Democrats will retake control of the N.M. House of Representatives when the Legislature convenes in January.
Some races are still up in the air, and recounts in two or three districts are likely, but it appears that Democrats won enough races to have approximately 38 of 70 seats in the House.
Three races in Doña Ana County helped Democrats retake the House two years after Republicans won control of it in 2014 for the first time in decades. Democrat Nathan Small unseated Republican incumbent Andy Nuñez of Hatch on Tuesday. Democrat Joanne Ferrary unseated Republican incumbent Terry McMillan of Las Cruces. And Democrat Rudy Martinez unseated Republican incumbent John Zimmerman of Las Cruces — who unseated Martinez two years earlier.
Small said he had gratitude for voters and residents in his district, who he said have “a sense of excitement and urgency at facing challenges together.” He mentioned ethics reform, economic development that focuses on small business, and education reform that prioritizes student instruction over standardized testing as goals.
“I’m very excited for new leadership with new priorities in the House,” Small said.
State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, who was easily re-elected on Tuesday, named similar priorities for a House controlled by Democrats.
“We’ve got work to do,” McCamley said. “We have to focus on the things that we’ve been talking about all election, like creating an economy that works for everybody, giving our young people an option to stay in the state and make a decent living, and reforming education so we cut down on testing and respect teachers more.”
The news wasn’t all bad for Republicans. In Albuquerque, Sarah Maestas Barnes won a hard-fought battle to be re-elected. So did Sharon Clahchischilliage in Northwestern New Mexico.
But it wasn’t enough. Small won a resounding, 13-point victory over Nuñez. Ferrary, on her third attempt to unseat McMillan, was ahead by more than 700 votes. With a win by Elizabeth Thompson, Democrats picked up the Albuquerque-area seat being vacated by Republican Conrad James. And Democrats held on to another key seat with the re-election of Stephanie Garcia Richard in Los Alamos.
Three House races were too close to call. Rep. David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, was up by 2 votes over Democratic challenger Ronnie Martinez. Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, was leading Democratic challenger Willie Madrid by 80 votes. And Democrat Daymon Ely was ahead by 99 votes in his bid to unseat Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque.
McCamley said there’s another priority Democrats must keep in mind as they take control of the House.
“We have to fight to not be Washington. We have to try to work with Republicans when we can. We just have to,” he said. “This constant electioneering is leading our country in the wrong direction.”
He said lawmakers must work to pass ethics reform, including the creation of a state ethics commission.
“It also has to include ways of getting money out of politics,” McCamley said. “People don’t trust the process anymore, and one of the reasons for that is we’ve allowed too few people to have too much power — and we’ve got to start fixing that.”
“That is now on our shoulders,” McCamley said. “We have the responsibility.”