2018 Elections: What you need to know about New Mexico politics right now

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Today is March 14, 2018. It is the day after “filing day” in New Mexico when candidates file for their races around the state, from county commissions to the governor. With little exception, if candidates haven’t submitted the required amount of signatures or have for some other reason been disqualified by the Secretary of State’s office, we now have a pretty good idea of who’s running in 2018 across the board.

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.

The US has seen some surprising races flip in the last year in unlikely places; from Alabama to Oklahoma and in deep red counties in places like Pennsylvania. It appears at the time of writing this piece that the clutch race in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District has gone to the Democrat, Connor Lamb, by under 1,000 votes. Worth noting, a Libertarian candidate in the race pulled about 1,400 votes as well. New Mexico’s 2018 race will feature a few Libertarian candidates up and down the ballot.

But before we get too far into the details, let’s look at the overall political landscape in New Mexico as it stands today. Much of what we’re looking at is the ongoing surge of progressive organizing in urban parts of the state that is now spreading to rural areas as part of the larger “Blue Wave” in the post-Trump landscape. There’s also a strong movement by and for women to take power in seats across the state. That might be most evidently seen in the other big news from yesterday.

Woman power

Besides some surprising news about who is and isn’t running after yesterday’s filing day news, the big story in the state was the resignation of Democratic Party Chair Richard Ellenberg. Ellenberg stated in a letter that, “I regret the way in which I have managed complaints of survivors who have come forward about sexual harassment.” Ellenberg’s resignation comes just days after the Democrats held their pre-primary convention to test the waters before the primaries. An interesting statistic from that event is in every race that a woman was running for office, they came out ahead of their male counterparts.

  • Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham won a landslide vote of confidence by receiving 67 percent of the vote over her three male challengers.
  • State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard came out five points above her closest challenger Garrett VeneKlasen and over 25 percent more than the other Democratic challenger, George Munoz.
  • Out of the half-dozen Democratic candidates vying for the state’s First Congressional District, it was the two women who cleared the minimum 20 percent hurdle to secure a place on the ballot in June. Former Chair of the Democratic Party Debra Haaland got nearly 35 percent while her closest challenger was legal professor Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez received 25 percent.


In the wake of the #MeToo movement, New Mexico has seen significant progress toward removing men from power after accusations came to light about harassment and/or culpability. From a powerful state Senator who lost his leadership position and was forced to bow out of a state-wide race, to a county commissioner, and now to the leader of the Democratic Party, voters and elected officials alike are making their voices heard that enough is enough. Looking forward to some of the state house races, it’s noticeable how many women have put forward their names to run for seats across the state.

The New Mexico legislature is currently made up of 27 women and 43 men. Looking at every single candidate who’s put their name forward to run this year, there are 51 women and 72 men vying for a seat. There’s a fair amount of unopposed seats as there are always is, but the makeup of the races shows that 28 contested races include at least one woman running.

New Mexico is no stranger to women being in positions of leadership. Obviously, Governor Susana Martinez has been in the top spot in the state for the last eight years and the current leadership of the Democratic party within the legislature made history by electing three women of color to their top positions in the house. But seeing the broader scope of power being flexed by women in the legislature and running for higher office is worth paying attention to as we approach the June primaries.

Other factors:

Education and Economy

New Mexico is still struggling to compete with our neighbors in terms of jobs and general economics. This is tied to our poor rankings in education comparatively as well. With the rise of the price of oil and the increased interest in Permian Basin oil, New Mexico’s profits from oil and gas leases have risen as well. But poll after poll shows that New Mexicans are wary of relying solely on the extraction industries and want to see greater investment in things like solar and wind energy across the board and from people on either side of the political divide.

Curing New Mexico’s “brain drain” is inextricably related to education AND the economy. Students who succeed in New Mexico need good, advanced jobs that pay well and allow them to stay in their communities. At the same time, improving education relies on creating a broader base of taxpayers to eventually supplant the reliance on oil and gas we currently rely on. Approaching one without the other will likely always lead to an imbalance and we need leadership that is willing to address these issues as comprehensive parts of a whole.

Immigration and border issues

Whether or not we have Trump and his outlandish wall nonsense to deal with in another four years is beyond our own scope of knowledge. But no matter what happens, New Mexico’s relationship with Mexico along our southern border is going to be a key asset to growing our economy. The Santa Teresa border complex is on track to become New Mexico’s single greatest economic driver, outpacing the rents from oil and gas, and all other exports within the state. Nurturing the relationship with Mexico will be imperative to the future success of New Mexico in many ways.

But in the meantime, protecting our immigrant brothers and sisters in the current political climate has become a hot-button issue of its own. The conflict between local governments and the federal government have already occurred in different areas around New Mexico and the next wave of state leaders will be tasked with managing those conflicts.


The one success that Governor Martinez can lay any claim to is the growth of tourism within New Mexico during her tenure. Ironically, a great deal of that tourism came from the creation of two major landscape-sized national monuments during that same time which she actively opposed as have most of her Republican colleagues in the state. The Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments have both seen significant visitation and increased economic activity since being designated by former President Obama. The Trump administration has already begun dismantling national monuments in other states and is being challenged in the courts, but state governments will also have a role in how these land-based arguments play out in the near future.

We invite you to join us as we dive into the how each office at the state level can and should impact the lives of everyday New Mexicans over the next few weeks. Be sure to subscribe to our email list to be notified when new updates come out and also please share on your social media networks.