Michael Sanchez wins; Tim Jennings, in office since '79, is beaten
Gov. Susana Martinez’s bare-knuckles attempt to reshape the state Senate was partly successful.
Democratic Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell, in office since 1979, lost by a decisive margin to 27-year-old Cliff Pirtle.
But Martinez was unsuccessful in her effort to unseat Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, above left.
Sanchez opened up a sizable lead and never looked back in his race against state Rep. David Chavez. Chavez gave up his House seat to challenge to Sanchez, who otherwise might have been unopposed.
Martinez, through her political organizations, targeted both Sanchez and Jennings. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising were spent by Republican groups hoping to defeat them.
Jennings, 62, a conservative Democrat on most issues, nonetheless opposed Martinez in her attempt to repeal a law that enables illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver licenses. Pirtle stressed the licensing issue in his campaign, saying Jennings was out of step with the people he was supposed to represent.
Martinez probably wanted to defeat Sanchez, the most powerful senator, more than any other legislator.
Sanchez, 62, of Belen, sets the agenda for the Senate. He decides which bills will be heard on the floor.
“Michael is the Senate,” state Rep. Joseph Cervantes once said.
Martinez has accused Sanchez of blocking important bills, notably her attempt to mandate retentions of about 3,000 third-graders who scored poorly on reading tests.
For his part, Sanchez said Martinez was a politician who expected to get her own way in every instance.
She vetoed his bill to expunge records of the wrongly convicted and those found guilty of certain crimes. Chavez, 54, sided with Sanchez on the expungement bill, but he adopted more conservative positions during his campaign against Sanchez.
With Sanchez re-elected, Martinez faces the prospect of gridlock for her legislative agenda.
Pirtle, not yet born when Jennings went to the Senate, classifies himself as a staunch conservative. He began his political career with a challenge to Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, saying Pearce was not conservative enough.
Though Martinez went one for two on the high-profile Senate races, she is likely to see a few Republican pickups in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Mary Jane Garcia lost to Lee Cotter in Dona Ana County by a wide margin, ending a legislative career of nearly a quarter-century.
Another Democrat, Sen. Lisa Curtis, lost to Republican Mark Moores in Bernalillo County. Curtis was an incumbent by appointment.
Democrat Clemente Sanchez is headed to the Senate in a district stretching from Valencia to Cibola counties. He defeated Republican Vickie Perea, turning a close race into a blowout. Clemente Sanchez knocked out an incumbent senator, David Ulibarri, in the primary election.