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.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

(8) comments

Jarratt Applewhite

Anything that gives voters more choice is good. Not a huge fan of labels, but a big believer in a democracy with more candidates and more competition. This tired two-party stranglehold muffles a lot of voices.

Mike Johnson

As if we need more ways for socialists to destroy our state and keep us in last place.

Jim Klukkert

What’s the matter Mike, afraid of some competition? Doesn’t sound like a guy who drives Vettes!

Mike Johnson

Now Jim, I'm good with competition, as long as the game is played fairly and above board. I am reminded of what the powerful, left wing political operatives with deep pockets like to do to remove a conservative. The operation to remove my Rep., Carl Trujillo, by this cabal, and replace him with a common thief/grifter totally unqualified to represent anyone but her left wing handlers and special interests was not competition.

Jim Klukkert

Hey Mike, Carl Trujillo was OUR representative, and despite some political differences, Carl had and still has my respect. I had trusted colleagues in all corners of the sad allegations that felled a good man from office. I was never persuaded of those charges, and was disgusted that an NGO with which I was heavily involved withdrew its endorsement. I know one person, a new comer, who canvassed for Andrea Romero because she “is a young woman.”

So Mike, while I proudly proclaim myself to be a Democratic Socialist, I no longer call myself a liberal (for many years) or a Progressive since the ‘Trujillo affair.’ Too much lazy thinking in that grouping.

I think that we don’t have big money worries with the appearance of the Working Families Party. If taking Big Money and reversing the Citizens United SCOTUS decision is not part of their platform, I am both surprised and disappointed.

Mike Johnson

I appreciate your views on this matter Jim. It has been the darkest episode I have ever seen in NM political history, and still continues to be swept under the rug by the powers that be. That is very disappointing for those of us who had hopes for our state, and open, honest, fair elections and better government. I am also an advocate oof removing big money and PACs from our political system, and I mean ALL of them, left, right, and center. There are some in my party that only want right wing ones removed, and that is where the whole process comes unraveled moving forward. I really doubt the Gibson/Griego/Santa Fe Ring coalition would want any left wing money to be removed. If they do, I would like to hear it more that I have.

Khal Spencer

In New York State, at least when I was a registered voter there (1972-1987) one could run on multiple labels. U.S. Sen. Jacob Javits ran as a Republican/Liberal. He was a great senator.

I could think of several double labels here. Democrat/Socialist, Republican/Trump , Working Families/Communist, Beer-Nuts, Right to Life/Guns for All, Wenokea/Apathy (my old Hawaiian connections coming through).

More seriously. I like this idea. I'd love to see a Republican-Liberal again who was tight fisted with our tax dollars but not a extremely right wing social conservative. Might encourage the body politic to look for nuance in the candidates rather than tar a candidate with the stifling "chicken or fish" labels we currently have. Needless to say, I'm not a fan of airline food either.

Sorry. I must be dreaming.

Jim Klukkert


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