GOP House Minority Leader Gentry won’t seek re-election

Nate Gentry

Once the elections are over, Republicans in the New Mexico House of Representatives will have to figure out who is in charge.

Minority Leader Nate Gentry said Tuesday — filing day for legislative seats around the state — he will not seek re-election, assuring that whichever way the election goes in November, there will be at least something of a shake-up at the Roundhouse.

The biennial ritual brought plenty of surprises, with another Albuquerque Republican, state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, announcing she also won’t seek another term and with unusually competitive primary races taking shape in a few deep-blue districts in Northern New Mexico.

But Gentry’s departure was perhaps the biggest news on either side of the state — or the aisle.

It comes amid turnover, with a total of eight House seats wide open, and as Democrats aim to hold on to gains after winning back control of the chamber in 2016. Democrats have a 38-32 majority in the House, and gone it seems are the days of the party easily winning more than 40 of the chamber’s 70 seats. Both parties will seek to defend the seven districts decided by less than 5 percentage points in the last election.

Minority report

Gentry said Tuesday he wants to devote more time to his family as his parents grapple with what he described as a serious health issue and attend to his family’s law practice.

New Mexico legislators are paid per diem but do not get a salary for what is ostensibly a part-time position.

“Getting re-elected in my district is a basically a full-time job,” Gentry said.

It is not that the district is particularly large, but Gentry’s constituents in Northeast Albuquerque voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, and some Democrats expect his type of suburban district will be particularly vulnerable for Republicans in the era of Donald Trump as relatively affluent and educated voters who might lean to the right reconsider the party’s stance on social issues.

An attorney in his 40s who took office in 2011, Gentry gained prominence when House Republicans won control of the chamber in 2014 for the first time since the Eisenhower administration and chose him as majority leader.

The majority was short-lived, with Democrats winning back the House in 2016. But he stayed on as minority leader and developed something of a rapport with Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

To be sure, each caucus chooses leaders after each election, and Gentry might have faced competition for his post. But his departure leaves the Republican leadership wide open.

Asked if he had a chosen successor, Gentry said: “We have some very capable members who would be great at the job.”

But at least one obvious successor, Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, is out of the running as he also has chosen not to seek re-election.

Natalie Figueroa, a Democrat who ran for the seat in 2016, filed as a candidate again Tuesday. Meanwhile, John Jones, a retired Navy officer and husband of former legislator Janice Arnold-Jones, is running as a Republican.

Maestas Barnes, in declaring she would not seek another term, instead endorsed Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter, who formerly served as secretary of state after the resignation of Republican Dianna Duran in 2015.

Like Gentry’s district, Maestas Barnes’ district is not a sure bet for the Republicans. A Democrat held the seat as recently as 2014.

Maestas Barnes won it that year with 52 percent of the vote, and though she widened that margin in 2016, the district also went for Clinton while Libertarian Gary Johnson won 10 percent of the vote.

Parity? Not yet

Thirty-seven women ran for seats in the state House in 2016, if you count the primary election. This year, 50 women are running.

Pundits have suggested that 2018 might bring a wave of women into office, many energized by Trump’s rise.

Emerge New Mexico, a nonprofit group that trains women to run for public office as Democrats, said it received three times the usual number of applications for its program this year.

Why?

“There are many reasons why women are stepping up to run in record numbers,” said Ashley Sanderson, Emerge New Mexico’s executive director. “There is a lot on the line — reproductive rights, access to health care, education, equal pay, immigration, the environment, the economy and the many other issues that affect women and families.”

New Mexico does not rank too badly for gender representation in the Legislature when compared to other states, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

But that does not say much, as there is certainly not equal representation.

Twenty-seven out of the House’s 70 members are women. That number has grown steadily from 20 in 1997.

The Senate is a different story. Only 7 of 42 members are women — a decline from 12 as recently as 2008.

In all, roughly a half-dozen more New Mexicans are running for state House than in 2016.

State senators are not on the ballot this year.

Deep blue

Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, has not had a primary election challenge in her heavily Democratic Northern New Mexico district since 2006.

That 12-year streak is over.

Susan Herrera, former CEO of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, filed Tuesday to run against Rodella.

In fact, the north will see several competitive Democratic primaries.

Three candidates filed Tuesday for longtime Rep. Nick Salazar’s seat, which he had held since 1973 until retiring at the end of this year’s session. The district spans from Colfax County to Ohkay Owingeh.

Longtime acequia association leader and Mora County Commissioner Paula Garcia will face off against Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo and former Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative CEO Joseph Sanchez.

Meanwhile, Rep. Carl Trujillo faces a challenge from Andrea Romero, who has led the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

In Los Alamos, Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard is forgoing re-election to run for commissioner of public lands.

Running to succeed her are lawyer Christine Chandler and retired scientist Peter Sheehey. One of those Democrats will face off in the general election against Republican Dr. Lisa Shin, a Los Alamos optometrist.

A third option

Two Libertarians filed to run for state House seats. William Wiley Jr. is running against Republican Bill Rehm in his Albuquerque district and Carl Swinney has filed to run against Republican Greg Nibert in Roswell. No Democrats are running in either district, but Rehm also has a primary challenge from fellow Republican Mark Boslough.

Santa Fe County

Three Democrats will run for the seat that Santa Fe County Commissioner Robert Anaya is vacating due to term limits:

• Filandro A. Anaya

• Rudy Nelson Garcia

• Donald H. Reece

District 3 spans the southern end of the county.

County Commissioner Henry Roybal is running unopposed for re-election in District 1, which spans the northern part of Santa Fe County.

Four Democrats also filed to run for sheriff as incumbent Robert Garcia prepares to leave office due to term limits:

• Manuel G. Anaya Jr.

• Adan Mendoza

• Linda M. Ortiz

• Leonard Michael Romero

County Magistrate David A. Segura faces a primary election challenge from bail bondsman Jerry C. Gonzales.

Two Democrats are running for the Magistrate Court seat that Judge Donna Bevacqua-Young is vacating to run for a district judgeship. DWI court community liaison Samuel Sena and prosecutor John Rysanek both filed to run for the post.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.

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