After another humiliating election defeat last week, state Republicans might have to go back to gimmickry in hopes of making New Mexico a two-party state.
One Republican lawmaker began the year with a half-serious bill that would have allowed his party’s strongholds to secede from New Mexico.
The proposed constitutional amendment by state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, was an admission that Republicans can’t win statewide elections anymore.
Pirtle contrived a little noise about secession with his bill. It was easier but less effective than finding better Republican candidates and running reasoned campaigns.
There are many reasons for the Republicans’ failures, the most obvious being they often field candidates who genuflect to former President Donald Trump.
Sticking with Trump and endorsing his baseless screeds about election fraud can only help Republicans in Southern New Mexico. Trump last year carried that area, the 2nd Congressional District, by 12 percentage points.
Trump lost New Mexico’s other two congressional districts by much wider margins. The results show Republican strength is regional. But the party’s brass seems content to win in the south and lose almost everywhere else.
Republicans can’t compete in what used to be swing districts. Ten years ago, Republicans represented four of the 11 state Senate districts entirely in Albuquerque. Now only one is held by a Republican.
Just five years ago, Republicans controlled the state House of Representatives, 37-33. Now Democrats hold a 45-24 majority. There’s also one independent member.
Republicans even lose badly in regions they once dominated, such as the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District.
Democrat Melanie Stansbury swept to victory Tuesday in the 1st District’s special election. She took 60 percent of the vote, an overwhelming showing for a second-term state representative who hadn’t run for any office until three years ago.
Republican state Sen. Mark Moores took 36 percent of the vote to finish a poor second.
Even when the Republicans choose a good candidate for a tough race like the 1st District, they find a way to appeal more to fringe groups like Cowboys for Trump than to moderates.
Moores was far and away the best candidate Republicans could have nominated in the 1st District.
He’d always been well-prepared for legislative debate. He also built a good reputation by teaming with Democrats when he believed the cause was worthy. Moores led on much of this bipartisan legislation, such as creating a citizens’ committee to redraw boundaries of legislative districts after the U.S. census.
Moores’ brand of conservatism should have given Stansbury a challenge. Instead, Moores campaigned by bobbing and weaving in the wrong direction.
Pointing to Trump’s incessant complaints of fraud, a moderator in one debate asked the congressional candidates who won the presidential election.
Stansbury and Libertarian Chris Manning didn’t hesitate. Each said Democrat Joe Biden won.
Moores tried to assuage Trump’s base in Albuquerque by avoiding a direct answer.
“Obviously, Joe Biden is the president of the United States,” Moores said.
At other stages, Moores sidestepped questions on Trump’s claim that the presidential election was rigged.
Moores’ weasel words made him sound like he’d be another congressman more concerned with Trump’s blessing than with candor.
All of it was out of character for Moores, who’d been known for his direct, fact-based arguments at the state Capitol.
Pirtle and Moores are good pals in the state Senate. But only one of them would introduce legislation to enable secession.
It’s what legislators call “a message bill.” The measure stirred some talk before heading to the legislative cemetery.
The proposal was Pirtle’s way of saying his district in southeastern New Mexico and other rural areas don’t have much of a voice in state politics.
His amendment to the state constitution would have allowed counties to petition to form a new state or to join an adjoining state. Had legislators agreed to place the measure on the ballot, voters would have had the final say.
Pirtle’s pitch was an outgrowth of his affinity for Texas, a place he praised in early March for its “freedoms,” such as ending mandates to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, many people in New Mexico with respiratory illnesses or other serious health problems still had not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Pirtle’s position played well in his own district. It did nothing to improve confidence in Republicans in the most populous sections of the state.
The secession amendment went nowhere, which is the same place most Republican candidates in New Mexico end up.