Teresa Leger Fernandez will be the first woman to represent Congressional District 3
AZTEC — Teresa Leger Fernandez woke to what she described as a beautiful sunrise and a good omen on Election Day, but the Democratic Party's candidate for Congressional District 3 knew that she still had work in front of her.
After 18 months of campaigning, Nov. 3 was the day that would show if her efforts paid off. She spent the day calling voters and waved to voters as they headed out to cast their ballots.
That hard work paid off in the end and Leger Fernandez made history with her victory.
"It was so emotional to actually realize that I am going to be going to Congress," she said during a virtual Democratic Party watch party.
The first-time politician faced Republican Party candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson, an environmental engineer who works in the oil and natural gas industry. The two candidates both hoped to be the first woman elected to the seat that is currently held by Rep. Ben Ray Luján. Luján chose to seek election to the U.S. Senate seat that is being vacated by Sen. Tom Udall. Luján was declared the winner of the Senate race on Nov. 3.
The Congressional District 3 tends to lean toward the left and Republicans have only held the seat once in the past.
As polls closed and results began to come in, Leger Fernandez took the lead in the race. Shortly after 8 p.m., she held a lead with 55,533 votes compared to Johnson's 47,142. That lead only widened as the evening progressed. Unofficial results available on Nov. 4 showed Leger Fernandez receiving 178,242 votes, or 58% of the votes, while Johnson received 129,305.
Johnson's campaign issued a brief statement late Nov. 3 thanking voters for their support and congratulating Leger Fernandez on her victory.
Leger Fernandez said if she is elected she will represent all northern New Mexico residents. She described a vote as a show of trust and she said she will work to win the trust of those who did not vote for her.
"We must honor every single voter in every single community," she said while speaking with The Daily Times prior to polls closing. "It's a very diverse community and a very diverse district. It's a beautiful district. I love this district."
She added that she has lived, spent time in or has family in much of the district.
The vast district encompasses more than a dozen counties in the northern half of the state.
Leger Fernandez had strong leads in Rio Arriba, Taos, Los Alamos, McKinley, Santa Fe, San Miguel and Mora counties while she etched out a narrow lead in Sandoval County with 52% of those votes.
Meanwhile, Johnson led in Quay, Curry, Harding, Union, Colfax and San Juan counties. In San Juan County, which has long been a Republican stronghold in the district, Johnson received 65% of the votes.
Leger Fernandez is a progressive Democrat who supports a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. She said one way she would earn the trust of conservative constituents and ensure they feel like their voice is being heard is by focusing on areas of bipartisan agreement, such as the need for infrastructure investment. In the Farmington area, she said that infrastructure could mean a railroad spur connecting to the Gallup area, which would drive economic development.
In the last stage of the election cycle, the U.S. Supreme Court became a focal point following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to fill that seat. This led to discussions that the Democratic Party could move to increase the number of justices on the high court if it won the majority in Congress.
Leger Fernandez was not ready to back such a measure on Election Day, but said the entire federal judiciary needs a review as it faces high case loads.
The newly-elected congresswoman also has a vision for what a COVID-19 relief bill should look like. She said it should including funding for infrastructure as well as support for tribal, local and state governments that have born the majority of the effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The bill, she said, should also provide funding to assist small business and continue paycheck protection.
At the same time, Leger Fernandez said a recovery bill should also be funding that includes measures to make the country more resilient and more prepared for future pandemics.
"We want to be transformative," she said. "We want to fund those things that we know we need to have a more vibrant future, a diversified economy, a more healthy economy. So I want to look in 2021 at saying what do we need to do so that we are more resilient, that we solve the problem that we have now and that we make ourselves stronger...We're going to have crises coming at us, so we make ourselves stronger so we can withstand the next crisis."
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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