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‘Moderate Republican,’ progressive Dem face off in Senate District 35

Neomi Martinez-Parra and Crystal R. Diamond

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The two candidates for New Mexico’s sprawling Senate District 35 seat are separated by about 150 miles – although some of their policy positions might be even further apart.

Republican Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte and Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg disagree about legalizing recreational marijuana for adult users, repealing a long-dormant state abortion ban and taking more money from the state’s largest permanent fund to expand early childhood programs.

“We don’t agree on much,” Diamond told the Journal.

The two candidates are vying for a seat that’s been held since 1989 by John Arthur Smith, a conservative Deming Democrat who is chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee.

But Smith was defeated in the June primary election by Martinez-Parra, setting up a showdown in which the outgoing Democratic incumbent’s views align more closely with the Republican candidate’s than with those of the Democratic nominee.

“I’m a supporter of John Arthur Smith, as are many Republicans in my county,” said Diamond, a ranch owner and member of the Truth or Consequences School Board.

A self-described “moderate Republican,” Diamond opposes cannabis legalization and repealing the state’s 1969 law banning abortion, while her opponent supports legalizing marijuana and repealing the abortion law.

“I feel like this seat is prime to flip because it went so far progressive (in the primary),” she said.

But Martinez-Parra, a licensed special education teacher and ex-vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said her primary victory was due largely to her message resonating with working families.

“I’ve been in the trenches, and I know firsthand the challenges that school workers are going through,” said Martinez-Parra, who’s also the caretaker for her elderly mother.

“We have a lot of small businesses here because we’re so rural,” she said. “This pandemic has really hurt our economy.”

The contest is already shaping up to be among the state’s priciest.

Diamond last month reported having raised $111,810 during a recent 10-week reporting period, with contributions from Chevron and several incumbent GOP senators.

Martinez-Parra reported raising more than $95,000, with financial backing from several union groups and incumbent Democrats.

The Senate District 35 seat runs along the Mexican border and encompasses all or parts of Hidalgo, Sierra, Luna and Doña Ana counties.

Though the district has been held by a Democrat for decades, it’s hardly a liberal stronghold.

In fact, President Donald Trump won 50% of the votes cast in the district in the 2016 presidential election, compared with 40.8% for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the Daily Kos, an online news site.

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