SANTA FE – The longest-serving members of New Mexico’s House and Senate aren’t ready to head for the legislative exits quite yet, while three former Democratic legislators – including political lightning rods Sandra Jeff and Shannon Robinson – are seeking to return to the Roundhouse.
Meanwhile, a total of 10 incumbent lawmakers will not be seeking re-election this year, either because they’re retiring or running for another elected office.
All 112 legislative seats – 70 House seats and 42 Senate seats – are up for election this year, and Tuesday’s filing day set up a colorful field.
Former lawmakers Robinson, Jeff and Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez of Bayard created perhaps the biggest stir Tuesday, by launching bids to return to the Capitol.
Jeff, a maverick Democrat from Crownpoint, was booted off the ballot in 2014 for not turning in enough qualified signatures to run for re-election to her House seat.
She’s running this year for a Senate seat currently held by Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, and told the Journal the two-year hiatus from the Legislature was good for her.
“I think I’m more grounded now,” Jeff said. “I’m ready to get back to work.”
Robinson, an Albuquerque Democrat who was ousted from the Senate by now-state Treasurer Tim Keller in 2008 and defeated again in 2012 when he ran as a Republican, filed paperwork to take on Sen. Mimi Stewart in the primary election.
Stewart, who narrowly lost a Senate race to Robinson in 1992, raised questions about her opponent’s party allegiances.
“I don’t know who he is,” she said in an interview, before later adding: “I’m suspicious of people who go back and forth between parties.”
Robinson said late Tuesday that he has always been a Democrat at heart, adding, “I think anything can happen in this race, and I’m excited for the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, there had been speculation about whether the longest-serving members of each legislative chamber would seek another term.
But Sen. John Pinto, D-Gallup, a World War II-era Marine trained as a Navajo Code Talker, filed for the Senate District 3 seat he has held since 1977 and Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, opted to seek another two-year term in the House District 40 seat he has held since 1973.
Pinto is 91 years old, and Salazar is 86.
Of the lawmakers not seeking re-election, only two had not announced their plans before Tuesday.
Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, said he made the decision not to run again for the Northwest Albuquerque-based Senate District 10 seat he has held since 2005 after talking it over with his wife.
“I felt I needed to spend more time taking care of my family and my work,” Ryan said in an interview.
Rep. James Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, was the other surprise, opting not to seek re-election to the House District 65 seat he’s held for 31-plus years.
However, his son, Sandoval County Commission Chairman Darryl Madalena, was one of two Democrats to file candidacies Tuesday.
The last time all 112 legislative seats were up for election, in 2012, there were 19 incumbent lawmakers who did not seek re-election.
The results of the November general election will determine which party controls each house of the Legislature, and hundreds of thousands of dollars are expected to be pumped into high-profile races.
Republicans currently hold a 37-33 majority in the House of Representatives, and Democrats hold a 24-18 edge in the Senate.
As such, New Mexico is currently one of eight states with a divided Legislature – meaning Republicans control one chamber and Democrats control the other.
A total of 12 incumbent lawmakers – all Democrats – will face challengers in the June 7 primary election.
A Republican Party of New Mexico spokesman said that shows the GOP is more unified behind its candidates and that voters are “unhappy with Democrat leadership,” particularly in the Senate.
But House Majority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, insisted the primary contests will not be a distraction.
“I think, if anything, it might show there’s Democratic excitement for the campaign,” Egolf said, adding that House Democrats will try to help incumbents win those races.
Among other noteworthy legislative contests around New Mexico:
- Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, would face a challenge from Republican Gregory Baca, a Belen attorney, in what’s likely to be an expensive Senate District 29 race.
- Former Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Small will seek the Democratic nomination to the House District 36 seat, now held by Rep. Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch.
- Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover, a Republican, is poised to face off against incumbent Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-White Rock, in House District 43.
- There’s a rare trilogy playing out in Las Cruces-based House District 37, as GOP Rep. Terry McMillan is set to once again face Democrat Joanne Ferrary in November. McMillan defeated Ferrary in both 2012 and 2014, but won by only 8 votes in 2012.