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Sapien faces competition in both primary, general elections

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Journal kicks off a series of stories on local and state races that will appear on the June 7 primary ballot.

SANTA FE – Two-term state Sen. John Sapien holds a distinction this year in his bid for another four-year term at the Roundhouse – he’s the only incumbent New Mexico lawmaker facing both a contested primary and general election.

SAPIEN: "Self-proclaimed moderate"

SAPIEN: “Self-proclaimed moderate”

While Republicans have hopes of winning the Senate District 9 seat in November, Sapien, a Corrales Democrat, must fend off a challenge from fellow Democrat Jodilynn Ortiz next month before turning his sights to the general election.

“I’ve always been a self-proclaimed moderate, and I think that’s what serves the district best,” Sapien said in a recent interview. “We’re going to run a solid primary and stay with what works.”

Senate District 9 has been one of the most hotly contested seats in the New Mexico Legislature in recent years. It stretches from Corrales east to Placitas, dipping into parts of Albuquerque and Bernalillo.

Ortiz, a Placitas resident and political newcomer, describes herself as a progressive Democrat who decided to run as an agent of change. In an email to the Journal, she said water-related infrastructure issues would be a top focus if she’s elected.

“I believe once you fix these issues we can focus on job creation and economic growth, (as well as) changing the tax system to work for small businesses, so they are better structured to stay in business and can afford to give raises … and health care to residents who need jobs,” Ortiz said.

Meanwhile, Sapien, an insurance agent who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he’s not surprised about the election challenges given the competitive nature of the district.

Though he has been targeted in the past by both the Republican Party and at least one left-leaning nonprofit group, Sapien said he hasn’t wavered in his opposition to some of Gov. Susana Martinez’s education reforms, including a proposal that would require third-graders who cannot read proficiently to repeat the grade level.

“Those measures have been stopped, and they’ve been stopped because they are bad policies,” he told the Journal .

Sapien also touted his involvement in recent budget-balancing negotiations and legislation aimed at increasing funding and accountability for early childhood programs as top accomplishments during his tenure in the Senate.

Sapien was first elected to the Senate District 9 seat in 2008 and rebuffed a GOP challenge from David Doyle in 2012 to win re-election. However, the seat was held by a Republican, Steve Komadina, for eight years before Sapien was elected.

In addition to his incumbent status, Sapien also has a hefty edge over Ortiz in fundraising. He reported last month having received $28,575 during a recent six-month period – nearly a third of that was from fellow Senate Democrats – compared to just $200 for Ortiz.

Republican Diego Espinoza, who would face the winner of the June 7 primary election, could pose a strong challenge to either Sapien or Ortiz.

In large part that’s because Espinoza, who does not have a primary election foe, has been raising money for his bid since last fall and reported last month having more than $45,000 in his campaign account.