The New Mexico Senate will boast new faces in 2021, with several incumbents losing primary elections and progressive candidates in both Southern and Northern New Mexico winning key matchups. Whether Democrats keep those seats or the GOP wins them remains to be seen, but what is certain is change is in the air.
Who sits in the Senate matters because in many past sessions, it is where important pieces of legislation went to die — whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on perspective.
A constitutional amendment to use more of the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood legislation, legislation to repeal an outdated abortion law, approval of a $15 minimum wage and cannabis legalization — all have died in the Senate during past sessions. It’s uncertain whether these bills will pass in 2021 — Republicans could win seats that progressive Democrats took in the primary, after all — but the Senate will be a different place. Below, our endorsements in selected Senate races in Northern New Mexico.
• District 5: This is a district where the more progressive Democrat, Leo Jaramillo, surprised incumbent Sen. Richard Martinez in the primary, a victory no doubt assisted by the senator’s DWI problems. Still, Jaramillo campaigned hard, didn’t take one vote for granted and made clear that if elected, he will be a senator for the people, not special interests. He is an employee of Los Alamos National Laboratory and a member of the Rio Arriba County Commission, but also brings to the race an interest in education — he is a former teacher. His issues during the campaign are bringing more affordable housing to his district, long-term economic development and, since the pandemic, assisting his community in staying healthy and strong. In District 5, The New Mexican endorses Leo Jaramillo.
• District 19: In this district, it was a GOP upstart who upset the incumbent, and in our mind, that was a shame. Incumbent Sen. Jim White was that rare creature, a moderate Republican with rock-solid values who also knew how to work across the aisle. He will be missed. The man who beat him, Dr. Gregg Schmedes, is a one-term House representative — but of the more fire-breathing conservative variety. Schmedes also takes the un-medical position that refusing vaccinations equates with freedom. His Democratic opponent, Claudia Risner, is a retired Navy captain who wants to work on improved broadband connectivity, reform the tax code and, importantly during the pandemic, supports the governor’s science-base approach. There’s a Libertarian candidate in the mix, John McDivitt, meaning voters have plenty of choices. For good sense and smart policy, The New Mexican endorses Claudia Risner.
• District 24: Sen. Nancy Rodriguez is a hardworking incumbent with a quarter of a century of experience in the Roundhouse. She has both a Republican and Libertarian challenger, and we are pleased to see contested races. Still, Rodriguez’s knowledge of the budget, understanding of how state policy impacts local government (she’s a former county commissioner) and support for renewable energy and economic development are important in a Senate that has seen so much change. She also supports an independent redistricting committee to remove politics from the process. For District 24, The New Mexican endorses Nancy Rodriguez.
• District 25: Incumbent Democratic Sen. Peter Wirth is one of the good guys in politics. He is unassuming, hardworking and intent on governing — with Democrats and Republicans alike. As Senate majority leader, Wirth keeps the Senate running smoothly and, at times, is almost too easy on party members who go their own way. His approach to governing, in these times of my-way-or-the-highway leaders, is refreshing. His knowledge of building coalitions, the budget process and ability to see what the state needs is essential in the midst of the pandemic and economic downturn. For District 25, The New Mexican endorses Peter Wirth.
• District 39: Twenty-five years ago, Sen. Liz Stefanics narrowly lost a primary in her effort to be reelected state senator. She went on to other accomplishments, including serving on the Santa Fe County Commission, before being elected to the Senate once more in 2016. She deserves to be returned. She is a conscientious, smart lawmaker with expertise in health care, economic development, education and water issues. For District 39, The New Mexican endorses Liz Stefanics.
Public Regulation Commission
The Public Regulation Commission is charged with regulating public utilities, balancing the needs of industry with consumers. Commissioners have the tough balancing act of being responsive to voters while maintaining the necessary impartiality of a quasi-judicial body. They also need knowledge of utilities, renewable energy, regulation, motor carriers and telecommunications — expertise few politicians carry, one reason we believe an appointed commission would better serve New Mexico.
Disagreeing with us on that point is Democratic PRC candidate Joseph Maestas. Ironically, he is a politician with expertise — not just because of his work with city governments in Española and Santa Fe, but because of his years as a civil engineer and work in implementing federal regulations. For the Public Regulation Commission, District 3, The New Mexican endorses Joseph Maestas.