SANTA FE – Democratic State Rep. Christine Trujillo attracted some attention in January when she shouted “Shame on you!” at Republican Gov. Susana Martinez during the governor’s speech to the Legislature on opening day.
It was vintage Trujillo: impassioned and outspoken.
Trujillo is a retired longtime educator and labor leader who won election to an open seat in midtown Albuquerque’s House District 25 in 2012.
She had no Democratic primary opponent two years ago, and won re-election handily over a Republican challenger in a district where half of all registered voters are Democrats.
This year, she faces another Democrat in the June 7 primary as she runs for a third term. There is no Republican on the general election ballot.
Her primary challenger is Chris Berkheimer, a former state official and war veteran with a litany of legal troubles who is currently in the Metropolitan Detention Center’s Community Custody Program.
Berkheimer, who served in combat in Desert Storm, says some of his problems are attributable to post-traumatic stress disorder, which he says he was diagnosed with in 2003.
Better treatment of veterans is a key issue for Berkheimer.
“Veterans are trapped in a system of hoops that often spirals downward. I have experienced it personally and have heard hundreds of stories from vets from every generation; our experiences are too often the same,” the candidate said in an email to the Journal .
“My candidacy is to ensure that the New Mexico House of Representatives does its part to take care of our heroes again,” he said.
Berkheimer says that although the federal Department of Veterans Affairs overall does “an outstanding job,” some veterans are falling through the cracks. The state should tackle the problem of homeless veterans with a program to provide them housing, he told the Journal in an interview.
New Mexico also should do a better job of partnering with its national laboratories so that it doesn’t continue to lose development and manufacturing jobs to other places when products are invented, he said.
And he said the problems with New Mexico’s educational system are hampering job growth.
“What we need to do is systemically … attack our education problem, which means we not only need to improve our schools for our kids, but we need to take the stigmatization of illiteracy away from adults,” Berkheimer said.
A graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law, Berkheimer was named deputy director of homeland security in 2003 under Gov. Bill Richardson, for whom he had worked in Washington, D.C., when Richardson was in Congress.
He later worked for the state Workers Compensation Administration as a mediator and judge – a job he lost in 2007 after allegations of sexual harassment that also cost him his law license, which was suspended by the state Supreme Court. He hasn’t sought reinstatement as a lawyer.
He is in the community custody program after pleading guilty last year to violating a restraining order to stay away from his daughter.
Trujillo’s rebuke of the governor during her State of the State speech was prompted by what the lawmaker described as Martinez’s divisive rhetoric on issues including driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, education and labor. Trujillo, in an interview, called the Martinez administration “corrosive.”
A self-described progressive, Trujillo was a teacher for more than two decades and is the former president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Mexico and former president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO – the first educator and woman to hold that position.
She also was an appointed at-large Democratic national committeewoman.
Trujillo has been a strong voice for teachers and an equally vocal critic of the Martinez administration’s education initiatives, including a proposal to require that third-graders who can’t read proficiently be held back, and the reliance on the performance of students on standardized tests to evaluate teachers.
Her campaign literature says she would work to “make our schools great by recruiting, training and retaining the best teachers in the country.”
She also stresses her support of abortion rights, the creation of jobs by growing the clean energy industry, a revamping of the tax code to make it fairer for working families and to force “out-of-state mega-corporations to pay their fair share” and investment in schools, roads and community facilities.
As of the latest campaign finance reports, filed this week, Trujillo had raised about $24,000 for her race, with strong support from teachers unions and other labor groups. Berkheimer has raised just shy of $15,000, including loans from the candidate of just over $3,000.
“I know some people might not want me to be back because I’m a thorn in their side, but that’s my job,” Trujillo told the Journal . “My constituents are cheering me on.”