Dem legislative primaries are the races to watch
There’s been lots of political drama in the Republican Senate primary race between Angie Spears and Pat Woods, but if you care about races that will impact the makeup of the Legislature and policy, there are several more interesting contests, all on the Democratic side.
If you care only about political drama, that may be true. But if you care about races that will impact the makeup of the Legislature and policy, there are several more interesting contests, all on the Democratic side.
While the few GOP primaries involve candidates who largely agree with each other on the issues (including Spears and Woods), there’s a real ideological battle being fought among Democrats.
Progressives are working to unseat more conservative Democratic incumbents and battling for open seats as they push policies including closing a loophole that allows out-of-state corporations to avoid paying some taxes and tapping into the permanent fund for early-childhood education programs.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and those close to her are trying to make good on her threat to remake the Legislature because it hasn’t approved many of her high-profile proposals, such as putting an end to so-called social promotion and repealing a law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Part of the strategy includes backing Democratic candidates who are friendlier to her proposals.
The Democratic primary matters for Martinez. Republicans have a realistic chance of picking up seats in the N.M. Senate in November. But it’s possible that, even if they do, Martinez could lose votes for some of her high-profile agenda items if enough Democratic seats shift to the left.
Some want you to believe what’s at stake is Martinez’s credibility in her own party because she has endorsed Spears and angered some Republicans in the Clovis area. But polls continue to show that she is popular among New Mexicans and extremely popular among Republicans.
Here’s what Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff was quoted by The Associated Press as saying about Martinez’s involvement in the Spears-Woods race:
“Sanderoff doubts that Martinez will be weakened politically by the GOP infighting in the Senate race between Spears and Woods.
“The winner of the GOP primary, Sanderoff said, ‘will still be voting conservative in the Legislature because they’ll have no choice.’
“‘It’s not as if you choose the wrong Republican nominee it’s going to hurt you during the session. They may not be her best friend, doing anything to go out of their way to help the governor, but they’re going to vote with her on most matters if they want to get elected,’ said Sanderoff.”
There’s a much more important reason that Martinez’s credibility is at stake today and in November.
By threatening to unseat legislators who have stood in her way, Martinez has bet that she can remake the Legislature in this year’s election rather than compromising with her foes. Republicans probably aren’t going to take control of the Legislature, so to win that fight, Martinez has to help elect Democrats who will vote for her proposals.
That includes defending incumbents who already have voted with her. A Martinez-supporting Super PAC is doing just that by sending out mailers and running radio ads defending Democratic Sens. John Arthur Smith, Pete Campos and Phil Griego.
What will the Legislature look like next year?
Martinez has made a very clear and loud threat. If she makes good on it, the Legislature will be more favorable to her proposals. If not, she’s going to have an even rougher road ahead in future legislative sessions.
Or she’s going to have to shift gears and compromise on some of the issues on which she and the Democratic-controlled Legislature are deadlocked.
Meanwhile, progressives are fighting as hard as Martinez – and they have a good track record in recent Democratic primaries. Again, Sanderoff, as quoted by The AP:
“The strategy of trying to affect the overall composition of the Legislature and include more liberals is going beyond just trying to elect Democrats in the general. They’re taking on safe Democratic seats and trying to impact the primaries. It’s happened before and it will happen again, but it seems to be a little more aggressive this time.”
Tonight’s election results will tell us a lot about what the Legislature is going to look like when it meets in January.
Update, 12:40 p.m.
This is not a comprehensive list of the Democratic primary races in which the candidates are divided by ideology, but here are some of the races that should be on your radar tonight, along with a bit of analysis and links to articles if NMPolitics.net has profiled the races:
- The N.M. Senate District 35 primary race in Southern New Mexico between incumbent State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and challenger Larry Martinez will be interesting. Smith should have the advantage, but he hasn’t had a primary- or general-election challenger since 1996, so voters in the district aren’t used to him being torn down. And a teacher’s union and progressive Super PAC have beaten up his reputation a lot lately. This one is difficult to predict.
- The Senate District 39 Democratic primary race between incumbent Phil Griego and challengers Jack Sullivan and Nicole Castellano involves an ethics complaint against Griego and a progressive machine working to get Sullivan elected. This race is also difficult to predict.
- The State Senate District 14 Democratic primary race between Eleanor Chavez, Michael Padilla and James Taylor.
- The Senate District 30 Democratic primary between incumbent David Ulibarri and three challengers – Maxine Velasquez, Randolf Marshall Collins and Clemente Sanchez.
- The Senate District 4 Democratic primary between incumbent George Muñoz and two challengers – Genevieve Jackson and Charles Rountree.
- The Senate District 8 Democratic primary race between incumbent Pete Campos and challenger Thomas Garcia.
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