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.