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Candidates emerge for Haaland’s U.S. House seat

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The field for an Albuquerque-based congressional seat continued to take shape Monday after U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination as interior secretary, even as a Democratic legislator said he is working on a proposal to overhaul the state’s law for filling such vacancies.

President-elect Joe Biden announced last week that he will nominate Haaland to lead the U.S. Department of Interior, which would make her the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

While Haaland does not have to relinquish her 1st Congressional District seat until she’s confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the prospect of an open seat has already generated a torrent of interest among potential candidates.

Two Democrats officially announced campaigns for the seat Monday – state Rep. Melanie Stansbury and state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, both of Albuquerque.

Rep. Melanie Stansbury

Stansbury is a consultant for community programs who previously worked for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, while Sedillo Lopez is a retired law school professor who also ran for the congressional seat in 2018.

Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez

In addition, Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, an enrolled member of Acoma Pueblo, said she was considering running and would make a decision in the coming days.

Several other candidates have also said they are planning to run for the seat in the Democratic-leaning district, such as Republicans Eddy Aragon and Michelle Garcia Holmes, who lost to Haaland in the November general election by 16 percentage points.

But one high-profile Democrat who had been mulling over a campaign, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said Sunday that she would not be running for Haaland’s congressional seat.

Meanwhile, Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, said he was working on a bill to change the current law for filling a vacant congressional seat that features party insiders picking a nominee.

Rep. Daymon Ely

Under the proposal floated by Ely, all qualifying candidates would instead appear on the ballot and ranked-choice voting, an electoral system in which voters can cast votes for multiple candidates in order of preference, would be used to determine a winner.

“I think the concern is this is not a democratic process with a small ‘d,’ ” Ely told the Journal. “We want to do it in the least expensive, most effective way.”

He said the bill he’s working on with Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, for the 60-day legislative session set to start next month would need bipartisan support to take effect in time for the special election.

Under current state law, the secretary of state would have to call an election to fill Haaland’s seat between 77 and 91 days after it is vacated.

Sen. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto

The state’s major political parties would hold central committee meetings behind closed doors to nominate their own candidates before such an election.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, the architect of a 2019 law that updated New Mexico’s election code, said Monday the proposed change was “worthy of careful consideration” and pointed out it would not affect the election’s timeline if ultimately approved.

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