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GOP chair: Party will take Legislature in 2020

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Daily Record file Photo Steve Pearce in the Roswell Daily Record conference room in July 2018 during his race for governor. Pearce, now chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said Thursday that he thinks the party will win control of one or both houses of the New Mexico Legislature in November. Democrats now have a 46-24 majority in the House and a 26-16 majority in the Senate.

Republicans will win control of one or both chambers of the New Mexico Legislature this November, the party’s state chairman predicted Thursday.

“I think that we will take either the House or the Senate and they are both in play as far as we can see,” Steve Pearce, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said during an interview with the Roswell Daily Record.

Of the 112 New Mexico House and Senate seats that will be on the ballot in November, Pearce said Republicans are fielding a candidate in 101. Normally, he added, the number of candidates the party has running in House or Senate races is somewhere in the mid-60s.

“So that tells me how much more enthusiasm we have,” he added.

Taking a majority in one or both chambers would mark a dramatic comeback for a party that incurred defeats in New Mexico up and down the ballot in the 2018 midterm elections. Pearce, who was then the Republican candidate for governor, lost by 14 points to Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Democrats also picked up eight seats in the state House that year. They now hold a 46-24 majority in the House. New Mexico senators were not on the ballot that year — they now have a 26 to 16 majority.

Pearce though said several conservative former registered Democratic voters, who have become disillusioned with their former party, have crossed over to vote — and in some cases run — as Republicans.

He said the party sees opportunities for gains in the Senate in seven districts where more moderate and conservative Democrats face progressive primary challengers.

“If progressives beat those conservative Democrats then I believe those seats will go to Republicans,” Pearce continued.

Pearce attributes those primary challenges to some Democratic senators to their vote in the 2019 Legislative session against House Bill 51, which would have repealed a decades old statute that makes performing most abortions a fourth degree felony in New Mexico.

The law became unenforceable in 1973 after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Eight Democrats joined with all 16 Republican senators to defeat House Bill 51, according to a roll call on the state Legislature’s website.

Seven of those senators face primary challengers. They are Pete Campos of Las Vegas in District 8, Richard Martinez of Espanola in District 5, George Munoz of Gallup in District 4, Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces in District 38, Gabriel Ramos of Silver City in District 28, Clemente Sanchez of Grants in Senate District 30 and John Arthur Smith of Deming in District 35, according to the the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website.

State Sen. Carlos Cisneros of Questa in District 6, the eighth Democratic vote against the bill, died last September.

Republicans have not held an outright majority in the Senate since 1932, according to records posted on the Legislature’s website. The party won control of the House in 2014 for the first time since 1952.

However, Democrats regained the majority in 2016.

In response to Pearce’s prediction, Marg Elliston, chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, said Democrats have fantastic candidates running in state Senate races and the primaries have spurred productive discussions about issues important to New Mexicans.

“We know Democrats are fired up and ready to keep New Mexico blue in 2020, and we are looking forward to uniting behind our nominees after the primary. Republicans are trying to ignore the clear message they’ve received from New Mexico voters, but in 2020 we expect to see more of the same enthusiasm that carried Democrats to victory in 2018,” Elliston said in a statement.

In the eight Chaves County legislative districts on the ballot in 2020, only two have Democratic candidates.

Kimble Lee Kearns, a member of the Village of Capitan Board of Trustees and vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Lincoln County, is hoping to unseat state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, in House District 59.

In Senate District 33, Democrat Denise Lang-Browne of La Luz is looking to win the seat now occupied by state Sen. Bill Burt, Alamogordo. Burt also faces a primary challenge from Christopher Hensley of Roswell.

State Reps. Phelps Anderson, R-Roswell, in House District 66; Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, in House District 57; House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia; and state Sens. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, in Senate District 32; Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs; and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, do not have any primary or general election opponent.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext, 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.