Democrats dominate Santa Fe the way Casey did Mudville. He could strike out at a crucial moment but remain his town’s star player.
That’s the unappealing reality facing Alexis Martinez Johnson, the lone Republican in Santa Fe’s three-person mayoral election. She is stuck in the role of potential spoiler.
Martinez Johnson might take away enough votes from City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler to keep Mayor Alan Webber in power.
Or, in the city’s strange ranked-choice voting system, supporters of Martinez Johnson could deliver enough second-place votes to Vigil Coppler to help the councilor unseat Webber.
A third possibility exists. Martinez Johnson might have no effect on the outcome as she lags her opponents, both Democrats.
The mayoral election is nonpartisan, but that’s semantics. Martinez Johnson’s Republicanism and her support for former President Donald Trump are heavy baggage for her.
“I stand with President Donald Trump!” Martinez Johnson wrote on Twitter in December 2019, when she was a candidate in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. “He has achieved a record setting economy! NM Democrats: Stop wasting time with a biased impeachment.”
To an extent, Martinez Johnson’s praise of Trump paid off. She edged Harry Montoya to win the Republican congressional nomination. Montoya, a former Democrat, had named John F. Kennedy and not Trump as his political hero.
Backing Trump didn’t help Martinez Johnson in the general election. Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez thrashed Martinez Johnson, 58 percent to 41 percent. The margin was more decisive in Santa Fe County, where Martinez Johnson received only 21 percent of the vote.
Martinez Johnson, 39, still considers the election a moral victory.
“I received 131,000 votes — more than any Republican in the history of the 3rd District,” she said.
She doesn’t mention that Leger Fernandez had 186,000 votes, top in the district’s 38-year history.
During a wide-ranging interview, Martinez Johnson was both upbeat and downcast about the mayoral election.
She said she outpointed Vigil Coppler and Webber in a recent debate at a police lodge, calling herself the voice of rational thought as the Democrats bickered.
“It was sad to see my children in the distance, watching it,” said Martinez Johnson, married and the mother of four.
She also says she has excellent name recognition thanks to her congressional campaign.
Martinez Johnson is a distant third in fundraising, though, limiting her visibility in the race’s homestretch.
“I don’t have the money to be an adequate choice at this point,” she said.
She places much of the blame on Montoya, her old rival for the congressional nomination. Martinez Johnson said Montoya blocked her from receiving backing from the Santa Fe County Republican Party.
Montoya, first vice chairman of the party, tells a different story.
“Alexis was invited to an audience with the Republican Party officers. She sent surrogates. We asked her again, and she did not show up,” Montoya said.
Martinez Johnson said she became ill with COVID-19 and could not attend the scheduled meeting. She said Montoya knew this but moved against her during her illness.
“While I was hospitalized and struggling to breathe, he called my campaign manager and started to talk about JoAnne Vigil Coppler,” Martinez Johnson said. “He was using the nonpartisan label in a very backhanded and vindictive way.”
The county Republican Party did not back a candidate in the mayor’s race. Montoya says he is supporting Vigil Coppler.
Stung by a lack of help from county Republican officers, Martinez Johnson spoke of defecting.
“Maybe I need a new party,” she said.
What would it be?
Other members of the GOP are helping Martinez Johnson. The Santa Fe Federated Republican Women contributed $2,500 to her campaign. Republicans also are listed among Martinez Johnson’s individual donors, though the roster is short.
“If I had enough funding, I could really move a mountain,” Martinez Johnson said. “People tend to gravitate toward me because I’m a very authentic individual.”
An environmental engineer, Martinez Johnson calls herself a good fit for mayor because the job is about solving problems to make sure city services are efficient.
She had a public confrontation with the government she now wants to head. Martinez Johnson flouted a city ordinance while running for Congress. Police ticketed her for refusing to wear a mask during the pandemic while campaigning on the Plaza.
Martinez Johnson first said she had a constitutional right to go unmasked, but she pleaded no contest to the code violation in Municipal Court.
She couldn’t fight city hall then. Her battles have only escalated. Democrats are her familiar enemy, Republicans an unexpected one.