Marijuana is the priority this week for many state politicians.

Campaigning is the primary interest of others.

This sets up a conflict of sorts. Campaigning and cannabis will go head to head shop in one day of furious politicking.

Everyone knows Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is tired of waiting to sign a bill legalizing recreational cannabis. So eager is Lujan Grisham that she has called a special legislative session on cannabis for Tuesday.

That happens to be the same day Democratic Party insiders will choose their candidate for Congress in the Albuquerque-based 1st District.

The convergence comes at a terrible time for one state senator and three state representatives.

They are running for the Democratic nomination for Congress. Instead of devoting the last day of an abbreviated campaign to calling and texting voters, their job is to revisit marijuana bills at the governor’s behest.

In contrast, four other Democrats who are running for the congressional seat are free to do nothing but campaign. Balloting is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Most congressional primary elections draw tens of thousands of voters. Not this one.

It will be decided by fewer than 200 voters. Only members of the Democratic Central Committee from the 1st District will cast ballots.

A time crunch took the nomination process away from most voters.

Democrat Deb Haaland resigned from Congress earlier this month to become secretary of the Interior Department. Central committees of the major political parties get to choose nominees to replace Haaland.

Republicans selected state Sen. Mark Moores in balloting Saturday. After Democrats make their pick, the congressional campaign will return to normal.

Voters throughout the 1st District will fill the vacancy in a special election June 1.

Whoever receives the Democratic nomination will be favored to defeat Moores. No Republican has won in the 1st District since 2006.

These are the Democratic contenders:

  • State Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez — A retired law professor, Sedillo Lopez lost to Haaland in the 2018 congressional primary. That campaign might give Sedillo Lopez an edge this time. She is well known to many on the central committee.
  • State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero — One of the more liberal state lawmakers, she recently voted against a bill for 99 percent interest rates on many payday loans. Roybal Caballero’s base appreciated her stand.
  • State Rep. Melanie Stansbury — She ousted a seven-term Republican legislator in the 2018 election. Stansbury also has experience in Washington, having served as a staff member in the White House Office of Management and Budget and on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
  • State Rep. Georgene Louis — She received heavy attention this year for sponsoring House Bill 4. It would prohibit the defense of qualified immunity in state courts when people sue a government agency on claims of abuse by police officers. The measure is now before the governor. Louis has been a state representative since 2013. She misstated her experience in a recent fundraising solicitation, writing that she’d held the office “for the past 12 years.”
  • Selinda Guerrero — A single mother of six, Guerrero describes herself as a feminist community organizer. She says she knows more about everyday struggles than most. “I am not a career politician. I am the working poor,” she says.
  • Francisco Fernández — He’s worked in film and television, including as a production assistant on the hit series Breaking Bad. But like Guerrero, Fernández says he advocates for the underdog based on life experience. He says he’s running to be New Mexico’s first openly gay and first HIV-positive member of Congress.
  • Trial lawyer Randi McGinn — Her courtroom skill and victories made McGinn a legendary figure to many attorneys. And U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recorded a video praising McGinn. The question is whether testimonials carry weight with the central committee.
  • Victor Reyes — At 28, he’s the youngest candidate in the field. Reyes was deputy campaign manager for Lujan Grisham when she ran for governor in 2018. She then hired Reyes as her legislative director, a job he held before entering the congressional race.

While the eight Democratic candidates are trying to persuade central committee members, Lujan Grisham is pushing the financial benefits of cannabis.

The governor’s camp calls the drug a “potentially significant economic driver, which is estimated to create over 11,000 jobs.”

That’s quite a pitch: If the state goes to pot, the grass will be greener.

Lujan Grisham can only hope her message isn’t overwhelmed by the rest of the week’s political claims.

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

(3) comments

John Cook

"If the state goes to pot, the grass will be greener." OK, Milan, anything that starts my day with laughing out loud is a clear winner. Bravo!

Stefanie Beninato

Tempest in a teapot, Milan. The members of the central committee have probably made up their minds by now and last minutes texts or calls are not going to do much to change each one's vote. It is not like a general election...it is a group of insiders and these candidates have been making pitches to these 200 or so members for months now.

Karry Howard

I agree totally. The New Mexico economy is in shambles and Cannabis Legalization will clearly give us a spark that we desperately need. If they don’t get it passed now this will be another failure of our Lady the Governor. This should have already been passed but our state politicians have waffled around on this issue. A natural plant should not be such a difficult debate topic for either side to handle.

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