position for 45 years. Salazar-Torrez, though, believes his socially conservative beliefs will ring true with those who voted for Salazar and Sanchez in past elections.
When asked what separates him from his opponent, Salazar-Torrez said his campaign has transparency and integrity, but didn’t explain how Montoya’s campaign lacked those qualities.
Montoya, on the other hand, said his 30 years of community advocacy sets him apart from Salazar-Torrez and many other current state representatives.
“I think what’s missing is a voice like mine,” he said. “I know from direct contact what’s at stake and whose voices need to be lifted up.”
For Montoya, COVID-19 has made it painfully obvious just how much is at stake for residents of District 40, specifically in the realm of health care.
He said he’s had conversations across the district, which spans more than 9,000 square miles, and that many residents have highlighted child care and telehealth options for elderly residents.
“It’s been fascinating to meet and greet and talk about the issues,” he said. “I hadn’t had that opportunity – and it’s been so inspiring. There’s daunting need, but there’s also people who champion their region.”
Montoya, named a CNN Hero in 2019 for his community involvement, has received big endorsements from Lujan Grisham and other notable Democrats. He has also significantly out-raised Salazar-Torrez, having generated more than $42,000 in contributions compared to the $13,635 raised by his opponent.
Despite his lack of political experience, Montoya said his experience advocating for the residents of the Española Valley will serve him well, if elected.
“I have no doubt I will get up to speed, because my skills as a community builder and a collaborator are what’s missing in the Roundhouse,” he said.
Montoya easily defeated his primary opponent, the conservative Democrat Matthew Gonzales of Cimarron, in June with nearly 60% of the vote. Salazar-Torrez said he expects to gain the support of many who voted for Gonzales.