District 3 Congressional Race Heats Up (Part 1)

District 3 Congressional Race Heats Up

August March
8 min read
Ben Ray Lujan
Candidates are vying to replace Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in Congressional District 3 (courtesy house.gov)
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To the North lies District 3. An oddly shaped Congressional District that has seen its share of gerrymandering—especially in the past 10 years, when some of the southeastern part of the district was reassigned to Southern District 2—Congressional District 3 in the State of New Mexico includes Rio Rancho, hence our immediate interest in the district.

District 3 also includes a weird outcropping that has similar boundaries to the Santolina development project, Santa Ana Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo, a good chunk of the Navajo Nation and Algodones—but not the towns of Bernalillo or Placitas.

All of those latter, non-included areas are still in
District 1, an area that includes Albuquerque and is represented by Deb Haaland. The rest of The Land of Enchantment’s third congressional district includes the northern part of the state, from San Juan County in the far northwest to Clayton, N.M. in the far corner of Nuevo Mexico.

A Brief History

Since its creation in 1983, the Third Congressional District has been a Democratic stronghold. Today, registered Democrats outnumber their Republican cohorts in the district by a ratio of 2 to 1.

Bill Richardson was the first to hold the office of Representative from this heavily Hispanic and Native American district. A lone Republican—Bill Redmond—held the seat after former governor Richardson resigned to take an assignment as the US Ambassador to the United Nations in 1997.

Redmond lost the seat in the following 1998 general election, and since then, Democrats have ruled the roost. Democrat Tom Udall served until 1999, when he was elected to the Senate.

His successor was
Ben Ray Lujan, a stalwart member of the Democratic Party who, upon the announcement of Udall’s imminent retirement from the Senate, announced that he would like to follow in the Senator’s footsteps, declaring himself a candidate for US Senate and opening the district to an open election in the upcoming 2020 government horse race.

Lujan, a native of Nambe, N.M., has served dutifully in his years as the representative from District 3, generally voting along party lines He leaves a legacy of moderate Democratic successes that his successors aim to add to or alter, depending on their party and political proclivities.

Currently, 10 Democrats and 1 Republican are vying for District 3. Here, we take a look at the elephant and the top four donkeys in a crowded yet well-defined match.

The Lone Elephant

Republicans have had an awful time finding candidates that are electable in District 3. The last two elections cycles have seen disorganized and underfunded campaigns on the right from the unqualified likes of Jerald Steve McFall, a perennial candidate who has sometimes faced disqualification because of his habit of filing to run in several races at once.

This year is a bit different. As of press time,
one Republican has recently declared for the position, while another candidate—donkey turned elephant Brett Kokinadis—changed their mind and decided to run in District 1 instead. Of the switch, Kokinadis told NM Political Report, “It’s important that we show unity within the Republican party and have strong candidates in each race to offer voters an alternative to the reckless ultra-progressive agendas.”

His replacement of sorts in the District 3 contest is Farmington, N.M. millennial and avid Donald Trump supporter Audra Brown. The candidate recently participated in a “Cowboys for Trump” horse ride through Farmington and the adjacent area, kicking up dust and getting to wave a big old American flag in the process. She also told the local daily up north that she was a big fan of the Second Amendment, telling reporter Hanna Grover that, “I believe very much in the Constitution.”

Donkey Number One

Of course the name recognition contest in this battle of the wills on the Democratic side of the fence goes to Valerie Plame. Plame, as you may recall, is former CIA agent who was outed in 2003 and subsequently settled in Santa Fe.

Plame has repeatedly told the media that despite her roots and career outside New Mexico, no place but our state feels like home to her and that her main goal as a political novice—“I’m not a professional politician,”
she’s quoted as telling Amarillo teevee news reporter Lia Kamana—is to “be able to take that searing life experience [in the CIA] and turn it around and use it for good for the people of New Mexico.”

Plame’s platform is progressive: She advocates expanding Medicaid and Medicare to all citizens and the candidate also supports the Green New Deal.

As of press time, Plame is the funding leader in an almost overcrowded Democratic primary field. The Associated Press
reported that Plame raised nealy $240,000 in May and June. Further, many of those donations were from individuals who each donated $200 or less. That’s a lot of voters, and Plame has garnered national attention based on that fact alone. Notably, actor Bryan Cranston has endorsed Plame and also contributed to her campaign. This particular issue has caused at least one contender to cry foul, claiming that most of Plame’s contributors live out of state.

Donkey Number Two

Marco Serna, the District Attorney from Santa Fe,
is running for Ben Ray Lujan’s seat, using a platform that matches his long history of engagement with local issues during his service as Assistant Attorney General, and later as the Assistant District Attorney in both Sandoval and Valencia Counties.

Serna is running on the strength of his policy positions, which include addressing the opioid epidemic as a public health issue, legalizing marijuana, enacting comprehensive healthcare reform, increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour, creating a national paid family leave program, and distancing the state from the fossil fuel industry—as an economic measure, as well as for scientific and ethical reasons, too.

Serna also displays an attention to economic priorities that is well reasoned and well informed. The candidate favors tax breaks for small businesses and an end to tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and corporate interests ahead of working families.

Serna comes from a New Mexico political family: His father is longtime Democratic operative Eric Serna.

Democrat Number Three

Santa Fe Attorney
Teresa Leger Fernandez describes herself as “a daughter of Northern New Mexico.” A Yale alumna and a Stanford graduate as well, Fernandez has long been involved in community and tribal issues around the state.

Notably, Fernandez was part of the legal representation for a group of citizens that fought for—and ultimately saw implemented—ranked choice voting in Santa Fe’s last municipal election.

In fact, Fernandez’s wide-ranging and intensive experience in community service related and public policy-making positions distinguishes her in this crowded election to succeed Ben Ray Lujan.

She’s served on the boards of Homewise, Las Acequias de Chupadero, New Mexico Community Foundation and MALDEF, the Latino legal voice for civil rights in America. Yet despite these awesome credentials, the candidate has yet to define a specific platform or any policy initiatives she may take, opting to state instead, “I am running for Congress to take bold action because now is the time to act to protect all that you and I love.”

Donkey Number Four

Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya
entered the race for District 3 at the start of last month. Montoya, like Serna, comes from a political family. Her father was a Las Vegas, N.M. City Councilor and many of her immediate kin have held state positions throughout the years in El Norte.

Montoya has served on the New Mexico State Senate Finance Committee and also worked as a constituent services representative for now-retired US Senator Jeff Bingaman. The candidate wants her focus to be on economic development, behavioral health issues and improving access to quality healthcare for New Mexicans. And she also claims to be fiercely independent, telling the
Taos News recently, “I’m not taking money from pharmaceuticals, payday lenders, tobacco industry or corporate oil and gas,” she said. “And the reason for that is because I want to be able to go into D.C. and make sure that the priority is the people who I am supposed to represent and serve.”

Next week, we round out our early coverage of the District 3 Congressional election with a look at the remaining Democratic candidates: Rob Apodaca, Cameron Chick, Gavin Kaiser, Mark McDonald, Jaymeson Pegue and Joseph Sanchez.
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