2018 Elections: New Mexico’s new Governor will be front in center in rebuilding the state

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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 second piece in our series.

Susana Martinez came to power in 2010, at the height of the Great Recession and with a host of ideas about how she’d turn the state around by addressing jobs and crime using the reputation she’d garnered as a tough District Attorney to rouse New Mexicans on both sides of the aisle. As we know, that has not happened.

New Mexico remains near or at the bottom of lists ranging from economic opportunities to child welfare to food availability and infrastructure. To that end, even the governor herself has been ranked near the bottom of governors across the country while the state has been voted the WORST run state in the country multiple times.

And then, of course, there are the various scandals she’s been embroiled in. The infamous drunken 911 call and subsequent pizza party revelations are probably the most widely known thing about Martinez to people inside and outside the state. But we must remember that she was also responsible for ostensibly killing mental health care during her tenure, involved with an FBI investigation into her campaign manager’s shell companies, and last year vetoed the entire budget for colleges and universities around the state.

Suffice it to say, the bar is set pretty low for an incoming governor.

Current candidates


Let’s start with the foreseen successor for Governor Martinez from her own Republican Party, Congressman Steve Pearce. ProgressNow New Mexico has probably written as much about this hardliner and Tea Party favorite from the southeastern part of the state as much as we have about Martinez. He’s staunchly anti-reproductive health, anti-public lands, and extremely pro-gun with massive donations from the NRA. Pearce is a multi-millionaire with a private fortune from his own oil businesses, as well as having access to millions in out-of-state PAC money from his brother in Texas and other conservative war chests.

He’s fond of flying his own plane and even wrote a book about it, although potentially one of the most interesting things to glean from that tome is his fundamentalist take on women “submitting” to ther husbands in marriage. In recent weeks he’s come under fire for missing the MOST votes in Congress of any federal legislator, presumably while he’s been on the campaign trail here at home. This is an ironic shift for him as in early 2017 there were massive demonstrations in his district asking for him to spend more time there with his constituents. Additionally, a video has recently surfaced of some extremely disturbing rhetoric he espoused a decade ago in regards to marriage equality wherein he submitted that gay folk would marry one another only for insurance because they have AIDS.

The last time Pearce ran for a statewide seat was in 2008 for the Senate where he lost by significant margins.

The Democrats

The primary race for the Democratic ticket has thinned out in recent weeks after the Dems held their pre

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham

-primary convention, but the field is still crowded in terms of surrogates and campaigns. At the top of the heap is Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. The Congresswoman has been a mainstay in New Mexico politics for decades and has worked at every level of government. She served three different governors as the director of New Mexico’s Agency on Aging before being nominated by Governor Bill Richardson to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health. She later served as a County Commissioner in Bernalillo County, ran for (but lost) Congress against now-Senator Martin Heinrich in 2008, but successfully won the spot when Heinrich ran for the Senate in 2012.

In Congress, she’s been the chair of the Hispanic Caucus since 2016 and in the first year of the Trump administration has made some very public moves to have her voice heard including sneaking into the White House when not invited to a meeting discussing immigration issues. She also has served on numerous committees including the Committee on Agriculture where she’s been the ranking member on the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research. She also served on the Budget Committee and the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.

Lujan Grisham has been touted as the likely front-runner for the Governor’s seat in statewide polling and garnered nearly 70 percent of the vote from her fellow Democrats at their convention. In a story this week, discrepancies in language about her being “nearly tied” with Congressman Pearce in polling were examined by the New Mexico Political Report and found to be more about fundraising narratives than numerical truth.

The second place finisher at the preprimary convention was businessman Jeff Apodaca, son of former Governor Jerry Apodaca. Apodaca has taken a populist approach to his campaign, highlighting his success in business and his experiences outside New Mexico as qualifications to run the state. His supporters have been almost ravenous in their support of him; one woman recently went so far as to disrupt the preprimary convention during Lujan Grisham’s speech and getting arrested. Additionally, former County Commissioner John Vasquez from Doña Ana County was called out for his bad behavior stemming from a Facebook post wherein he was supporting Apodaca. 

It’s honestly hard to know where someone like Apodaca stands on issues without a voting record from previous elected positions to examine, but he has been favored by other “progressive” candidates who’ve since dropped out of the race. Former Gubernatorial candidate Peter DeBenedittis is endorsing Apodaca as is a former candidate for the Lt. Governor position, Jeff Carr. Carr is a former member of the New Mexico Public Education Commission, however, Debenedittis also has never held an elected position. Apodaca’s history as a businessman and Entertainment Executive might be skills sorely needed in the executive branch in New Mexico so it will be interesting to see where voters put their trust in the June primaries.

Senator Joseph Cervantes didn’t garner enough votes in the pre-primary convention to automatically make

Sen. Joseph Cervantes

the ballot in June, but his campaign has stated they will collect enough signatures to make up the difference. Cervantes has been a staple in the Roundhouse for almost two decades, serving first in the house for most of the 200os and is now in his second term as a Senator from southern Doña Ana County. Cervantes has served on various committees during his time, notably on the Judiciary where he’s currently the Vice Chair, as well as Conservation, Ag and Water, and Rules.

Cervantes is a lawyer by trade and has a history of working for transparency issues at the state level. This includes an independent constitutional commission and various panels and regulatory groups to oversee governmental actions. In that spirit of transparency, some may find it interesting that some of his biggest donors appear to be himself, through variously named enterprises he’s affiliated with. There’s nothing overtly wrong with self-funding campaigns, but it’s worth noting.

Independent candidates

At this point, there’s only one listed independent candidate on the Secretary of State’s website. Bob Walsh is running as a Libertarian, fleshing out a ticket of other Libertarians hoping to capitalize on Gary Johnson’s decent performance in the state during the 2016 federal elections. Walsh only signed up yesterday (Tuesday, March 20) and told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he hoped to “break up the duopoly” of the two-party system. Walsh has run unsuccessfully for the legislature in the past in Santa Fe, and has worked for and voted for candidates on both sides of the divide as well. While he claims that Libertarian mantra of “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” it’s again hard to process such claims without a record of votes to fully examine.