The Libertarian Party officially qualifies as a major political party in New Mexico for the first time.
And with Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn having switched to the party as it touts him as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate, the Libertarians, with a slate full of candidates, are poised to shake up the 2018 election.
They have former Gov. Gary Johnson — once a Republican — to thank.
To qualify as a major political party, the Libertarians had to win more than 5 percent of the vote in a race for president or governor. Johnson, the party’s nominee for president in 2016, won about 9 percent of the vote in New Mexico, carrying the party over that threshold.
But the party is also required to get more than one-third of 1 percent of New Mexico’s voters to register as Libertarians. The Secretary of State’s Office said Monday it had satisfied that requirement, too, with 7,593 voters having signed up as Libertarians — about .62 percent of all New Mexico voters.
The Libertarians had previously been labeled a minor political party in New Mexico, meaning its candidates still had to collect a sometimes substantial number of signatures to get on the ballot even after they were nominated by the party.
As a major party, candidates will still have to get signatures for the nomination process but not nearly as many, offering its slate easier access to the ballot. A candidate for U.S. Senate or governor, for example, would need at least 230 signatures from registered Libertarian voters.
“It’s a significant plus,” said state party chairman Chris Luchini of Los Alamos. “I’m confident we’ll henceforth be able to be a major party. We have very credible candidates and frankly, we’re still growing.”
The party got a boost over the last week when Dunn changed his voter registration from Republican to Libertarian.
One of the few Republicans to win a statewide election in recent years after Gov. Susana Martinez, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura and disgraced Secretary of State Dianna Duran, Dunn could bring name recognition to the party’s ballot if he runs for office. The Libertarians have been touting him as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate though Dunn said over the weekend he was still weighing his options.
With some Republicans bracing for an anti-Trump wave, the Libertarians could make a showing in some areas of a state where even conservatives were lukewarm to the president. But that could also make the party a wild card, potentially taking votes from the Republicans or Democrats in what could be close contests, such as the race for governor or the 2nd Congressional District in Southern New Mexico.
The party’s slate so far also includes Dunn’s son, A. Blair Dunn, who is running for attorney general. A lawyer in private practice, he has fought for conservative and libertarian causes around New Mexico in recent years, from challenging the state on its implementation of bail reform to accusing the Attorney General’s Office of violating the Inspection of Public Records Act.
Sandra Jeff is running for secretary of state. A former Democratic member of the state House of Representatives, she was kicked off the ballot for re-election in 2014 after failing to collect enough signatures to qualify to run again. She ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in 2016 and changed her voter registration to Libertarian earlier this month.
Rancher Michael Lucero is running for commissioner of public lands.
Albuquerque-based business consultant Lloyd Princeton is running for the 1st Congressional District.
Grady Owens, a self-described on-again, off-again New Mexico Tech student who works at an observatory in the Sacramento Mountains, is running for the 2nd Congressional District.
Kirtland native and Afghanistan veteran Chris Manning is running for the 3rd Congressional District in Northern New Mexico.
The filing deadline for candidates is Feb. 6.
But the party will have some work to do to keep its status. Exactly what exactly qualifies as a major party has been a subject of dispute.
The law says that a party can qualify for major party status if any of its candidates receive the equivalent of 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for president or governor. Around 2000, a court interpreted that to mean the party must win at least 5 percent specifically in the races for governor or president — not just any race.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver interprets the law that way, too.
That would mean the Libertarians’ candidate for governor this year must win 5 percent of the vote for the party to keep its new status.
Still, Richard Winger, editor of the newsletter Ballot Access News, said: “It’s a big advantage for a minor party to become a major party.”
Johnson’s run in 2016 helped Libertarians in several states get easier access to the ballot, he says.
That may make a particularly big difference in New Mexico, which Winger argues has some of the most restrictive laws for independent and minor party candidates.
Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.