Three of four seats that gave Republicans control of the N.M. House of Representatives in 2014 are located partially or entirely in Doña Ana County — and if filing day is any indication, the county promises to once again factor heavily into the 2016 battles for control of the House and Senate.
Some of the most closely watched legislative contests in 2016 will be in Doña Ana County. Former Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Small, a Democrat, will challenge Rep. Andy Nuñez of Hatch, a Republican. Democrat Joann Ferrary will try for a third time to unseat Rep. Terry McMillan, R-Las Cruces. And Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez, D-Silver City, will try to retake his old seat from Republican John Zimmerman of Las Cruces, who unseated him in 2014.
There are currently 37 Republicans and 33 Democrats in the House, which the GOP won control of in 2014 for the first time in decades. Many analysts believe control of the House is up for grabs again this year.
In the battle for the Senate, Democratic incumbent Bill Soules faces a challenge from Republican Ceil Levatino, a Las Cruces city councilor. And in the June primary two Democrats will battle for the right to take on Sen. Lee Cotter, R-Las Cruces, in November. They are Jeff Steinborn, who is giving up his state House seat to run for Senate, and former Doña Ana County commissioner Oscar Vasquez Butler.
There are currently 24 Democrats and 18 Republicans in the Senate. While some believe the Senate will likely stay in Democratic hands this year, it’s not certain.
Doña Ana County will see some other interesting legislative primaries in 2016. Rep. Bealquin “Bill” Gomez, D-La Mesa, faces two primary challengers — Raymundo Lara and Paul C. Maxwell. In the open race to replace Steinborn in the House, three Democrats — Ray Jaramillo, Angelica Rubio and Paul A. Martinez — will battle for the right to take on Republican Joseph E. Bishop in the general election.
Statewide, at least eight incumbents in the House and two in the Senate chose not to seek re-election this year. There are many interesting races. Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque, is among those who are retiring — and one Democrat and two Republicans are running to replace him.
Former Democratic Rep. Sandra Jeff filed to run in the primary against Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo. Rep. James Roger Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, isn’t running again, but his son, Darryl F. Madalena, is seeking to replace his father.
Four Democrats are seeking the right to take on Republican Sen. Ted Barela of Estancia, who Gov. Susana Martinez appointed after Democrat Phil Griego resigned last year.
Griego has since been charged with corruption-related crimes.
Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover, a Republican, will take on Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, in what’s expected to be a key House race. And two Republicans — Vicki Chavez and J. Scott Chandler — are vying in the primary for the seat currently held by Democrat Dona Irwin of Deming, who is retiring. So are two Democrats — Candie Sweetser and Frederick Sherman.
In two other races worth watching, Democrat Arturo Fierro of Los Lunas will try to unseat Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, and Corrales Democrat Daymon Ely will try to take out Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque.
Democrat Ben Shelly of Thoreau, the former president of the Navajo Nation, is among three Democrats seeking the seat being vacated by former House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants. And a Democrat with a controversial past that includes having his law license suspended, Chris Berkheimer, filed to run in the Democratic primary against Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque.
In addition, the scandal-plagued former Sen. Shannon Robinson, D-Albuquerque, will try to rejoin the Senate. Now a Republican, Robinson will take on Democratic incumbent Mimi Stewart this year.
There are interesting down-ballot races as well. In Doña Ana County, six candidates are running for the District 4 seat on the county commission, five are running for the District 5 seat, and five are running to replace Democrat David Gutierrez as treasurer. Gutierrez was charged with a felony crime on Tuesday.
In Bernalillo County, embattled District Attorney Kari Brandenburg announced she won’t seek re-election. She was the district’s first female DA and, at 15 years, its longest-serving. Three candidates are running to replace her.
And a controversial former Bernalillo County treasurer, Patrick Padilla, is seeking to reclaim his old seat.