Idalia Lechuga-Tena, a Democrat, narrowly won appointment Tuesday to fill a vacancy in the state House, where she will represent a chunk of the Southeast Heights.
In an odd twist, it was the backing of Republican members of the Bernalillo County Commission that helped her secure the nomination over a competing Democrat, Debra Sariñana, a math teacher.
Lechuga-Tena, 32, was nominated by commission Democrat Art De La Cruz and supported by Republicans Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert.
Two Democratic commissioners, Maggie Hart Stebbins and Debbie O’Malley, voted “no” after supporting Sariñana instead.
Lechuga-Tena’s appointment came after she acknowledged to reporters that – about a dozen or more years ago – she voted in a local election before she was a U.S. citizen. She also acknowledged that she has only recently moved into District 21.
Neither topic came up during Tuesday’s commission meeting.
In a Journal interview, Lechuga-Tena said she meant no harm by the vote and canceled her registration after learning she shouldn’t have voted.
She said didn’t vote again until she’d gone through the naturalization process to become a citizen. She was born in Mexico but went to Highland High School and the University of New Mexico, she said.
Lechuga-Tena said she ended up on the voter rolls when a woman was registering people to vote at the University of New Mexico. No one asked and she didn’t realize she had to be a citizen, not just a legal resident, she said. She was a teenager at the time, she said.
“It was an honest mistake,” Lechuga-Tena said.
She added that she grew up in the International District but only recently moved into District 21.
“It’s a district I absolutely love,” she told commissioners. “I’m here humbly asking for your support.”
Lechuga-Tena served as campaign manager for mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli in 2013 and as an aide to former Mayor Martin Chávez, both Democrats.
She is now an employee in the Human Services Department, a job she will give up to join the Legislature.
Before supporting Lechuga-Tena, the commission’s Republicans voted in favor of appointing Dan Wilkinson, chairman of the metropolitan parks and recreation advisory board, but the motion failed on a party-line vote.
Just last year, the commission appointed Stephanie Maez, a Democrat, in District 21, but she resigned this fall after her son was arrested on a murder charge.
Maez herself was filling the vacancy created when Democrat Mimi Stewart left the state House to join the Senate.