Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: The Journal continues its series of stories focusing on key races in this year’s general election.
Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., said when her children were little, every Election Day she would take them on “democracy parades” to a local polling place in the tiny town of Chupadero so they could get a front-row seat to the democratic process.
“I was raised in a household that truly believed in democracy. I often tell the story of my grandmother, who when she was literally on hospice … she’d call up people in Spanish and say, ‘You need to make sure you get to vote,'” the first-term congresswoman said in an interview. “I literally love our democracy and I cry when it is attacked. And so I’ve shed more than one tear over the last 22 months.”
Alexis Martinez Johnson, an environmental engineer, said she thinks she’s the right candidate to flip New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, a traditionally Democratic seat. She said average New Mexicans agree with her on issues such as oil and gas development and abortion.
One of her goals, if elected, would be to work with industry and stakeholders to ramp up oil and gas production in the district while also requiring environmental standards be followed.
“Hardly anything is black and white,” the GOP candidate said. “This situation here is not a situation of sustainable 100% or oil and gas 100%. It’s in the middle.”
Since the seat was formed about 40 years ago, only one Republican, Bill Redmond of Los Alamos, has been elected, and he was defeated in 1998 after holding the seat for only about 18 months.
The same two women faced off against each other in 2020, with Leger Fernández running away with a 58.7% to 41.3% victory. But after redistricting, the congressional seat now stretches farther into southeast New Mexico to Clovis and Portales – traditionally more conservative parts of the state.
Both candidates have been long familiar with the area. Leger Fernández was raised in the Las Vegas area and Martinez Johnson was born in Portales, now lives in Santa Fe and has worked with energy companies on the eastern side of the state as an environmental engineer.
“I’m able to interact with and represent various communities, from the engineers in Los Alamos with national security, and research and science (issues) … to the ranchers,” Martinez Johnson said. “Because of my background, and the communities I’ve lived in, that’s what makes me a competitive opponent.”
A trained lawyer who has worked on expanding voting rights, Leger Fernández said lawmakers should “make policy from a place of love.” She cited as an example her work on a bipartisan bill that would increase resources to treat and prevent substance abuse on college campuses.
The congresswoman lost two of her older brothers to addiction and mental health problems. She said both her brothers started having those issues in college. Leger Fernández has many times acknowledged her family’s problems with addiction during public appearances.
“Our country has failed to recognize that mental health issues and that substance misuse issues, addiction, those are health care questions,” she said. “And we need to invest in providing the resources.”
There’s a big difference in how much money the two candidates have raised.
Martinez Johnson has brought in about $77,000 compared with the nearly $1.9 million Leger Fernández has raised, according to the Federal Election Commission’s website.
But the Republican challenger said that disadvantage shows that she’s not beholden to special interests. One example, she said, is her stance on abortion, which she said is in step with most New Mexicans. She said she is opposed to late-term abortion if there’s no underlying health reason. But she also said the issue should be decided by the states, as opposed to Congress.
“Whoever walks in that door for U.S. Congress on day one, whether it’s someone of the Republican Party, like myself, or someone of the Democratic Party, like my opponent, you are still going to be able to get an abortion in New Mexico,” she said. “The majority of New Mexicans are not in favor of elective abortion in the late stages. … But because you have that heavy handed special interest, you see promulgation policy and utilization of taxpayer money in a way that is not what New Mexicans truly want.”
Leger Fernández, meanwhile, voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have codified abortion access at the federal level, protecting it across the country. The bill, which passed the House, hasn’t been voted on in the Senate.
The congresswoman said one of her proudest accomplishments of her first term was helping to secure $2.5 billion in federal funding to help northern New Mexico recover from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. She also said several major bills that she and the state’s Democratic members of the congressional delegation supported – the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act – will benefit New Mexico.
“What we’ve done in Washington has not been inflationary,” she said of those bills. “The inflationary pressure is coming from the pandemic and the supply chains. It’s coming from Putin’s war, and it’s coming from industries that are concentrated.”
Leger Fernández said an important part of the next Congress will be efforts to protect American democracy and voting rights.
Martinez Johnson was one of few Republican candidates in the state who told the Journal in a questionnaire that they didn’t believe former President Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“You are either here to represent New Mexicans or you’re not. And the people that you see like myself (Republicans who don’t say Trump won the election) are weighing what New Mexicans want,” she said. “You’re going to go off a cliff for party ideology? … Quite frankly, I don’t know what I have in common with somebody from New York, a billionaire.”