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SANTA FE – One of this year’s most closely-watched state House primary races is playing out in northern New Mexico’s House District 40, where incumbent Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Velarde, is facing a challenge from ex-state lawmaker Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde .
The race is one of several contests featuring more moderate Democrats targeting progressive Democrats who have won election in recent years.
It’s also one of three state house contests this year featuring an ex-lawmaker trying to win a second stint in the legislature. But it’s the only one of those races in which the ex-legislator is taking on an incumbent of his own party in the primary election.
Sanchez, an engineer who served in the House from 2019 through 2020 before launching an unsuccessful bid for Congress, said the Legislature has “gone too far left” in recent election cycles that have featured large amounts of out-of-state funding pouring into state races.
“We need to restore some sort of balance in the Legislature,” he told the Journal. “I think the Democrats need to be more pro-business.”
Among other policies, he supports New Mexico pursuing federal funding for hydrogen energy development, even though a bill backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that would have set up a hydrogen energy framework was rebuffed during this year’s 30-day session by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
In contrast, Montoya has described hydrogen as a “false solution” and says New Mexico – and his largely rural house district – needs to take a more holistic approach to health and well-being.
Since being elected in 2020, he has focused on infrastructure improvements, including broadband expansion, in rural parts of the state.
“I am now a political leader, but I see myself much more as a community leader and social worker, and above all else an artist,” Montoya said in explaining his approach to being a legislator.
This year’s race has been marked in part by hard-hitting attack mailers from an independent political committee that have targeted Montoya’s past work in adult films several decades ago.
While Montoya said he expected such attacks, he described them as a “desperate ploy.”
“As an openly gay, HIV-positive man, I have experienced far worse,” Montoya added.
As for Sanchez, he has sought to distance himself from the mailers sent by Working Together New Mexico PAC, saying in a statement he does not condone the attacks.
“I want my record to speak for itself,” Sanchez added in an interview.
Both candidates have raised significant amounts of campaign cash.
Montoya has raised $63,955 for his reelection campaign, with contributions from US Interior Secretary and ex-New Mexico congresswoman Deb Haaland, House Democratic floor leader Javier Martinez of Albuquerque and Rep. Gail Chasey, among others.
For his part, Sanchez has raised $66,775 for his bid to win back his old seat, with hefty donations from oil giant Chevron, Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairwoman Patricia Lundstrom and former state Rep. Debbie Rodella of Española.
The winner of the June 7 primary election will face Republican Jerald Steve McFall of Angel Fire in the November general election. But no Republican has held the seat in the last 50 years.
The House District 40 seat, after being slightly redrawn during redistricting, stretches from Raton to Española and encompasses most of the burn area of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak wildfire complex that has now grown to more than 311,000 acres and forced thousands of residents to evacuate their homes.