State senators face stiff competition in New Mexico primary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An embattled state senator who was convicted of drunken driving lost his bid for the Democratic nomination in a northern New Mexico district Tuesday, as several longtime legislators who have resisted initiatives ranging from spending increases to the legalization of recreational marijuana faced stiff opposition from challengers.

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Sen. Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente was seeking a sixth term amid an uncertain political future after being convicted and jailed for driving drunk last year and ramming into a car at a stoplight in Española. He lost to Leo Jaramillo, a Rio Arriba County Commissioner and Española resident. Jaramillo also has acknowledged a drunken driving conviction more than 20 years ago.

Senate President Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, Senate finance committee leader John Arthur Smith of Deming and Clemente Sanchez of Grants all were locked in tight races as ballot counting stretched into Wednesday.

Sen. Gabriel Ramos of Silver City fell short Tuesday, losing his bid for the Democratic nomination to Siah Correa Hemphill. She was endorsed by the governor. Ramos had held the seat since 2019, when he was appointed to fill a vacant seat left by Lt. Gov. Howie Morales.

A small number of votes separated Papen and Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces. A member of the Senate since 2001, Papen — an advocate for mental health services — hadn't faced a primary opponent in years.

Smith trailed Neomi Martinez-Parra of Lordsburg, a former vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. Smith, a member of the Senate since 1989, arguably has been one of the Legislature's most influential voices on budget matters. He is known for keeping the state's spending in check.

Sanchez, chairman of a committee on corporate affairs, was narrowly trailing his challenger, retired teacher Pamela Cordova of Belen.

Muñoz defended his seat from Democrat Noreen Kelly of Church Rock.

The incumbent senators broke ranks with a majority of Democrats in 2019 to uphold the state’s dormant criminal ban on abortion. Critics also have said the incumbent Democrats helped to water down a House-approved version of the state’s 2019 minimum wage hike and have resisted efforts to spend more from a state education trust fund.

The primary coincides with New Mexico's first major steps toward reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, as a special legislative session looms on budget and economic recovery matters on June 18. The pandemic response is expected to quickly wipe out state reserves despite more than $1.2 billion in related federal assistance.

In the Republican primary, Sen. Gregg Fulfer of Jal lost his bid for the nomination in a southeastern New Mexico district to Rep. David Gallegos of Eunice.

State Republican Party officials have said they're positioning ahead of the general election to challenge Democrats in Albuquerque swing seats and on new fronts in Las Cruces and elsewhere.

Democrats hold a 46-24 majority in the state House and a 26-16 advantage in the Senate.