Lujan Grisham wins Dem nod in governor race
June 6, 2018
SANTA FE — New Mexico Democrats on Tuesday chose three-term Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham as their gubernatorial nominee in hopes of reclaiming the state's top office after two terms of Republican control.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce ran unopposed for the Republican nomination and moved on to November's general election. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for a consecutive third term.
Democrats accounted for about two-thirds of Election Day voting as voters decided competitive primary races for two wide-open congressional seats and several statewide offices.
Lujan Grisham campaigned on making a clean break with the state's current Republican administration to dramatically expand early childhood education, boost public and private investment in renewable energy production and ease procedures for obtaining state driving credentials.
Her victory against two primary opponents set up a showdown between an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump on immigration issues and Pearce, a member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus in Congress who actively campaigned for Trump in 2016.
New Mexico, a largely rural state with the nation's highest concentration of Hispanics, has shifted between Republican and Democratic governors for decades — though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 15 percentage points. Hillary Clinton won the state by 8 percentage points in 2016.
A switch to a Democratic governor in November likely would shut Republicans out of redistricting decisions in 2021 and consolidate Democrats' control for a decade.
With Pearce in her sights, Lujan Grisham has already set up a network of campaign offices across the state that will carry over into the general election.
As Democrats battled and spent campaign cash, Pearce conserved $1.9 million in campaign contributions.
In late May, Lujan Grisham reported cash reserves of $1.1 million.
The state's lagging economy, dissatisfaction with public education and concerns about urban crime took center stage in the Democratic primary and in early campaigning by Pearce.
New Mexico is one of 33 governor's offices nationwide held by Republicans, and 26 of those are up for election this year. The race devolved into attacks about private business dealings and trustworthiness in the final days of campaigning.
Primary challengers Jeff Apodaca, a former media executive, and state Sen. Joseph Cervantes had called on Lujan Grisham to drop out because she profited from state contracts until mid-2017 as a partner in a business that runs New Mexico's high-risk insurance pool. It's an insurance plan of last resort for severely ill patients and immigrants who don't qualify for federally subsidized health care.
Lujan Grisham says her involvement in Delta Consulting enabled her to help the sick and vulnerable.
At a Santa Fe voting precinct, former college professor Steve Van Luchene said President Donald Trump was on his mind. He wants the next governor to "get away from a highly polarized approach to politics" and concentrate on the fundamentals of government finances and basic services, he said.
The 70-year-old voted for Lujan Grisham, citing her experience.
"I think that Michelle came up from grass roots, worked through various positions and showed herself to be responsible," Van Luchene said.
Neither Pearce nor Lujan Grisham is running for re-election to Congress. Five Democrats were competing for Lujan Grisham's seat in a race rich with ethnic diversity.
Former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland, a tribal member of Laguna Pueblo, is aiming to become the first Native American woman in Congress.
She faces former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez, former law school professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, immigration and family law attorney Damian Lara and business consultant Paul Moya.
Janice Arnold-Jones is the GOP candidate in the general election after running unopposed in the primary, and Lloyd Princeton is running as a Libertarian. A Republican hasn't represented the district encompassing the Albuquerque metro area since 2009.
In a vast southern congressional district now represented by Pearce, the Republican contenders are businessman and former state party chairman Monty Newman, state Rep. Yvette Herrell and former U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs official Gavin Clarkson.
The Democratic nomination is being pursued by Madeline Hildebrandt, a history teacher from Socorro, and Xochitl Torres Small, a water-rights attorney and former congressional staffer.
For the Senate, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and GOP challenger Mick Rich both ran unopposed in Tuesday's primary and moved on to the November general election.
Voters also were choosing Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, state auditor and public land commissioner, a post that controls oil and mineral development on state trust lands.
Democrats also were defending a 38-32 majority in the state House of Representatives.
Incumbent Democratic state Rep. Carl Trujillo of Nambe has been accused of sexual misconduct by a lobbyist for an animal welfare group as they worked on legislation in 2014.
Trujillo has denied the allegations, and four House colleagues and an outside attorney are investigating. Andrea Romero of Santa Fe is challenging Trujillo in the primary, in a district where no Republicans are running.
Sarah Pierpont, 43, of Santa Fe, said she deferred judgment on the harassment allegations but voted for Romero and Lujan Grisham for governor in an effort to support qualified female candidates.
"I think it's important right now that our Statehouse should look like our state, and that's at least half women," she said.