Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The influential chairwoman of the House budget-writing committee has caused a stir by giving contributions from her campaign account to several moderate Democrats challenging incumbents in the June primary election.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, reported last week giving $1,000 donations to four candidates seeking to oust incumbents. The contributions were among more than $38,000 in reported expenditures by Lundstrom, who also made contributions to at least seven incumbent House Democrats.
In a Monday interview, Lundstrom said the decision to give campaign funds to the challengers was not “personal” but acknowledged being disappointed by some fellow Democrats’ opposition to a hydrogen energy bill.
The bill, which backers touted as an economic development measure for northwest New Mexico, stalled in the House during this year’s 30-day legislative session, despite backing from Lundstrom and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.
“I don’t like the fact that some of the views on that committee can dictate what happens in this part of the state,” Lundstrom told the Journal, referring to members of the House energy committee that voted to table the bill.
“It’s really clear to me there were some voices, particularly in the north central region (of the state), that tried to undermine the bill,” she added.
Democrats currently outnumber Republicans by a 45-24 margin in the House – there is also one independent in the chamber – with all 70 seats up for election in November. While the June 7 primary election will not alter that party breakdown, it could lead to shake-ups.
The incumbent Democrats facing primary challenges include Reps. Susan Herrera of Embudo, Andrea Romero of Santa Fe, Kristina Ortez of Taos and Roger Montoya of Velarde.
Lundstrom last month gave $1,000 campaign contributions to all four of their primary foes – Romero has two primary rivals – though she insisted the donations did not represent endorsements.
Herrera, who ousted longtime Democratic incumbent Debbie Rodella in 2018, said she was “certainly surprised” by the donation to her opponent this year, Marlo Martinez of Española.
“It sets the Democratic caucus on edge a little bit,” said Herrera, who said she admires Lundstrom’s work as chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
“In all fairness, I think she made a mistake,” added Herrera.
Montoya, who is being challenged by former state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, said he was a vocal opponent of the hydrogen bill, describing it as an untested technology, and said his rival is more aligned with Lundstrom on the issue.
But Montoya also said he believes he will win election to a second two-year term representing House District 40.
While it’s not unusual for veteran lawmakers to support candidates of their political party with campaign contributions, it is unusual for legislators to give such donations to those challenging incumbents in primary races.
Meanwhile, the donations come amid political speculation about the void set to be created by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who announced in February he would not seek reelection this year.
When asked if she has interest in the powerful post, Lundstrom declined to comment until after the primary election.
But Herrera addressed the political undertones of the campaign donations, saying, “If you’re going to shoot the moon, you’ve got to have your cards lined up.”