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Nibert, Burt win legislative races

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Two local legislators soundly won their bids for reelection Tuesday, trouncing their Democratic challengers and reaffirming southeastern New Mexico’s status as a Republican stronghold.

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, in House District 59, and state Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, in Senate District 33 handily won in their respective districts, each of which includes some parts of Chaves County. Both candidates were the only lawmakers in Chaves County’s eight-member all-Republican legislative delegation to have contested races.

With all 49 precincts reporting Wednesday, unofficial results posted on the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website showed Nibert winning 73% to Democrat Kimble Lee Kearns’ 27% in the race for House District 59, which is made up of parts of Chaves and Lincoln counties.

Nibert, an attorney and former member of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, was seeking a third two-year term. He expressed gratitude Wednesday to voters in the district for sending him back to Santa Fe in January for the 60-day legislative session.

“I guess it’s time to roll up my sleeves and do the hard work ahead because the state is in some unprecedented times and faces a number of challenges, but I am ready to get to work and tackle those issues and get us back on better footing,” Nibert said.

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Despite falling well short of victory, Kearns said he was proud of his Election Day showing.

“That’s 27% of my friends and neighbors who believe that the government in Santa Fe should be doing more for public education and for protecting our environment. Twenty-seven percent is good, the Democrats can build on that,” he said.

Kearns launched his campaign for the seat last year, strongly criticizing Nibert’s opposition to the increased education funding and legislation to transition New Mexico to a zero-carbon-producing economy.

The heavily rural district though is hospitable territory for conservatives. Information from the Secretary of State’s Office as of Oct. 30 shows that 58% of registered voters in the district identify as Republicans, compared to 22% as Democrats. Another 19% were registered as “other,” while the remaining 1% were Libertarians.

Now with the campaign behind him, Nibert said ahead of January’s 60-day legislative session, he hopes to work on advancing legislation that will limit the emergency powers of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham used to contain COVID-19.

In an interview with the Roswell Daily Record, Nibert said he has talked with some Democrats interested in legislation that would more clearly define the governor’s emergency powers and what role the Legislature would play in a situation.

“I am hopeful that a couple representatives, who’ve talked to me, mean what they said and we will be working on that legislation in the next couple months to see that we can come up with some good ideas,” Nibert said.

Nibert introduced such a bill during the special Legislative session in June. It would have limited the length of time the governor can invoke such emergency powers, and should the emergency last beyond that period, it would have to be done with the permission of the Legislature. The bill though was not taken up for consideration.

In Senate District 33, Burt also won reelection by a comfortable margin.

Burt, a radio station owner, won by a lopsided margin, his bid for a second term against Denise Lang-Browne, a Democrat from La Luz, in the Senate district which is comprised of parts of Chaves, Lincoln and Otero counties.

Unofficial election results from the Secretary of State’s Office showed Wednesday that with all 49 precincts reporting, Burt had outpaced Lang-Browne 69 to 31%.

“I am thrilled to death and I am looking forward to going back to work in Santa Fe for the people of District 33,” he said when called for reaction to his win.

Lang-Browne did not return calls for comment before press time Wednesday.

A member of the Senate Finance Committee, Burt said with oil and gas revenue down along with the amount collected in state taxes down, he and other lawmakers will have to look at ways to be more prudent in spending.

Republicans had hoped to retake control of one or both chambers of the Legislature, having fielded 101 candidates out of a combined 112 House and Senate seats.

However, Democrats have retained their majorities in both chambers. Democrats lost at least two seats, one to a Republican in House District 39 and another to an Independent in House District 12. Republicans also picked up one seat in the Senate.

Burt said the “Respect New Mexico” coordinated campaign is likely to be replicated by the party in future years.

“It is not going to be just a few candidates here and there. We are going to put up candidates in every race that we possibly can, we are going to put money into them, we are going to fight for every seat we have because we think there is a better way,” Burt said.

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

To keep up with coverage of this and other 2020 elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.