Tight race was not decided until early-morning hours

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FARMINGTON — Theresa Becenti-Aguilar defeated incumbent Lynda Lovejoy in the Public Regulation Commission District 4 primary election for the Democratic Party on Tuesday.

The close race kept candidates waiting for results. Becenti-Aguilar watched as election results came in until 1 a.m. today.

“I couldn’t stay awake anymore,” Becenti-Aguilar said when reached by phone this morning.

She had been campaigning all day and was in McKinley County right up until 7 p.m. Tuesday when the polls closed. Becenti-Aguilar took nothing for granted on election day, as she was still handing out brochures at 5 p.m. 18 miles north of Gallup after spending campaign time around San Juan County.

At 3:30 a.m., Becenti-Aguilar received a text message from a friend telling her the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office website had placed a check mark next to her name, indicating she had won the primary election.

Becenti-Aguilar received 9,080 of the 25,960 votes in the race, according to unofficial results.

Lovejoy received 8,683 votes, and political newcomer Janene Yazzie received 8,197 votes.

The results came close to triggering an automatic recount. The trigger is when the two top candidates are within 1 percent of each other, Secretary of State’s Office spokesperson Joey Keefe said.

While the incumbent Lovejoy took an early lead, the candidates were within about 3 points of each other in statewide numbers as returns slowly arrived. Locally, Lovejoy enjoyed a clear lead, holding at least 41 percent of San Juan County’s vote through much of the late returns.

The tight race was not all together unexpected.

“I knew that it would be very close when I submitted my name as a candidate, and I knew I would have to work extra hard, which I did,” Becenti-Aguilar said.

PRC races can be fiercely contested, as the commission oversees important regulatory issues. The PRC will be the entity that ultimately decides if the Public Service Company of New Mexico can shutter the San Juan Generating Station. It also approves utility rates for certain utilities, regulates telecommunication companies, and provides oversight of taxi and ambulance services.

PRC members are some of the higher-paid elected officials in the state and can make $90,000 annually.

As the hour approached when the polls closed, one candidate was heading to an event, another was still campaigning and the incumbent was heading home to wait for returns.

Lovejoy was out and about on Election Day and planned a Tuesday evening at home awaiting returns.

“I’m asking every voter to support me,” she said before getting back to campaigning.

Yazzie spent the final days of her campaign visiting areas in the district, including Farmington, before heading to Albuquerque for an election night event.

Either way, she said before results came in, “we feel like winners.”

That, she said, is because a lot of people noticed the PRC race this year.

Becenti-Aguilar will run unopposed in the fall for a seat on the regulatory panel that represents northwest New Mexico unless an independent challenger appears on the June 28 filing date.

Lovejoy reprised a 2014 race against opponent Becenti-Aguilar, whom she had vanquished in the 2014 primary.  Becenti-Aguilar had served on the PRC from July 2010 until December 2014.

But a new element in this race was Yazzie, who collected more cash than her opponents but came under fire from negative ads as the campaign drew to a close. The ads were funded by the New Mexicans for Progress political action committee, which received $440,000 in donations from PNM Resources Inc., which owns the Public Service Company of New Mexico.

Yazzie addressed the subject of those negative ads by saying, “I’m just glad we got them to work a little bit harder than they’re used to.”

Becenti-Aguilar addressed the issue when reached by phone today.

She said Yazzie received financial support from environmental advocacy groups, and New Mexicans for Progress supported Lovejoy through ads.

“I did not ask for any contributions from the industries,” she said. “I did not ask for any contributions from the environmentalists.”

Becenti-Aguilar said she loaned herself funds and worked hard campaigning throughout northwest New Mexico.

She said voters should know they have the strongest voice in the election process. She said industries and environmentalists will try to influence elections.

“The voters listened to me,” Becenti-Aguilar said. “They heard my voice.”

John Moses is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4624 or jmoses@daily-times.com

Reporter Hannah Grover contributed to this report.

 

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