They gain 3 seats, Republicans lose 2 and 1 independent defeated
What might have been a history-making election for Republicans in New Mexico turned into one they would like to forget.
The GOP has not controlled the state House of Representatives for 60 years, but Gov. Susana Martinez and countless other Republicans predicted that this election would be their breakthrough.
Instead, Democrats strengthened their advantage in the House with a net gain of three seats. The Democrats’ advantage went from 36-33-1 to 39-31.
One of the Democrats’ pickups was in Los Alamos, where Stephanie Garcia Richard defeated Republican Jim Hall, an incumbent by appointment of the governor.
“Legislative races really are local politics that show how popular you are. And we saw Republicans lose the seat in Los Alamos that had been theirs for as long as I can remember,” said state Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup.
Democrats also unseated a man that Republicans often referred to as their star in the making, Rep. Conrad James of Albuquerque, right.
James, 38, stands 6-feet-5-inches tall and holds a Ph.D in physics from Cornell. He ran unopposed in 2010 when he won his House seat.
This time, Democrat Elizabeth Thomson defeated James in a close race. Redistricting dipped into James’ base. He had considered a run for the state Senate, but instead decided to try to hold onto his House seat.
In southern New Mexico, three Democrats in Dona Ana County defeated two incumbent Republicans and the only independent in the 112-member Legislature.
One of those elections was so close it seems headed for a recount.
Democrat Joanne J. Ferrary defeated freshman Rep. Terry McMillan of Las Cruces by 12 votes in a race that saw more than 12,300 people cast ballots. A spokesman for the secretary of state did not immediately respond to questions about whether the recount had been authorized, but it is within the margin for an automatic review.
Democrat Nate Cote ousted another freshman Republican, Ricky Little of Chaparral. Two years ago, it was Little who unseated Cote.
Cote said he won through hard work and partly because Little’s poor service to constituents angered even some Republicans.
Independent Rep. Andy Nunez of Hatch finished a distant third in a race won by Democrat Phillip M. Archuleta. Archuleta received about twice as many votes as Nunez, who rejected the governor’s proposal that he switch to the Republican Party.
Nunez had worked closely with Martinez to repeal the law that enables illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver licenses. But in this election, Martinez worked against Nunez, throwing her support to Republican Mike Tellez. Tellez finished second, 6 percentage points behind Archuleta.
Republicans picked up one House seat through redistricting changes and another when Sharon Clahchischilliage routed Democratic Rep. Ray Begaye of Shiprock.
Begaye, a seven-term House member from Shiprock, is under investigation by the state attorney general amid allegations that he billed taxpayers twice for one trip to Phoenix.
With her win, Clahchischilliage surprised Democrats such as Rep. Brian Egolf of Santa Fe.
“I am confident I will not have to learn how to pronounce her name,” Egolf said just before the election.
Now he does. It is pronounced Claw-chiss-chillage.
The Democrats’ gains make it likely that Rep. Ken Martinez will be the next speaker of the House of Representatives.
Martinez, right, of Grants, is the son of a former House speaker, Walter Martinez, who served in the 1970s.
Ken Martinez now is majority leader in the House. The sitting speaker, Ben Lujan of Santa Fe, is ill with lung cancer and did not seek re-election to a 20th term in the House of Representatives.
Before the election, Ken Martinez said Democrats would hold the House, in part because of what he called an outstanding group of women candidates.
In addition to Thomson, Democrat Emily Kane won a closel contested House seat.
An Albuquerque fire captain, Kane had to fight city government in court for the right to run for the Legislature.
She defeated Republican Christopher Saucedo. They were competing for an open seat that was held by Democrat Bill O'Neill, who ran for and won a Senate seat.