The one true major party in New Mexico has a donkey as its mascot. The minor political parties might as well be symbolized by gnats or minnows.
They rarely get a candidate on the ballot or influence an election.
One notable exception in the last year was the Working Families Party. It targeted five conservative Democratic state senators in the primary election and helped defeat four of them.
Now, with the state legislative session underway, the Working Families Party has a plan to further build its brand.
It inspired Senate Bill 100, an attempt to modify how general elections are conducted in New Mexico.
The measure would allow multiple political parties to nominate the same candidate for the same office.
Put another way, a nominee’s name could appear more than once on the ballot. For example, a candidate could be the choice of the Democrats and the Green Party, or the Republicans and the Constitution Party.
To accomplish this change, the Working Families Party is dependent on overwhelming support from Democrats in the Legislature. And some of those lawmakers watched the Working Families Party oust their close friends in the 2020 primary election.
Members of the Working Families Party have been publicly promoting dual candidate nominations since the summer. They wanted to name a liberal Democrat, state Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque, as their candidate, too.
Eric Griego, state director of the Working Families Party, said he believed New Mexico’s Constitution provided leeway for double nominations, sometimes called fusion voting.
Election officials disagreed. Ortiz y Pino appeared on the general election ballot only as a Democrat.
But now Ortiz y Pino is sponsoring SB 100 to help his friends in the Working Families Party as they try to legalize fusion voting.
An obvious question is why different parties would bother nominating the same candidate. It might sound redundant or meaningless unless you’re trying to build a political organization.
Fusion voting was common in 19th-century America — an era when third parties and minor parties were prominent. Griego says this was no coincidence. As states began prohibiting fusion voting, the influence of third parties diminished.
Some form of fusion voting is permitted in nine states. New Mexico allowed it as a territory and in the early years of statehood.
The base of the Working Families Party is people at the lower end of pay scales who lack political clout. Griego says reviving fusion voting in New Mexico would extend his organization’s reach.
“We think it would increase voter participation and bring more people into the party,” he said in an interview.
Fusion voting also would enable voters to send a message to politicians, Griego said. If a candidate received 10 percent or 20 percent of his votes from the Working Families Party, he would be more inclined to consider the interests of its members.
Griego faces a tall challenge in persuading enough Democrats in the Legislature to support fusion voting. Democrats are key to Griego’s effort because many are his natural allies. They also outnumber Republicans 45-25 in the House of Representatives and 27-15 in the Senate.
Still, at least some Democrats aren’t likely to do any favors for the Working Families Party.
Griego’s group made its mark last year by waging aggressive campaigns against five of the state’s most conservative Democrats, most notably then-Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming.
Smith, a senator for 32 years, chaired the Finance Committee and had more influence over the state budget than any legislator. Along the way, Smith alienated liberal Democrats.
In one instance last January, Smith tried to delay until 2026 a higher tax rate for single filers making at least $210,000 a year and married couples with income of at least $315,000 annually.
Griego, himself a former Democratic state senator, said Smith paid attention to ordinary people while campaigning but not while legislating.
Smith lost his primary in an upset.
Also defeated were three other Democratic senators the Working Families Party campaigned against. They were Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Clemente Sanchez of Grants and Gabriel Ramos of Silver City.
Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup was the only conservative Democrat to win reelection in the face of heavy opposition from the Working Families Party.
Muñoz’s influence has since grown. He succeeded Smith as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
If wounds from the primary are still raw, the Working Families Party is in for another fight.
The next round would be against what’s left of a vanishing breed — New Mexico’s conservative Democrats.