It’s barely June and already, the election season in New Mexico is proving exhausting.
On Tuesday, the nation — or at least political chattering classes — watched to see whether a Democrat could hold on to a U.S. House seat left vacant after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland went to President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
The premise was simple: Would Republican attempts to paint Democrats as crazed radicals work, especially using a soft-on-crime attack in a town where crime is rightfully a chief concern?
The answer was loud and clear.
Democratic candidate and now Congresswoman-elect Melanie Stansbury parried the charges by defending her law enforcement policies while demanding necessary police reform. She had plenty of money, a deep-blue House district and campaigned hard.
In winning, she became the first member of Congress elected in a special election — in over 100 years — to win by a larger margin than her party had in the previous general election.
Whether the lessons of the 1st Congressional District translate broadly to the country at large remains to be seen. Even in low-turnout special elections, blue districts tend to elect Democrats, a trend that remained constant in Albuquerque.
What Democrats nationally can take to the bank is this: They can be successful if they promise to bring home infrastructure, reform but not defund police, support racial justice, boost wages and protect the environment.
The special election for Congress was just one moment of national spotlight for New Mexico politicians this week. More embarrassing and bizarre was an incident in which a drone toting a sex toy disrupted an event for Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, a candidate for mayor of Albuquerque in November.
The video and photographs of the dapper Gonzales speaking while the drone hovered overhead have made the rounds on social media. The 20-year-old drone operator became irate when the device was confiscated, engaged in a scuffle and ended up whacking Sheriff Gonzales. The incident descended even further into absurdity when the Gonzales campaign implied incumbent Mayor Tim Keller’s reelection operation might be behind the drone attack.
At a news conference, Gonzales said, “It was a coordinated effort, very intentional, and these people were trained.”
The noise, he said, made it particularly difficult to answer questions.
Tell that to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who can give lessons on speaking through noise. She announced she is running for reelection in 2022 at an event Thursday at the Albuquerque Museum, her words barely audible over the raucous shouts of protesters.
The governor kept her remarks short as a result, but handled the unpleasant mob outside the walls with humor. “I know it’s going to be loud, and I just have to say I’m sorry that we picked the same location that the QAnon lizard people meeting was at,” she said.
That likely upped the ante in what has become an ugly reaction to a year of pandemic restrictions — the crowd appeared to be a mix of vaccine deniers and business owners who believe the governor’s public health orders cost them dearly.
Sadly, it’s not enough to simply oppose the governor’s policies. In today’s political world, her detractors depict her as Hitler on a T-shirt or tie her to the origins of COVID-19 by calling her Wuhan-Lujan. Such actions — and you can include a drone bearing a sex toy — create a dangerous atmosphere all around. It’s the kind of thing that leads to emotion run amok; not unlike what we saw on Jan. 6.
Given the reality of 2021, it is likely the atmosphere around elections will only grow nastier. Such antics distract from necessary debates about how best to improve our society — we need serious discussions, whether in a House race, city election or bid to run the state. Noise should not be allowed to drown out discussion.