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State’s GOP, Dem leaders to pass baton

SANTA FE – Fresh off an election cycle in which Republican Donald Trump won the presidency and Democrats reclaimed control of the New Mexico Legislature, both major political parties will soon have new state-level leaders.

Debra Haaland

Debra Haaland

Democratic Party of New Mexico state Chairwoman Debra Haaland said Tuesday that she will not seek a second term; state GOP Chairwoman Debbie Maestas had already informed party insiders she wouldn’t seek re-election, either.

In a memo to Democratic State Central Committee members, Haaland touted the election gains of Democrats in the Legislature and said the state party had managed to pay off a long-standing debt – estimated to be roughly $48,000 in 2015.

“I intend to finish my term strong,” Haaland said in her letter. “My team and I have worked very hard to build an infrastructure that will give us a strong footing for our 2018 election.”

Debbie Maestas

Debbie Maestas

In a post-election email of her own, Maestas had told fellow Republicans the state party had raised more than $1.7 million since she took over as chairwoman in December 2014.

She also cited the Election Day victories of Trump and state Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura, the first Republican to win election to the state’s highest court since 1980.

However, she also acknowledged Republicans’ legislative losses, saying, “Overall, this is the game of politics. We win some and we lose some.”

Both major political parties have had to adjust their strategies in recent years, as political action committees – particularly independent groups known as super PACs – that aren’t affiliated with the parties have become big-spending forces on the campaign trail.

Under Maestas’ leadership, the Republican Party filed ethics complaints against several Democratic candidates before this year’s election, but faced criticism for a campaign mailer that suggested voters’ neighbors could find out if they didn’t vote.

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party in recent months sent out a steady stream of news releases denouncing Trump and Gov. Susana Martinez, who declined to endorse Trump, but ultimately voted for him.

But at least some New Mexico Democrats were upset over the cancellation of a straw poll at the Democratic Party’s state convention earlier this year and a dozen or so Bernie Sanders supporters booed Haaland during a campaign rally in Albuquerque last month.

An enrolled member of Laguna Pueblo, Haaland was the first Native American woman to hold the position of state party chair. She was elected to a two-year term in April 2015, and she vowed to reach out to Hispanics, Native Americans and independents.

In addition to making gains in the Legislature, Democrats also had success in many other contested races in New Mexico, as Maggie Toulouse Oliver was elected secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton carried the state by a comfortable margin.

Republicans will elect a new state party chair, along with new state officers, in mid-December. Democrats will elect new party leaders of their own at an internal meeting in April 2017.