Former state Rep. Andy Nuñez of Hatch, who last year was defeated for re-election to the New Mexico House seat he held for 12 years, changed his political registration Tuesday for the second time in recent years, and said he’ll seek re-election as a Republican to the seat he first held as a Democrat and then as an independent.
If Nuñez is successful next year, Republican legislators would move a step closer to gaining control of the House of Representatives, which Democrats currently control by a ratio of 38 to 32. However, Nuñez would have to defeat an incumbent, Democrat Phillip Archuleta. All House seats will be on next year’s ballot.
State Republican Party Chairman John Billingsly through a spokeswoman said Tuesday, “We welcome Andy Nuñez as a member of the Republican Party, and we appreciate that he has been a longtime conservative leader in New Mexico.”
And a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez said, “The governor worked well with Andy Nuñez when he was in the Legislature, encouraged him to change parties for several years, and strongly supports his decision to run again for the House.”
He’s perhaps best known outside of his district as the representative who sponsored Martinez’s bill to repeal the law that allows the state to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Nuñez, 77, made political shock waves back in 2011 when he changed his registration from Democrat to independent at the outset of a legislative session after a public dispute with the late Ben Luján, who was speaker of the House at the time. Nuñez had supported another Democrat in an aborted attempt to oust Luján from the speakership. Luján in turn removed Nuñez as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
At that time, Nuñez said he switched because Democrats had become more liberal, but that he wasn’t “right-wing” enough to become a Republican.
Last year, Nuñez tried to win re-election as an independent but came in a distant third, losing to Archuleta. In that race, Nuñez was attacked not only by Democrats, but also by a PAC associated with Martinez. The issue was his vote for a bill in 2009 to abolish the death penalty.
“Andy Nuñez puts the welfare of convicted murders above keeping our families safe and supports Bill Richardson’s ban on the death penalty,” said one mailer from Reform New Mexico Now.
The vehemence of the attack surprised many Legislature regulars because of Nuñez’s role in the driver’s license battles.
Nuñez, a rancher, said Tuesday that farmers have been encouraging him to run again. Nuñez also said Tuesday that he had voted for the death penalty bill because he was “misled” by Democrats and that if re-elected he’d vote to reinstate the death penalty.
Asked Tuesday about Nuñez’s registration, Martinez’s political director, Jay McCleskey, said, “I think it’s great, as Andy Nuñez has always been his own man and will make the Republican party stronger.”
At a news conference, Nuñez said he doesn’t trust Archuleta and said the Democrat was “anti-ag.” He declined to name any specific agriculture bill that shows Archuleta is against the farming industry. But he said Archuleta had been involved with “César Chávez’s group.”
Reached by telephone, Archuleta denied he was “anti-ag.” “We’re trying to find ways to fix the water problem,” he said. “The farmers are one of my biggest concerns.”
He also denied that he was involved with Chávez’s United Farm Workers. “I have a lot of respect for César Chávez, but I never was in United Farm Workers, and I never even met him,” Archuleta said.
As for being untrustworthy, Archuleta said, “I think changing parties every election isn’t very trustworthy.”
Since leaving the Legislature, Nuñez has worked for a lobbyist for the Elephant Butte and the Carlsbad irrigation districts. He’s also served as the mayor of Hatch. He said he might not work as a lobbyist in the 2014 session because some might see that as a conflict of interest.
Nuñez said his wife, Carolyn, doesn’t want him to run again, but she doesn’t mind him changing parties. She’s been a Republican all along, he said.