Former Democrat and independent will run again for Legislature
Former state representative Andy Nunez, who quit the Democratic Party and said he would never become a Republican, reversed himself Tuesday.
Nunez, right, of Hatch in Dona Ana County, switched his voter registration from independent to Republican, and said he would run for his old seat in the House of Representatives next year.
Nunez, 77, was elected to the House as a Democrat six times between 2000 and 2010. He bolted the Democratic Party in January 2011 after feuding with the late House Speaker Ben Lujan, who stripped Nunez of his chairmanship of the Water and Natural Resources Committee.
Nunez then switched his registration to declined to state, making him independent of either major party.
Voters rejected Nunez last fall when he ran for re-election as an independent. He finished third, behind a Democrat and a Republican, in House District 36.
At a news conference at the Capitol Annex, Nunez said he wanted to return to the Legislature to work on water and agriculture issues. He said farmers and ranchers had urged him to run again, and he decided he should change to the Republican Party for the next election.
This is something Nunez said he would never do.
“I'll never become a Republican. I couldn't ever do that,” he said in an interview in January 2011.
A week later, Nunez switched his voter registration to declined to state. He was the only person in the 112-member Legislature who was an independent, and he said he relished being a caucus of one.
Nunez said he had changed his mind and embraced the Republican Party because Democrats in New Mexico were too extreme for his tastes.
“I really wasn’t ready to be a Republican (in 2011),” he said. “...There’s a new group of Democrats in there, and bunches of them are too far to the left.”
Asked for an example of far-left policies by Democrats, Nunez said 18 of them voted against the state budget this year, upset over teacher retirement programs and other education issues.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez aligned herself with Nunez in 2011 and ’12 when he carried a bill to repeal a 2003 law that enables immigrants in the country unlawfully to obtain a New Mexico driver’s license.
But Martinez and her political organizations campaigned against Nunez last year, siding with the Republican candidate. They criticized Nunez in ads, calling him soft on crime for voting to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico.
Nunez said he was confident Martinez would not oppose him again.
“All I can tell you is she’s not going to work against me,” he said.
Martinez’s press secretary, Enrique Knell, said the governor supported Nunez's decision to run for the House as a Republican.
"The governor worked well with Andy Nunez when he was in the Legislature, encouraged him to change parties for several years, and strongly supports his decision to run again for the House," Knell said in a statement.
Nunez said he did not expect Republican opposition for the District 36 nomination. He was quick to criticize Democrat Phillip Archuleta, who won the seat last year.
“I don’t care what Archuleta says because I don’t have much trust in him anyway,” Nunez said.
He said Archuleta, right, had been a supporter of Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Association and was out of step with agricultural interests.
Asked for a specific example of this, Nunez said: “I don’t want to give one right now.”
Archuleta, of Las Cruces, said in a telephone interview that Nunez allegations were wrong.
“I had respect for Cesar Chavez, but I was never involved with his organization,” Archuleta said. “I am working hard on water, conservation and agriculture issues.
Archuleta, 64, said that Nunez was an opportunist who again switched parties to help himself, not to serve the public.
“We beat him once. We might beat him again, if he ends up as the Republican candidate,” Archuleta said.
Nunez is the mayor of Hatch. He said this obligation would not interfere with his returning to the Legislature.
He regularly was at the Legislature during its 60-day session this year. He worked as the registered lobbyist for the Elephant Butte and Carlsbad irrigation districts.
He said he was undecided as to whether he would continue as a lobbyist in the 2014 legislative session, given that he is an announced candidate for the Legislature.
2012 ELECTION RESULTS, HOUSE DISTRICT 36
Phillip Archuleta, Democrat, 3,785 -- Elected
Mike Tellez, Republican, 3,295
Andy Nunez, Independent, 1,858