State Sen. Mark Moores, once a football star, knows a bit about reversing his field.
Moores graduated from Walt Whitman High School in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., then accepted a scholarship to play for the University of New Mexico.
Moving west was easy for him. Moores’ mother, Julia, grew up in Española, and he had visited New Mexico many times.
He stayed in the state after college, never regretting his decision.
“I have a good life,” said Moores, now 50.
Until recently, he never thought about returning to Washington, the city he happily left behind. This weekend brings him to a crossroads.
Moores and his wife, Lisa, are discussing the possibility of his running for Congress in a special election.
A Republican from Albuquerque, Moores would be his party’s strongest candidate to fill a vacancy in the 1st Congressional District.
Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland is on her way to becoming secretary of the interior. The U.S. Senate could vote on her confirmation this week.
Haaland will resign from Congress once confirmed, and the mad scramble to replace her will escalate.
Many Democrats, including a handful of state legislators, already are running for the seat Haaland holds. The Republican lineup is thinner and less impressive.
Moores would change the odds if he enters the competition. He would give his party a chance of winning the 1st District, something no Republican has done since 2006.
A few months ago, after President Joe Biden nominated Haaland to lead the Interior Department, Moores says he didn’t think about running for Congress.
But many people have asked or urged him to get in the race. They convinced him to at least think about it.
In the state Legislature, Moores tried to reform the system for choosing the nominees to succeed Haaland.
Under current law, a small group of party insiders from the Republican and Democratic central committees would choose the candidates for the special congressional election.
Moores dislikes that process — perhaps 300 people making decisions for 700,000 residents of the 1st Congressional District.
He introduced Senate Bill 254 to require primary elections to select party nominees for the special election. His bill is stuck in a Senate committee with less than a week to go in the legislative session.
“Dead as a doornail,” Moores said.
It means Moores and his wife, both members of the Republican Central Committee, will be part of 135 or so GOP members who will choose a congressional nominee.
At 6-feet-7, Moores is one of three Albuquerque-area Republicans still standing in the state Senate. And he’s the only one whose district is entirely in the city.
Moores won reelection to his third term in November as fellow Republicans fared badly in Albuquerque.
Upstart Democrats ousted Republican Sens. Candace Gould and Sander Rue. Another Republican, Bill Payne, retired from the Senate, and a Democrat won that seat, too.
Moores’ voting record in the Senate is mostly conservative. But he will go against type by teaming with Democrats.
For instance, Moores and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill that outlawed contests to see who could kill the most coyotes.
The two senators, who seldom agree on anything, said the wanton killing was cruel and disrupted a system in which coyotes help control rodent populations.
Moores decided to sponsor the bill after seeing a pack of coyote killers display a load of carcasses.
“Bunch of yahoos,” he said.
Moores this year worked with liberal Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, on a bill to create a seven-member commission that would draw up plans for legislative redistricting.
As it stands, state lawmakers themselves configure political boundaries after each U.S. census. The system often leads to expensive lawsuits on claims of gerrymandering.
If Moores were to run for Congress, he would give Republicans hope. He also would be an underdog.
Democratic state Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Georgene Louis already are running hard for Congress. Either would be a tough matchup for Moores, given the recent history of the 1st District.
Voters for the last decade have elected high-profile female politicians to the congressional seat. Michelle Lujan Grisham, now New Mexico’s governor, represented the 1st District in Congress for three terms. Haaland twice won the congressional seat after serving as state Democratic chairwoman.
The Democrats have a deep bench. Republicans might have a good candidate, but he’s still on the sidelines, thinking about whether he wants to return to Washington.
GOP members know what’s ahead if they can’t persuade Moores to run. They might as well wave a white flag.