ALBUQUERQUE — Debra Haaland, who was the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor last year, was elected Saturday as the new state Democratic Party chairwoman.

Haaland, 54, who is a member of Laguna Pueblo, is the first American Indian to be elected to head either major political party in the state.

At a meeting in the Valley High School gymnasium, the party’s State Central Committee elected Haaland over former Santa Fe County party chairman Richard Ellenberg. The vote was 214 for Haaland, 168 for Ellenberg.

Haaland, whose term begins immediately, replaces Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman. Bregman showed up to the meeting for a few minutes but didn’t stay for the election of new officers.

“My main goal is to train volunteers so we’ll have a pool of volunteers when the national campaigns come here,” she said after the vote. “Usually they bring in people from out of state, and we love them, but I want to train our people, so there will be a pool of fully trained volunteers.”

Haaland is chairwoman of Laguna Development Corp. and works as tribal administrator for San Felipe Pueblo.

The party is trying to recover from a crushing election last year that saw the re-election of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and the GOP taking control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in more than 60 years.

Haaland noted that her mentor, former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris in his nominating speech Saturday, said she has a talent for recruiting volunteers. “And that’s better than money,” Harris said.

But Haaland said she’s not forgetting about money. She said her first act as chairwoman will be a letter of thank you — and a plea for funds for the state party, which is in debt after last year’s election.

The party currently has $10,891 cash on hand but has outstanding bills of more than $55,000. Some Democratic candidates have offered to help pay those debts from their campaign funds, Haaland noted.

Raising funds for state parties has been more difficult for both Republicans and Democrats in recent years largely because of the rise of Super PACs and politically oriented nonprofits, which, unlike parties, are not bound by campaign finance laws.

“We’ll never be able to compete with them,” Haaland said. But there are other ways a state party can help Democrats win elections, she said.

Voter registration efforts will be a priority for the party, Haaland said, and will include a major outreach effort to American Indian communities.

She told reporters an anecdote from the 2012 presidential campaign, when she was Native American vote director for Barack Obama. One day, she said, she registered seven American Indian first-time voters from one house. One of them, a man in his 50s, told her, “I always wanted to vote, but I didn’t know how.” Indians were not allowed to vote in this state until 1948, Haaland noted.

Also reaching out to independent voters, who Haaland said are the people who really decide elections in New Mexico, will be a major priority for her.

While campaigning for the leadership position, Haaland said the state party should hold training sessions for Democratic candidates. “We should give them a place to practice their stump speeches,” she said. “We should teach them how to write press releases.”

Asked about possible changes to the state party staff, Haaland said that current executive director Jon Lipshutz has agreed to stay on for the time being but she intends to form a search committee to conduct a nationwide search for a new director. This committee will include past state chairmen and chairwomen and perhaps elected officials, she said.

Besides Harris — who represented Oklahoma in the Senate but has lived in this state for decades and himself is a past state chairman — Haaland was endorsed by the state’s largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish; State Auditor Tim Keller; former Ambassador Ed Romero, a major contributor to state Democratic candidates; and several state legislators.

In his campaign for the chairmanship. Ellenberg, a retired lawyer, stressed that he would be able to devote all his time the party. Haaland, after the vote, told reporters that she also will be a full-time chairwoman. “I’m a woman. I can multitask,” she said.

Contact Steve Terrell at Read his political blog at

(15) comments

Steve Salazar

Even with a $30 million theft of government money, the dems are $45.000 in debt. What are they doing with that money?

Francisco Carbajal

Debra Haaland, congrats! Now, clean up the mess that some of these dirty politician's continue to get away with. Some of those democrat's leaders need to get slapped with a conscious. It does appear that many of them are missing one for sure. I do look forward to Debra making something positive happen for saving the NM Democrat Party from falling apart. [thumbup] On the same note, the NM Republican Party are in the same boat of corruption. They are no different. So, who can we trust? Aaaaaah,

Francisco Carbajal


lise hamel

Haaland, after the vote, told reporters that she also will be a full-time chairwoman. “I’m a woman. I can multitask,” she said.

It is not possible to give 100% to everything when you multi-task. So good luck with that.

As a woman, I have always envied a man's ability to complete a task 100% because they have the ability to take on tasks, one at a time and complete them.

Multi-tasking may sound like a positive thing, but it never delivers 100% and if she was honest about it she would say so.

Khal Spencer

Tax, tax and spend, spend is a bit of an oversimplification. Its not the taxes that are killing the working class (my old man, a Chevy assembly line worker who graduated to machinist, was able to pay taxes, keep two cars, pay off the house, and buy a hunting cabin south of Buffalo and stay outa debt) but the loss of industry in the U.S., having been replaced by lower paying jobs in service or low paying industry competing with products abroad. You cannot ask customers to pay twice as much for a product from the U.S. if they are willing to buy equal quality product Made In China for half or less. Hence industry fled. How to get it back?

Meanwhile, the income gap results in high prices, such as the staggeringly high price of a house in Fanta Sea. So the formerly middle class is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If there is a reason to redistribute income, heck, even going back to Nixon era tax structures, its because the gap is growing. But one doesn't simply rob from the rich and give to the poor. Maybe one invests taxes wisely rather than stupidly. I'm thinking of Rockefeller's creation of SUNY.

So the Dems are challenged to put together a credible message on how we will empower the working class and actually get it back on its feet again without stale rhetoric or policies that may have worked during the New Deal. Good luck.

Mike Johnson

Well said, and the Democrats have to get away from the us vs. them, rich vs. poor, minority vs. white, fighting for your kind, etc. kind of polarization and divisions they have practiced. They have to abandon the zero sum game mentality they have of economics, where they preach that if someone else is rich, that they took it from you to make you poor. Intelligent voters are not buying that economic theory.

Khal Spencer

Both parties have been running, to some degree, on "the other guy is the bad guy" model. I guess it is no surprise that we are as polarized as a people as we have been since the Civil War, and it ain't helping.

Interesting thing here:

Joe Montoya

At a time when the Democratic Party is being viewed by a large numbers of voters as a tax, tax, tax and spend, spend, spend party by some, it seems that Ms. Debra Haaland will have her work cut out for her. If she can make the politicians realize that out of control spending and taxation is ruining the working class, as well as all New Mexicans in all facets of their lives! If Ms. Haaland can change such mentality, it is possible that she may earn the trust of all democrats, independent voters and others, whom the Democratic party has neglected; thus resulting in the loss of the House of Representatives in the last election.

Mike Johnson

Well said, and the first thing she should do is reach out to the many Democrats and Independents who have been marginalized and disenfranchised by the previous DPNM leadership due to their left wing dogmas. Make it an inclusive and diverse party again (including diversity of thought and world view) as it was for many years when it was successful. Get rid of the entrenched, partisan elites of the old guard that run the local county party apparatus from precinct captains to volunteers and make the party reborn fresh. I wonder if she is capable of it, or if the power that still runs the party would even let her. Time will tell.

Mike Johnson

Interesting that Steve omitted who was backing the lawyer: "Ellenberg has been endorsed by Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, a former state party chairman; state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg; former Attorney General Patricia Madrid; former state Land Commissioner Ray Powell; several labor unions, including The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and local unions representing electrical workers, plumbers, bricklayers and boilermakers; and several state legislators, including all of Santa Fe’s delegation; and several fellow county chairmen."
Not wanting to bring up who lost?

Mike Johnson

Wow! Amazing, I am very surprised and happy. A woman of the people, who is not a lawyer, beats a rich, well connected elite insider lawyer in the party. There is hope!

Khal Spencer

Maybe she will do an "around the pickle barrel" stop up this way.

Mike Johnson

That would be unusual, hope so. I am really interested in her very typically Norwegian surname. I had many friends in Norway with that name. It is spelled in "English" here, without the Norwegian vowel we use, the å, but I suspect few can pronounce it correctly. There must be a story there…….

Andrew Lucero

The great philosopher poets The Who, summed it up best when they said...."Meet the new boss....Same as the old boss"

Joseph Hempfling

Great Choice in my opinion and having seen her in action during the campaign for Governor was very very favorably impressed even though Gary King lost. She is a natural; abel to handle difficult situations and a very classy lady on top of it all. And a most definite asset to the Democrats in addition to being a Native American. This lady is going places, so stay tuned.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.