Another Democrat joins race for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District

John Blair

New Mexico’s former Deputy Secretary of State John Blair is declaring his candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District race Monday, saying his prior work for prominent state officials and in the Obama administration separates him from the the pack.

The 45-year-old Santa Fe resident, who stepped down from his previous role last month, said he decided to enter the race for the U.S. House of Representatives after seeing what he called “the utter dysfunction going on in Washington.”

“There are urgent crises on a variety of fronts,” Blair, a Democrat, told The New Mexican on Sunday. “We need some leadership and we need some action in Washington right now. I feel compelled to step in and that I’m the best candidate to try and get that done.”

Blair enters a crowded Democratic primary that already had nine candidates, including former CIA agent and author Valerie Plame of Santa Fe, First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna and Santa Fe lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez.

The winner will succeed U.S. Rep Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., who is vacating the seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

As of Sunday, no Republican candidates were registered to run in the 3rd District, according to the Federal Election Commission. But the New Mexico’s Republican Party said three or four people have made contact with the party regarding their intent to declare.

When asked what distinguishes him from other candidates, Blair said he has “been able to see firsthand what happens when you put progressive ideas into action.”

He pointed to his experience as director of intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Interior, when he worked with the Obama administration to set limits on carbon dioxide emissions at power plants and to designate new national monuments.

Blair pointed out he also worked for then-U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich when the Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” was passed and most recently pushed for same-day voter registration under New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

“I feel like I’ve been working my whole life to fight on behalf of New Mexicans and this seemed like the next extension of that experience,” said Blair, who has a law degree from the University of New Mexico.

Blair said he aimed to focus on issues such as gun violence, affordable health care and climate change.

“We’re going to do all we can to speak with as many New Mexicans as we can about the progressive strategy that I want to put forward,” he said. “I will be traveling the district and listening to voters to hear what they care about.”

The candidate, who was born in Albuquerque but grew up in Santa Fe, said he likely will be well-known in Santa Fe, where he went to De Vargas Middle School and Santa Fe High. His first job was playing bugle at The Downs at Santa Fe.

Blair, who has been married to his husband Billy Black for five years, said being openly gay also distinguished him from other candidates and said he would work to promote increased LGBTQ rights in Congress.

“We’ve never had a gay member of Congress or senator from New Mexico,” he said.

Blair said he would draw on his experience working to beef up election security in New Mexico as deputy secretary of state to further work to prevent interference in future elections as a congressman.

“I’ve been able to see first-hand the great urgency in protecting our elections and our democracy,” said Blair, who was deputy secretary of state since December 2016.

Blair was political director of the Obama campaign in New Mexico in 2008. He also unsuccessfully ran in the primary election for a state Senate seat in 2008.

Meanwhile, Rob Apodaca announced last Thursday that he was dropping out of the 3rd District race. Other announced candidates for the Democratic primary include Kyle Tisdel, a Taos attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center; Sandoval County Treasurer Laura M. Montoya; state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde; former Navajo Nation presidential candidate Dineh Benally; Gavin Kaiser of Santa Cruz and Cameron Alton Chick Sr. of Rio Rancho.

Reporter

Jens Erik Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.