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Election 2020: Voters to decide NM Senate seat with history of close races

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Editor’s note: This is a continuation of the Journal’s election coverage featuring contested races on the General Election ballot.

SANTA FE – Voters in Senate District 9 must like their elections close.

Democrat John Sapien narrowly won the seat in 2008, 2012 and 2016 – each time by just a fraction of 1 percentage point. He opted against running this year.

Now, Democrat Brenda McKenna and Republican John S. Clark are competing for votes in what could be another close race.

It’s each candidate’s first run for public office, but they have already won competitive primary races to secure their party’s nomination. The district covers Corrales, Bernalillo, Placitas and parts of Rio Rancho.

McKenna, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, said she would be a strong voice for environmental protection, renewable energy and the environment.

Clark, a small-business owner, said he would push for lower taxes, more police officers and limited government spending.

“I do everything in my business, from accounting to installing blinds,” Clark, 60, said in an interview. “I’m just a hardworking guy, and I’m going to do what’s right for the people of my district.”

McKenna, 53, said she would bring a valuable perspective as someone who grew up in a northern New Mexico pueblo and now prioritizes helping constituents.

“When times get tough, we help each other,” she said of her childhood on the reservation. “That’s what I was taught to do.”

The two candidates contrast sharply on a host of issues. McKenna, for example, supports legalizing recreational marijuana, repealing a 1969 anti-abortion law and passage of a constitutional amendment to tap more heavily into the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood programs.

Clark is opposed to each of those proposals. He said he supports boosting early childhood funding, but through the baseline state budget, not the permanent fund.

McKenna has a financial advantage, according to campaign finance reports filed Sept. 14.

She reported about $46,000 in cash in her account and about $63,000 in donations in the most recent period. Her recent contributors included labor unions, Democratic state senators and EMILY’S List, a national group that backs Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

Clark reported about $35,000 in cash on hand after about $29,000 in recent donations. His recent donors include Republican senators and members of the Yates family in Artesia.

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