Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A longtime Democratic state legislator is seeking to bar his Republican opponent from appearing on the Nov. 8 general election ballot due to past felony burglary and larceny convictions.
Specifically, a court challenge filed Wednesday on behalf of Rep. Miguel P. Garcia of Albuquerque says New Mexico law prevents Solomon Pena from holding elected office, since Pena did not receive a pardon from the governor – nor apply for one – after completing his sentence and five-year probation period.
The lawsuit was filed in Albuquerque-based 2nd Judicial District Court by Jacob Candelaria, an independent state senator and attorney who is representing Garcia in the case.
Allowing Pena’s name to appear on the ballot would lead to the “absurd result of permitting a candidate to appear on the ballot when there is no reasonable expectation that they may legally fill the public office they are running for,” the lawsuit says.
In an interview, Candelaria said Pena was not qualified to serve in the Legislature when he signed a declaration of candidacy in March and does not mention his criminal record on his campaign website.
“It’s certainly something he didn’t want people to know,” Candelaria said.
While Pena has declined to answer Journal questions about the issue, a House GOP spokesman said last month Pena turned his life around after his arrest. He also criticized Candelaria for trying to keep Pena off the ballot.
In addition, Pena’s candidacy could be bolstered by a U.S. District Court ruling in January that found the prohibition on convicted felons holding office once they’ve completed the terms of their sentence – unless they get a pardon from the governor – would likely be rejected by the state Supreme Court.
Pena served nearly seven years in prison after being convicted in 2008 of stealing large amounts of goods from several Albuquerque retail stores in a reported “smash and grab” scheme. He was reportedly part of a burglary crew that used stolen vehicles to smash into stores and take high-end electronics.
Meanwhile, the legal dispute comes as all 70 New Mexico state House seats are up for election this year, with Republicans hoping to pick up several seats in the chamber after big Democratic gains in recent election cycles.
Democrats currently outnumber Republicans in the House by a 44-25 margin – there’s also one independent member – but Republicans have recruited candidates to run in 50 districts around the state.
That includes the House District 14 seat in the South Valley that Garcia has held since 1997. This year’s election cycle marks the first time Garcia has had a general election opponent since 2014.