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Ex-lawmaker, newcomer in fight for open seat

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories about contested New Mexico races.

House District 24, in the heart of the Northeast Heights, was designed to be a nail-biter for legislative elections.

And this year’s race is likely to be tight, as Republican Christina Hall faces off with Democrat Elizabeth Thomson in a contest that doesn’t feature an incumbent.

New Mexico House District 24 candidate Elizabeth Thomson

Elizabeth Thomson

It is also one of several contested seats eyed by Democrats, who are looking to win back control of the 70-member House after a historic GOP takeover in 2014. Republicans enter this year’s election with a 37-33 majority in the chamber.

“It’s designed to be a close district,” said longtime political observer Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. “It can go back and forth.”

New Mexico House District 24 candidate Christina Hall

Christina Hall

And it has gone back and forth.

Thomson won the seat in 2012, snagging it away by just a few hundred votes from Republican Conrad James, who then won it back from Thomson in an equally close race in 2014.

But James is not seeking re-election this year, and Sanderoff says “that makes it that much more exciting.”

It leaves the race even more up to the “quality of the candidates and the mood of the voters,” Sanderoff said.

Winning this bout would be a comeback for Thomson, 55, a physical therapist, who says her experience in life and in the House make her a more accomplished candidate than Hall, 33.

“I was pretty Pollyanna, that if it’s a good idea everyone (in the Legislature) will see it, but now I see the value of compromise,” Thomson said. “But I’m never going to give up on my principles.”

Those principles, she said, are centered on helping people.

“I really do believe I work for them,” Thomson said of the people in her district where she has lived for 26 years.

Hall, a chiropractor, says that experience isn’t necessary for a lawmaker to be effective and that she believes being “ambitious and persevering” can be more effective.

“I’m going in with the idea that I’ll be very, very focused and listen and ask questions when it’s important,” Hall said. “It’s very important to have somebody representing you who has the desire and the ability to make New Mexico a better place.”

Also, she said, she does have legislative experience. When she was 19, her identity was stolen. In response, Hall worked with lawmakers, eventually testifying before a committee, for legislation that classified identity theft as a fourth-degree felony.

“I’ve done this work previously, and I will work for the people in my district and the people of New Mexico to make it a better place,” she said.

If elected, Hall said, she would focus on public safety, education and the economy.

Specifically, she said, stiffer criminal penalties are necessary to make the state safer, and testing requirements for teachers and students need to be lessened to free teachers up to focus on content, a stance that could put her at odds with Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

Hall also said she believes the residents of her district want a “change.” She’s lived in the district for about a year.

“They (voters) don’t see any change being done, and that’s what I will offer them,” Hall said.

As for Thomson, she cited drunken driving, access to behavioral health services, children’s well-being and education as pressing issues she would seek to address if elected for a second stint in the House.

Thomson said her experience raising her autistic son, who is now 25, has given her extensive understanding of what services are available in the state.

She says that experience, in addition to her time in the Legislature, sets her apart from Hall.

“When voters are thinking, I want them to think about my experience. I have been in many of their shoes, and I’m available. They can call me,” Thomson said.

Hall has raised $95,037 for her election bid and reported spending $8,690. She has $86,346 in her campaign account, according to a filing from earlier this week, and has reported receiving sizable contributions from GOP legislators, a large tobacco company and several out-of-state oil and gas companies.

Thomson reported raising $175,690 and spending $103,847, much of that on campaign mailers. She reported this week having $84,068 in her campaign war chest. Some of her largest donations have come from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees labor union and Tom Steyer, a California hedge fund manager who has been active in Democratic campaigns.

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