Longtime GOP Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort’s departure from the Legislature this year has prompted a swarm of Republicans seeking that seat.
Four men, each proclaiming a conservative fiscal and social platform, hope to succeed Beffort, who served in the Senate for 19 years and was the senior GOP member of the Senate Finance Committee.
The four will be competing in the June 7 primary for Republican votes in Senate District 19, which encompasses Four Hills in Albuquerque, the East Mountains including Sandia Park and east past Stanley and Edgewood to Clines Corners. The winner will face the lone Democratic candidate, Harold Murphree, in a district that is 44 percent Republican, more densely Republican than the state as a whole.
This year’s complex – and emotional – national races are expected to increase voter turnout for the June 7 primary election.
“You go knocking on doors, and people are upset. I try to separate myself and say national politics is different than state politics. There’s different issues. Whatever you don’t like on TV, don’t blame me for it,” said Jim White, a retired Air Force pilot who served in the state House from 2009 to 2014.
White, who lives in Four Hills, said he believes local politicians can change communities. He hopes to make the leap to the Senate by highlighting his experience and his love of budgets and government procedure and his passion for keeping the state stable.
“From my military service, I’ve seen how countries fail around the world, and it comes down to law and order. So I have a sense of responsibility and an appreciation for what we have in America and in New Mexico,” he said.
The state needs to boost economic development and to stay fiscally responsible with a budget reserve, he said.
He said funding for law enforcement and education are paramount.
For Herb Gadberry, who was also in the Air Force and is retired from real estate, having political experience isn’t something to flaunt.
“I’m not part of the establishment,” Gadberry said from his home in Edgewood. “I’m kind of going on being new to the system.”
He said the political establishment in Santa Fe gets “nothing done” and has led the state in the wrong direction.
“We’re tired of being at the bottom. For 85 years, we’ve been on the bottom of all the good and on the top of the bad lists. I think that needs to change,” he said.
Anthony Thornton also is approaching the race as an outsider.
“I am an engineer, not a politician, and I have an R&D background. Given my awareness of the technologies under development at the national labs, New Mexico has the potential to be the Silicon Valley of the Southwest,” Thornton said.
Thornton lives in the Paa-Ko neighborhood of Sandia Park and works long distance with a space research nonprofit in Houston. He said he was inspired to join the race after he had a difficult time finding the next step of his professional career in New Mexico after he retired from Sandia National Laboratories.
“That told me a lot,” he said. “I had lots of qualifications and was willing to work, and I couldn’t find a decent job. That means young people have to go out of the state … I believe there is an opportunity to bring business back to New Mexico.”
But he said that is going to require government to step out of the way.
Jim Wilder agrees with him on that point.
“I’m a conservative who leans libertarian, very much like Rand Paul,” said Wilder, a corporate airline sales executive. “I believe in individual rights and freedoms. I believe in less government intervention in people’s lives when it comes to taxes.”
Wilder, who lives north of Paa-Ko in Sandia Park, said the primary concerns in his district and the state are jobs and education.
“We need to be supporting small business … Driving down through Cedar Crest, there are so many boarded-up businesses,” he said.
He thinks tourism to the area and a boost to the educational network, including for private and home schools, could provide a rejuvenation.
“I’m the only candidate of the four with young children who are in school; that makes me much different from the other three,” Wilder said.
Wilder is the only of the four who supports legalizing marijuana.
White and Wilder, who both go by Jim but are listed as James on the ballot, support the idea of allowing freedom in end-of-life choices. Thornton, who notes that as an African-American he is the only minority of the four, and Gadberry are not in favor of such choices.
But they share some fundamental conservative ideas.
All four support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks and oppose raising the minimum wage. They all support right-to-work legislation and oppose social promotion in schools, or promoting third-graders who cannot read at grade level.