Jeremy Gay, left, and Raul Torrez
Copyright © 2022
SANTA FE – It’s been 32 years since New Mexico last had a Republican attorney general, as four different Democrats have served as the state’s top prosecutor since Hal Stratton held the job from 1987 through 1990.
Political newcomer Jeremy Gay of Gallup is trying to end that trend by defeating Democrat Raúl Torrez in next month’s general election, though he faces a fundraising disadvantage and the challenge of trying to win enough crossover votes in a state in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans.
As a Bernalillo County District Attorney for the last six years, Torrez also likely has a name recognition advantage over his GOP opponent, but Gay says that can cut both ways amid a recent rise in violent crime rates.
“Raúl Torrez is in the best position to divert these trends we’re seeing,” Gay said in an interview, referring to crime in the Albuquerque metro area in particular. “He took some hard-line, bold policies that were experimental in nature and they didn’t work.”
Specifically, he said Torrez’s decision to focus on criminal defendants deemed most dangerous and not prosecute some other cases referred by law enforcement has backfired, including in the case of Muhammad Syed, an Afghan refugee who is accused of murdering three Muslim men.
But Torrez, who won a hard-fought June primary race against fellow Democrat Brian Colón, has defended his record and says his experience as both a federal and state-level prosecutor sets him apart in the race.
Q&A: Attorney general candidate Raúl Torrez
NAME: Raúl Torrez POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic OCCUPATION: District attorney CITY OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque RELEVANT EXPERIENCE:…
Sep 20, 2022 9:04AM
Q&A: Attorney general candidate Jeremy Gay
NAME: Jeremy Gay POLITICAL PARTY: Republican OCCUPATION: Attorney CITY OF RESIDENCE: Gallup RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: As…
Sep 20, 2022 9:04AM
“What voters I think recognize is I understand the mechanics of the system, including below the water line,” Torrez said.
He also said he would push for increased funding for the Attorney General’s office, which is receiving $14.3 million in state funding this year, to hire more experienced lawyers for the agency’s Consumer Protection Division.
Such an increase in funding would allow for more in-house legal work – though Torrez said he would still consider outsourcing some cases – that could boost the size of settlements recovered by the state.
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“This is an investment that would actually return more money to the state,” Torrez told the Journal.
The $95,000-per-year job is open because current Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, is wrapping up his second term and is barred by the state Constitution from seeking reelection to a third straight term.
Balderas backed Colón, who is currently state auditor, during the primary election, but Torrez prevailed by about 9,600 votes.
While Gay said some Colón supporters are now backing his campaign, Colón said this week he endorsed Torrez “wholeheartedly” the day after the June primary election.
After the field was set, Gay faced a Democratic-backed lawsuit in September that claimed he did not meet a constitutional requirement that candidates must reside in New Mexico for at least five years before an election.
A state judge rejected the challenge, saying it was filed too late in the process and would disenfranchise GOP voters, but Gay said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit.
“We were grateful for the publicity and we weren’t sweating it,” said Gay, who added he expected the court challenge to be filed.
A former US Marine Corps advocate judge who has a contract with the city of Gallup to represent indigenous clients, Gay has called New Mexico home since 2014, according to his campaign. But he left the state while on active duty and has been in the reserves with the Marines since 2010.
If elected, Gay would be the state’s first African American attorney general. While he said he would take an aggressive approach to crime, he also said he would work to expand substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, saying, “It’s not just about putting everyone in jail.”
For his part, Torrez said he would seek to enshrine protections in state law for women and girls coming to New Mexico from other states for abortion services in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a landmark 1973 case and allow states to enact their own laws on abortion.
He also said he would continue his push for changes to the state’s pretrial detention laws, which were broadened after statewide voters approved a 2016 constitutional amendment overhauling New Mexico’s cash bond system.
A proposal to make it easier to keep individuals accused of certain violent crimes behind bars until trial stalled during this year’s legislative session, with critics questioning the policy’s legality and arguing it could disproportionately affect minority communities, including transgender individuals.
But Torrez said the tide is turning, due largely to growing public frustration with high crime rates.
“Right now, we haven’t had the votes within my own party, but things are changing,” Torrez said. “People are sick and tired of it. I’m sick and tired of it. I know that we’re able to fix this challenge.”
Torrez has outraised Gay significantly in the race, having reported more than $1.8 million in contributions – compared to about $425,000 for Gay. Gay also loaned $10,500 to his own campaign in April, but later paid back all but $500 of the loan.