Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
With a little more than a month to go before Election Day, U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury took to a microphone in the backyard of a home in Nob Hill and tried to drum up enthusiasm with a 10-minute speech before a crowd of supporters.
“This is a very serious moment in our democracy,” she said, leading the crowd in several chants. “Literally, everything is on the line.”
Stansbury, the Democratic incumbent, is trying to hold onto her seat representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. She’s being challenged by Michelle Garcia Holmes, a Republican with a law-enforcement background who is trying to make crime in Albuquerque and border security a focal point of the election.
Garcia Holmes said she has spent much of the campaign in the rural parts of the district, attending county fairs, 4-H events and rodeos to shore up conservative votes. As Election Day approaches, she said she’ll be knocking on doors, running a television advertisement and campaigning in Albuquerque to try to win over city voters concerned about crime.
“The expertise that I take to Washington is going to be new ideas on how to combat crime, new ideas on how to fix our criminal justice system, and making sure that all of our law enforcement agencies at the national level are working at the local level with our law enforcement to have a bigger impact,” she said in a recent interview.
The race pits a first-term congresswoman against a political candidate who has run for lieutenant governor, Albuquerque mayor and is now making her second attempt for the central New Mexico seat. While Stansbury cruised to victory to earn the seat in a 2021 special election, redistricting altered the district to include more traditionally conservative areas.
Like other Democrats across New Mexico and the country, Stansbury is leaning into her support of abortion rights. The issue has become front-and-center in local and national politics in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a nationwide right to an abortion for nearly 50 years.
“I think the biggest issue in this campaign, no question, is abortion,” she said in an interview. “The ability to control your own body and your own destiny is a basic human right.”
Garcia Holmes describes herself as “pro-life” and has fundraised recently with local groups and leaders of the anti-abortion movement. She has said she would like to see an end to abortions in a woman’s third trimester.
In an interview, she said she would take a “wait and see” approach to abortion in Congress. She said any legislation that restricts abortion should also include additional resources for women, like counseling and child-care assistance.
“I think the opportunity is pretty exciting for the states to decide what’s going to happen on this issue,” Garcia Holmes said. “What I’d like to do in Washington is find some funding to educate our New Mexicans and our women to understand how the abortion industry works here … We need to educate our people about how it’s really horrible right now. These are mills, they’re not clinics that actually help you.”
What are the biggest issues facing New Mexico?
“When you look at the district, it’s about crime, the economy and inflation,” Garcia Holmes said in a recent interview. “People in New Mexico are having a really tough time.”
Garcia Holmes retired from the Albuquerque Police Department and was chief of staff for former state Attorney General Gary King. She said that during her time in that position she helped coordinate a multi-faceted approach, including working with the congressional delegation and local legislators, to stiffen penalties for people who committed crimes against children. She said she would take a similar approach as a congresswoman to build a more robust crime-fighting network between local and federal authorities.
She ran for the same seat in 2020 and lost 58% to 42% to former Rep. Deb Haaland. Haaland resigned after becoming Interior Secretary, the first Native American woman appointed to a president’s Cabinet, and Stansbury in the June 2021 special election defeated Republican Mark Moores 60% to 36%.
But after redistricting, the previously Albuquerque-based seat now stretches into parts of Otero, Lincoln and Chaves counties, which tend to be more conservative.
Stansbury said she thinks the 118th Congress will focus on climate change and community well-being issues, like housing, the cost of living and homelessness, as well as abortion and energy security.
She thinks her record during her 16 months working on Capitol Hill has earned her another term. A trained water-resources professional, Stansbury said she is most proud of sponsoring three water-related bills that have passed the House, and she is hopeful they can get through the Senate.
One is related to Rio Grande water management, another is a water data bill and there is also a bill to help tribes build water infrastructure.
She said another important act was her and other members of the delegation securing $2.5 billion in relief money for the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire, which was approved as part of a government-funding bill. She also said the Inflation Reduction Act and an infrastructure bill that have been signed into law will benefit New Mexico.
Stansbury describes herself as a “pragmatic Democrat” as opposed to a progressive one. She said some of the more conservative members of the House voted for her water bills.
Prior to running for office, she worked in the Congressional Budget Office, which is nonpartisan, and as a committee staffer in the Senate.
“You know, I have always believed that the best ideas, the best policy comes from bringing everyone to the table regardless of what your place in the world is and what your political beliefs are, and just finding solutions,” she said.