For this year only, Memorial Day is the eve of an election in New Mexico.

That’s just one sign it isn’t always politics as usual in the state.

What’s changed? Mostly the emergence of women in high offices.

Ten years ago, New Mexico had three congressmen. Democrats Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján represented the central and northern districts, respectively. Republican Steve Pearce was the congressman in Southern New Mexico.

At the beginning of this year, women held all three of those seats. Part of the reason was Heinrich and Luján had advanced to the U.S. Senate, a more comfortable spot with its six-year terms.

Still, women have begun to dominate elections for all three New Mexico seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrat Deb Haaland in 2018 ran away from a crowded field, men and women alike, to win the central New Mexico district.

Haaland succeeded fellow Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who became the second woman in succession to become governor of New Mexico. The first was Republican Susana Martinez, who won two terms that began in 2011.

In the northern congressional district last year, Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez bested a large primary field, then coasted to a win in the general election.

And Republican Yvette Herrell ousted one-term incumbent Democrat Xochitl Torres Small to take the southern district. Their race was a rematch of the 2018 election, though the result was different.

Another shake-up followed soon after the general election.

President Joe Biden selected Haaland to be secretary of the Interior Department, creating an opening outside the normal election cycle.

The special election to replace Haaland is Tuesday. Democrat Melanie Stansbury will maintain an all-female House delegation if she defeats Republican Mark Moores.

Voting patterns make Stansbury the favorite. A Republican hasn’t won the central New Mexico House seat since 2006.

Stansbury, 42, is a former U.S. Senate staff member who’s had a fast rise as a candidate.

She upset a seven-term Republican incumbent in 2018 to become a state representative from Albuquerque.

Stansbury this year topped seven other candidates to capture the Democratic congressional nomination. Her special election campaign against Moores has been condensed to a couple of months, a means of filling the seat quickly.

Moores, 51, is a conservative three-term state senator. But he’s also someone who’s worked effectively across party lines. Riling rural Republicans, Moores teamed with a Democratic senator to pass the bill that outlawed coyote-killing contests, which he called an embarrassment to the state.

Moores is probably better known than Stansbury in the Albuquerque-based district, in part because he once was a starting offensive lineman for the University of New Mexico football team.

Congressional elections are the most obvious arena but not the only ones in which women candidates have excelled in the last decade.

Women this year held 37 of the 70 seats in the state House of Representatives, the first time they were the majority.

Gains have been slower and less spectacular in the state Senate, where men hold 30 of 42 seats.

Overall, the quality of state lawmaking might be a bit better. At least there’s been no bizarre deal-making, as when legislators in 2013 approved a corporate tax cut in the final minute of a session — a sloppy move made without any financial analysis.

State legislators still lack the discipline and bravery necessary to set a few priorities and then limit the number of bill introductions to accomplish them.

They always lard the agenda with too many items, then leave important matters unfinished.

But the 2020 Legislature, with more women than ever, made one dramatic decision. It authorized a proposed constitutional amendment for the statewide ballot that would expand funding for early childhood education and other school programs.

The amendment had been proposed and defeated in each of the previous 10 years.

Voters have the final say on the initiative, which would annually expend another 1.25 percent from the $22 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund.

If voters approve the amendment and the Legislature implements the program in smart style, an impoverished, long-struggling state might see more high school graduates and fewer prison inmates.

Moores opposed placing the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Stansbury voted for it.

Crime and punishment have been regular topics in their abbreviated congressional race. But the wisdom of the amendment hasn’t received much attention.

Like the flamboyant footballer he once was, Moores has predicted victory. If he delivers, it would be the biggest upset of the last decade in any New Mexico congressional election.

The race remains Stansbury’s to lose. If she wins it, Stansbury would put the district in the hands of someone who could shut out Republicans, male and female, for at least another decade.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at

msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(13) comments

Mike Johnson

Yes, politics has changed in the last decade. It has gotten more vindictive, more divisive and polarizing, more partisan, more hate filled, and those who could be called "statesmen or women" has been greatly reduced. I am not saying women are responsible for this, but they have not helped it either apparently. And yes, all NM reps in Congress will continue to be lightweight, inexperienced, and an embarrassment to those of us who expect quality, competence, and statesman (or woman)-ship in our elected officials. No matter who wins CD 1 this election, this will not change. Women can play the partisan games of pandering to special interests, looking out for themselves and not the people, and pleasing the political machines as well as men, in that we have equality.

Ernest Green

Mike, do you even read what you write? 'Divisive, partisan, hate-filled', it's okay to just sit a few of the conversations out and arrive at something that would add to the discussion rather than pejoratives and name-calling self-defined and self-identified above. Take a deep breath, look inward.

Tom Hyland

Ernest, if you don't recognize what Mike is saying you have not been paying attention. The divisive, the partisan, andthe hate-filled have revved up to a catastrophic deluge. You haven't noticed?

Mike Johnson

Mr. Green you are not paying attention to the news and social media over the last 10 years it seems. It must be a blissful existence to ignore or be unaware of what is going on with politics today in this state and the nation. Do you actually think our current state of politics in this state and nation have improved over the last 10 years, and are acceptable today? Share your thoughts.....

Ernest Green

I see a man who projects criticism onto everything and every topic around him but has zero sense of self-awareness. The subject of Milan's article is literally toward women's advancement in our state government and how this has led to positive change - this doesn't create hesitation on your part(?) to charge in with bitterness and hyperbole (purposefully positive-free). None of this is additive to the topic, nor does it elucidate, or clarify, or illustrate. It is not necessary to respond to all things solely for the purpose of responding. There is a better way.

Mike Johnson

I see Mr. Green, so if comments and thoughts about an Op/Ed are not positive and supportive of the premise the author is asserting and promoting, they are not welcome. Interesting.

rodney carswell

[thumbup]

Tom Hyland

Women incubate babies and it is in their genetic makeup that they seek safety foremost in their environment... and in their lives. Men seek freedom. With the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920, underlining that women have the right to vote, America has seen a steady growing march towards a tyranny of safety that is forever seeking to strangle feedom in whatever form it attempts to survive. The entire world has become obsessed with safety. Freedom is held in contempt and suspicion. I like very much that a deaf, dumb and blind woman wrote this... "Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men experience it as a whole. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." - Helen Keller

Mike Johnson

Ben Franklin said it best: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

Paul Davis

"Women incubate babies and it is in their genetic makeup that they seek safety foremost in their environment... and in their lives. Men seek freedom."

Wow. Just wow. Do you have any idea just how incorrect this is?

Tom Hyland

"Share your thoughts" is the lead into the comments section box. Please share, Paul, and describe how "incorrect" I am.

Paul Davis

I'm sorry if your experience of the lives, wishes and dreams of 50%+ of the human population has led you believe you can pigeonhole people based on the presence or absence of a Y chromosome.

But maybe it's not that at all. Maybe it's just some preconceptions you were raised with and have been unable to shake.

My experience of the women I've loved, been friends with, fathered, read, watched, listened to, and worked with would completely refute your claim. And my knowledge of biology would dismiss any kind naive linkage between "genetic makeup" and an individual's choices in life.

Cleve Spence

LOL! Moores, 51, is someone who’s worked effectively across party lines. Maybe in NM but Moores will goose-step to the republicans in D.C.. With the current Jeff Davis Republicans there can be no independent thought!

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