Legislators and lobbyists rarely clash in public. Their confrontations almost always occur behind the closed door of a secluded office.
Not this year.
In the midst of a tough reelection campaign, Democratic state Rep. Roger Montoya has split from two former supporters. One is the nonprofit advocacy group Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico. The other is the organization’s lobbyist, Julianna Koob.
Montoya wants nothing more to do with either.
“I am happy not to have the endorsement of any lobbying outfit where Julianna Koob is affiliated,” he said Tuesday.
Planned Parenthood endorsed Montoya, of Velarde, in 2020 when he ran for an open seat in House District 40.
This time, the organization is not backing Montoya or his opponent in the Democratic primary, former state Rep. Joseph Sanchez. Sanchez, of Alcalde, voted in 2019 to retain a 50-year-old state law criminalizing abortion.
Montoya knows why the organization dropped him even after he helped repeal New Mexico’s anti-abortion law in 2021.
To be endorsed by Planned Parenthood, a candidate must agree with 100 percent of its platform. Planned Parenthood opposes what it calls forced parental notification by minors seeking abortions.
Montoya two years ago accepted Planned Parenthood’s strictures. He refused this time regarding parental notification.
“My own thinking has evolved since then. I have a problem with a blanket way of eliminating parental notification. In real life, there are too many variables,” Montoya said.
His stand, he said, brought about an argument with Koob. Montoya said the lobbyist browbeat him for an hour after he rejected Planned Parenthood’s position on parental notification.
Koob did not respond to requests for comment on her side of the story.
Montoya said his solace was in knowing he answers to his constituents in four Northern New Mexico counties rather than to Koob or Planned Parenthood.
“I tried to be reasonable and clear and was met with a sort of rigid ideology,” Montoya said.
Kayla Herring, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Votes New Mexico, said this is shaping up as a critical year for her organization and women’s access to safe, legal abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court might overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.
Even without an altered ruling from the Supreme Court, Texas and Oklahoma already have limited access to abortions.
Following its practice in election years, Planned Parenthood sent questionnaires to candidates for many state and county offices in New Mexico. The ones who agreed across the board with Planned Parenthood’s positions received endorsements and were designated as “reproductive rights champions.”
Requiring candidates to accept every plank in Planned Parenthood’s platform is done with purpose, Herring said.
“We stand really strong in our values,” she said.
Montoya said his vote to rescind the state’s anti-abortion law speaks for itself.
“It is not the role of government to control something so deeply personal,” Montoya said. “But when children, yes children, seek abortions, the question of parental notification becomes more nuanced. No case is the same — not when 12-year-olds are pregnant.”
Herring said Planned Parenthood’s tracking shows more than 80 percent of minors tell a parent when they seek an abortion. The remaining 19 percent for a variety of reasons say they cannot confide in their parents.
The government, Herring said, is not equipped to regulate those relationships.
New Mexico does not require parental consent or notification for minors seeking abortions. Republican lawmakers have sporadically introduced bills to change that system.
In mostly rural House District 40, which takes in parts of Colfax, Mora, Rio Arriba and San Miguel counties, Sanchez’s vote to keep the anti-abortion law on the books probably didn’t hurt him politically. He served only one term in the Legislature while running a long-shot campaign for Congress.
Many progressive Democrats recruited Montoya to run for the legislative seat Sanchez surrendered. Having lost the congressional race, Sanchez is attempting a comeback at the statehouse. The winner of June 7 primary between Montoya and Sanchez will be an overwhelming favorite in the general election.
Montoya said he doesn’t care that Planned Parenthood pulled its endorsement of him, a characterization the organization calls inaccurate.
Planned Parenthood’s position is that Montoya has not aligned himself with all the advocacy group’s positions this time.
Montoya isn’t looking for a reconciliation. He says he’s as comfortable with his stand as he was uncomfortable with Koob’s tactics.
“The lobbying thing is out of frigging control,” Montoya said.