SANTA FE – A graduate student, an educator and a retired lawyer are campaigning to succeed Debra Haaland as head of the state Democratic Party.
The winner – to be chosen today in Albuquerque at a meeting of the party’s central committee – will take over as Democrats are energized in opposition to President Donald Trump and looking for a win in next year’s gubernatorial race.
The candidates include:
• Juan Sanchez III, a 25-year-old Belen resident pursuing a master’s degree in water resources at the University of New Mexico;
• Rusty Pearce, a 31-year-old who works as an instructional technologist for Las Cruces Public Schools;
• Richard Ellenberg, a retired lawyer and former chairman of Santa Fe County’s Democratic Party.
The winner will serve a two-year term as chairman of the state party. It’s a volunteer position, though the party has a few paid staff members.
Haaland took over in 2015 but didn’t seek re-election this year.
Sanchez is now vice chairman of the party. He would bring stability, he said, and use national contacts to recruit high-profile speakers to New Mexico.
The party, he said, must be willing to reach out to allies who aren’t necessarily Democrats to accomplish its goals.
Sanchez said his own identity as a Latino with a disability – he has an autoimmune disease – provides him a unique perspective on the importance of political debates, such as the potential repeal of Obamacare.
“These issues aren’t that abstract to me,” Sanchez said. ” Every morning when I wake up, I’m reminded of it.”
Ellenberg said he has a track record of success, having served six years as Democratic chairman in Santa Fe. He said he wants to help build a staff loyal to the party itself, not whomever happens to be serving as chair at the time.
That, in turn, would help boost long-term strategic planning, record-keeping and fundraising, he said.
And one-on-one contacts can help reach less-engaged voters and get them to the polls, Ellenberg said.
“We have a huge amount of energy coming into the party,” he said. “Donald Trump has reminded folks that elections matter.”
Pearce, for his part, said he is skilled with technology and works with young people every day – strengths he says would help build the Democratic Party beyond the status quo.
“We’re going to have to stop politics as usual,” he said. “I don’t think the establishment members of the party understand what it’s going to take in order to get the youth involved.”
Pearce said he would bring persistence to the job – a quality demonstrated by his experience as a gay man who worked on Democratic causes in conservative Texas, he said.
Pearce was a delegate last year for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention.
The state central committee is made up of hundreds of Democratic Party leaders from throughout New Mexico. Its members will pick a chairman and other party officers as part of a daylong meeting today at Atrisco Heritage Academy on the West Side.