For Dems, Lt. Governor race is still a toss-up, but GOP and Libs are locked in

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ProgressNow New Mexico will be looking at some top-level races more in-depth over the next few weeks to bring our perspective to the key races we’re expecting to see in New Mexico this year. New Mexico is in the national spotlight as one of the “most likely to flip” states in terms of our governor’s race. Our series will focus on the offices that New Mexicans can vote for statewide. This is the third piece in our series.

The position of Lt. Governor can seem pretty inglorious compared to other statewide positions with specific duties as Secretary of State or Attorney General. Other than breaking deadlocked votes in the state Senate, what exactly is the function of the number two elected official in the state?

The major role for Lt. Governors outside of overseeing the Senate is to act as the lead executive when the Governor is not in the state. Should a major catastrophe occur that might require calling on the state’s National Guard, for instance, the Lt. Governor can make those decisions if the governor were not readily available for some reason. The third official role they play is being an “ombudsman” for constituents, which in this case would mean any citizen in the state with concerns about the executive branch. New Mexico’s current Lt. Governor, John Sanchez, hasn’t exactly been a great example of this function considering he’s suffered his own scandals right alongside his scandal-ridden boss, Susana Martinez.

But most of the time, the reality is that a Lt. Governor acts as a surrogate for the Governor’s office in much the same was the Vice President does nationally. And since New Mexico elects their Lt. Governors separately from their eventual running mates, the specific nature and positions of these candidates can reflect some different positions of voters. This oddity of New Mexico politics has been addressed as recently as this year’s legislative session, although changes have yet to be made.

Despite the somewhat ambiguous nature of the position, this year’s slate of candidates for the number two position in the state is and has been, an interesting look into the world of New Mexico politics.

Current candidates

The GOP

Michelle Garcia Holmes is running unopposed within the Republican Party this year for Lt. Governor, although she’s the second contender to be running. Last fall, former Secretary of Indian Affairs Kelly Zunie started a run but dropped out abruptly after questions about her residency in New Mexico put up roadblocks to her candidacy.

Michelle Garcia Holmes with her likely running mate Steve Pearce

Considering Steve Pearce is running unopposed for Governor, we can assume safely that he and Garcia Holmes will be the actual ticket for voters in November. On the surface, it’s a strange pairing. Pearce has been an arch-conservative his whole career, even within his party he’s one of the most conservative members of the House. Garcia Holmes, however, is only recently a declared Republican and has worked with and for Democrats in the past. She worked for Democrat Gary King as his chief of staff when he was Attorney General and she ran for Albuquerque’s mayor recently as an independent.

Garcia Holmes spent her career as police officer though, and riding the current governor’s “tough on crime” mantra has seemed to work well for Republican in the state within some districts so her experience there may bring some doubters in-line with her less-than-dedicated background as a Republican. She’s also openly endorsed by extreme anti-choice activists like Tara Shaver who’ve attempted to outlaw abortion at the municipal level in Albuquerque and worked against women’s health issues at the state level for years.

Without any real experience as an elected official it’s hard to say what Garcia Holmes real stances are on some issues, but apparently, her campaign platforms are in line with Pearce and the hardline GOP enough to support her being unopposed in June.

The Democrats

The race for Lt. Governor for Democrats has been playing out since early in 2017 and remains a heated battle going into the primary season. Early contenders for the position like State Senator Michael Padilla and former Commissioner for Public Education Jeff Carr have since dropped out; Padilla because of allegations of past misdeeds of sexual harassment and Carr after not achieving the needed 20% of votes from Democrats at their pre-primary convention. Former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzalez jumped into the race after Padilla exited in December, but has left the race before the pre-primary due to allegations of sexual assault in his past.

So who’s left?

Senator Howie Morales

State Senator Howie Morales is the presumed favorite based on his performance at the pre-primary convention earlier this month where he secured just over 50 percent of the delegate votes. Morales made a bid in 2014 for the Governor’s seat with a lead coming out of the pre-primary as well, although Gary King went on to win the actual nomination at that year’s primary election. Morales also jumped into the race in early December right around the time Sen. Padilla announced he would not be continuing his campaign.

Morales has spent a decade in the New Mexico Senate where he’s earned a reputation for being a champion of education, something he actually holds a Ph.D. in as well. He’s written about and advocated for students to be able to opt-out of standardized testing in schools. Morales delivered the Democrat’s response to Governor Martinez’ final State of the State address in January and spoke directly about “the new day on the horizon” for New Mexico once Martinez is out and new leaders are in place at the executive level.

Former State Representative Rick Miera

Another long-time youth advocate, Rick Miera, also has a strong showing going into June’s Democratic primary. Miera finished second at the Democrats convention with nearly 28 percent of the vote, well above the minimum to get onto June’s ballot. Miera’s been in the race since last summer, splitting the time difference from some of the early contenders like Carr and Padilla and Morales and Gonzalez.

Miera represented House District 11 in Albuquerque in the New Mexico House for 24 years from 1990 to 2014. Before retiring, Miera was professionally a licensed therapist and consultant, focusing on drug and youth issues. Miera has touted education as a major focus of his campaign as well. During his time in office, he championed bilingual education initiatives in New Mexico, which is by law a bilingual state.

Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett

The third candidate to appear on June’s ballot is Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett. Garrett didn’t clear the needed 20 percent of delegate votes at the pre-primary convention but has subsequently submitted additional signatures to remain on the ballot. Garrett is likely less known outside of Doña Ana County as his two primary opponents, but his reputation as a progressive leader on the commission has earned him some credit in progressive circles.

Garrett’s background is within the National Park’s system and public lands are one of his core issues. He was a local leader during the campaign to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in Doña Ana County and has advocated for more renewable energy initiatives during his time on the Commission. Garrett has also spoken about the role of ombudsman that the Lt. Governor’s role is called to be and that “it is time to reject the conservative policies that have driven New Mexico to the bottom of national rankings for the wellbeing of children, family poverty, health care, income disparity, and economic activity.”

The Libertarians

Robin Dunn is running as a Libertarian write-in candidate for the Lt. Governor position. Maybe. While she appears on the Secretary of State’s website as a qualified write-in candidate, she doesn’t appear on the Libertarian Party of New Mexico’s list of candidates on their website, nor does it appear that she has any independent campaign website or Facebook page. ProgressNow New Mexico was also unable to find a reliable photo to add to this commentary.

There are a handful of news stories that mention her running, although most of them focus on the fact that her husband, current Commissioner of Public Land and Libertarian candidate for Senate Aubrey Dunn, as well as their son Blair Dunn, are all candidates on this year’s ballot. Blair Dunn is running as a Libertarian for Attorney General. Either way, because both the Libertarian candidate for Governor Bob Walsh and Lt. Governor Robin Dunn are write-in candidates, neither of their names will actually appear on ballots printed out for registered Libertarians at the June primary. Voters will have to supply the correct spelling of the candidates and fill them in themselves.

While it looks like the Republicans and Libertarians have their races already sorted out except for the formality of primary voting, the Democratic races where there are three strong contenders for both Governor and Lt. Governor are still toss-ups. Yes, there are clear front-runners based on the dedicated Democrats who participate in the party voting, but as we’ve seen in New Mexico, those numbers don’t always hold out.

Stay tuned for our next look at statewide races as we examine the race for Commissioner of Public Lands where a three-way Democratic primary offers plenty of excitement as we close in on the June primaries.