Republicans seized control of the New Mexico House of Representatives for the first time in 60 years after GOP candidates declared victory in a handful of high-profile races.
Democrats entered the general election with a 37-33 majority, but Republican candidates were ahead in five races for seats currently held by Democrats, although not all votes had been counted. Republican incumbents facing stiff challenges were leading, with the exception of Rep. Vickie Perea of Belen, who appeared headed for defeat, as she trailed in her House District 50 race against Matthew McQueen, a Democrat from outside Santa Fe.
If those results held, the GOP would end up with a 37-33 advantage in the House.
In two key Albuquerque-area districts being watched closely after polls closed on Election Day, Democratic incumbents were trailing their Republican opponents.
In House District 15, Democratic Rep. Emily Kane, an Albuquerque Fire Department captain, appeared to have been defeated by Republican Sarah Maestas Barnes, a lawyer and small-business owner making her first run for the Legislature.
“We feel pretty good right now about where we’re at and where we’re going to end up,” Maestas Barnes told the Journal late Tuesday.
In House District 24, former GOP lawmaker Conrad James also appeared victorious in a rematch with Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, a Democrat who unseated him in a tight 2012 race.
A Republican-controlled House would be a boost for Gov. Susana Martinez, who won re-election to a second term Tuesday and whose political committee had given money to a handful of GOP legislative candidates.
“That would really give the governor an advantage in pushing her agenda through,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor.
Members of the Democratic-controlled Senate were not up for election this year, meaning at least one of the state’s two legislative chambers will remain in Democratic hands regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s election.
House Republican Whip Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, who was winning in his own re-election race in House District 30 despite being the target of hard-hitting opposition attacks, said late Tuesday that he was optimistic about Republicans winning control of the House.
“I’m feeling excellent,” Gentry told the Journal.
But Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who was running unopposed in his House District 47 race, said key races in determining control of the House were still too close to call.
“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Egolf told the Journal.
In other contested House races considered key to determining control of the House:
- House District 37 – Rep. Terry McMillan, a Republican, was ahead in his race against Democrat Joanne Ferrary in a Las Cruces-based district. McMillan defeated Ferrary by eight votes two years ago in a contest that came down to a state-ordered recount.
- House District 36 – Former legislator Andy Nuñez of Hatch was winning in his race against Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces. Archuleta defeated Nuñez two years ago, but Nuñez was an independent that year, having previously left the Democratic Party. Archuleta had a leg amputated and missed the 2014 session but says he’s healthy now.
- House District 39 – Republican John Zimmerman of Las Cruces appeared on track to unseat Rep. Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez, D-Bayard, in a seat most analysts had expected to stay in the Democratic column.
- House District 43 – Incumbent Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, was leading in her re-election bid against Republican challenger Geoff Rodgers. Garcia Richard is an elementary school teacher; Rodgers is chairman of the Los Alamos County Council.
- House District 23 – First-term Republican Rep. Paul Pacheco was up big in his race against Democratic newcomer Catherine Begaye in a district that encompasses Corrales and parts of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque. Pacheco narrowly won election two years ago.
- House District 4 – Incumbent Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Shiprock, was leading in her race against Democrat Harrison Todacheene, also of Shiprock, in a Democratic-leaning, Navajo-majority district, though few votes had been tallied. Clahchischilliage won election to the seat two years ago.
- House District 53 – Republican Ricky Little, a former legislator, also held a lead in his contest against Democrat Mariaelena Johnson for a rare open seat. The Dona Aña County seat did not feature an incumbent because Rep. Nate Cote, an Organ Democrat, is not running again. Both Little and Johnson are from Chaparral.
In all, 58 incumbent House members were seeking re-election Tuesday. Ten legislators were not seeking re-election, and two – Reps. Tom Anderson, R-Albuquerque, and Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces – were ousted in primary election contests.
Nearly half of the incumbent House members seeking re-election were running unopposed Tuesday.
Going into Tuesday’s general election, Democrats have held a majority in the New Mexico House of Representatives since 1954. Groups on both sides of the political spectrum poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into high-profile races in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
In addition to campaign spending by candidates, this year’s House races featured a flurry of hard-hitting campaign mailers from super PACs, independent political committees that can accept unlimited contributions but can not coordinate directly with candidates’ campaigns.
As of last week, a pro-Democratic super PAC, Patriot Majority New Mexico, had spent roughly $1.9 million this year on state legislative races.
A similar pro-Republican group called Advance New Mexico Now had spent more than $666,000 on House races and raised more than $1 million, according to reports with the Secretary of State’s Office.