Key Democratic New Mexico senator won't seek re-election

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Sen. John Sapien, a key moderate Democratic senator who represents a swing district outside of Albuquerque and who has been a champion for early childhood education, will not run for re-election.

Sapien told The Associated Press on Sunday he concluded during the current legislative session that it was time to retire as a state lawmaker. His current term ends this year.

The insurance salesman and financial adviser said he's entertaining new career options and thought long about whether to continue in the senate.

“A lot of career opportunities have presented themselves in recent weeks and I think I should pursue then,” Sapien said. “I was committed to re-election but I decided to go another route.”

Sapien has represented for 12 years a district that includes the affluent liberal areas of Placitas and Corrales, part of conservative Rio Rancho and Bernalillo — one of the poorest cities in the state.

As a state senator, Sapien helped secure around $300 million over 10 years for early childhood education programs and sided with moderate Democrats in western and southern New Mexico to hold spending. Sapien also signaled he didn't support the recently failed proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

Republicans have long targeted Sapien to flip the seat because the district is almost evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans. Sapien won his last two races by just around 1,000 votes. With Sapien out, the 9th District almost certainly will be the focus of both parties in 2020 amid looming battles over abortion, recreational marijuana and energy.

Sapien said he believed Democrats could keep the seat before redistricting. But he said the nominee would need to be a moderate Democrat.

“I am a pro-business, moderate Democrat, so any Democratic nominee would need to have a moderate sense,” Sapien said. “It's a middle-of-the-road district.”

Democrats hold a 26-16 edge over Republicans in the New Mexico Senate.

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