New Mexico voters oust incumbents from Legislature with positive implications for paid family leave

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico voters have ousted several incumbent lawmakers in the state's primary election, as ballots were tallied Wednesday.

Former school board member and educator Jon Hill of Las Cruces defeated state Rep. Willie Madrid of Chapparal in Tuesday's primary election. Hill campaigned in support of environmental and progressive initiatives — including the need for paid family leave legislation after a bill failed this year on a 34-36 state House vote, with several Democrats including Madrid voting in opposition. The district borders Texas and traverses the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Uncertified election results also show Anita Gonzales of Las Vegas, New Mexico, capturing the Democratic nomination to a rural district that unites distant communities from Moriarty to Pecos. She defeated two-term state Rep. Ambrose Castellano of Serafina, an opponent of the paid family leave legislation. Nearly 70% of district residents identify themselves as Latino.

More than 20 incumbents had challengers in the primary, under a closed system that limits participation to voters who register with major parties, leaving out minor-party or unaffiliated voters, but not Libertarians.

In House District 69, incumbent Democratic Rep. Harry Garcia of Grants, a social conservative on abortion and proponent of gun rights, lost his bid for a fifth term. Attorney Michelle “Paulene” Abeyta of To’hajiilee on the Navajo Nation won the nomination for a district where two-thirds of registered voters identify as Native American. Abeyta has no Republican competition in the general election.

In Senate District 13, incumbent state Sen. Bill O’Neill of Albuquerque was defeated in the Democratic primary by Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley in a contest between seasoned politicians in a heavily redrawn district that includes downtown Albuquerque.

O'Malley signaled concerns about crime and homelessness as top priorities, while corralling endorsements from labor unions representing teachers and public employees.

O'Neill, an advocate on juvenile justice issues, brought a literary flair to the Legislature, publishing a volume of poetry about prominent Statehouse personalities and a two-person stage play, “Save the Bees," about friendship between two lawmakers who are ideological opposites. The play inspired public readings and performances across New Mexico and beyond.

Tuesday's primary included the first state Senate election since redistricting in 2021 and held implications for Native American communities, the state’s oil industry and the #MeToo movement.

Native American candidates made inroads toward greater representation in the Legislature with victories in two closely watched Democratic primaries. District attorneys withstood primary challengers in crime-weary Albuquerque, as well as in Santa Fe, where special prosecutors are preparing to bring Alec Baldwin to trial in July on an involuntary manslaughter charge.

And Two Republicans who have stoked Donald Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 election won GOP nominations for state Senate, advancing to competitive general election contests.

Democratic voters in the Albuquerque district ousted state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying behavior that he disputed.

He was beaten by progressive challenger Heather Berghmans, who will compete in November against GOP contender Craig Degenhardt. The district extends from the intersection of Interstates 25 and 40 toward the city’s northeastern heights.

In House District 62, Republican contender Elaine Sena Cortez of Hobbs won a three-way primary to secure a seat in the heart of southeastern New Mexico’s oil economy currently held by petroleum engineer Larry Scott, with no Democratic competition in the general election. Scott won the decisive Republican nomination for an overlapping state Senate district, defeating recently appointed state Sen. Steve McCutcheon of Carlsbad.