On day of chaos in Washington, a NM lawmaker announces effort to challenge electoral vote

In Washington, New Mexico's delegation shelters in place after mob storms Congress

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News

CARLSBAD – Hours before chaos erupted Wednesday in Washington, DC, New Mexico Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown announced that she planned to introduce legislation decertifying New Mexico's five electoral votes for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

The Carlsbad attorney has represented New Mexico's 55th House district since 2011.

Any such effort seemed doomed on procedural grounds, as a joint session of the U.S. Congress got underway in Washington to certify Biden's election as president. 

Neither Brown nor the state House Republican leadership responded to queries from the Las Cruces Sun-News.

While Congressional Republicans may slow the usually routine business of certifying the presidential election by challenging the electoral votes of certain states that Biden won, they do not appear to have enough votes to overturn the Nov. 3 election in which the Democrat defeated President Donald Trump. 

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On Tuesday, looking ahead to Wednesday's session, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat, told the Sun-News that efforts to overturn the 2020 election would inevitably fail. 

"The presidential election has been certified by Republican secretaries of state, by Republican governors and by Democratic (counterparts) in every one of our 50 states across the United States of America," he said, adding that "judges, including judges appointed by President Donald Trump, have rejected the president's attempts and those of his allies to subvert the will and the voice of the American people." 

The certification process came to a halt as crowds of the president's supporters stormed Congress, leading to multiple melees with reports emerging of gunfire, tear gas and violent scuffles. A woman was shot and killed, more than a dozen people were arrested, and a 6 p.m. curfew was imposed in Washington as the D.C. National Guard was activated.

New Mexico Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-55) speaks at the the annual WIPP Legislative Breakfast, Feb. 3, 2020 at the Hotel Santa Fe.

Yet with Congress ultimately expected to certify the election, Biden's inauguration is set for Jan. 20, while New Mexico's 2021 legislative session opens at noon on Jan. 19 — meaning Biden would be president before Brown's bill could even get a committee hearing. 

In a statement, Brown echoed baseless claims of election fraud in other states before attacking elections in her own state:

“In New Mexico, we have examples of foul play over multiple elections, specifically in Doña Ana County. I can tell you that New Mexicans are contacting lawmakers in record numbers and asking us to address the fraud.”

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Her statement also claimed that final vote tallies had been "manipulated" but she offered no evidence of any election fraud. 

Alex Curtas, a spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said such statements, echoing claims repeatedly made by Trump and his closest allies, were an example of self-affirming misinformation.

“Perhaps people are contacting certain Republican lawmakers about fraud," he said. "That doesn’t mean there was any fraud, it means too many people are seeing too much misinformation from the president on down.”

Effort to undo election likely moot

Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda López Askin said her office had conducted the election in accordance with the law as nearly 300 challengers and poll watchers as well as election officials including Democrats and Republicans participated in the process.

Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

She said that her office had received exactly one formal complaint about the election, and no inquiries from Brown. 

“There is a formal process in which individuals who have concerns about an election put them forth and that would be through my office, the Secretary of State's office, or if they don’t want to deal with those two entities, then the Attorney General," she said. "If people are genuinely concerned and have issues or have seen evidence of anything, they should file it."

"It’s shocking to me that people would so casually allege felony crimes of an elected official, because really that’s what they’re doing,” she added.

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Curtas confirmed that Brown's bill would not be procedurally viable. 

"The act of trying to decertify the duly cast electoral college votes from New Mexico, and silence the voices of the New Mexico voters who cast their ballots, has no basis in reality, legal or otherwise," he said. "The election is over. The electors cast their votes. Republican challenges have been heard by courts in New Mexico and all across the nation and have been decisively rejected."

New Mexico delegation takes cover 

That was shortly before reports emerged from Washington that Capitol security had been breached and angry Trump supporters smashed windows and climbed balconies to enter, forcing a lockdown as lawmakers were cleared from their chambers. 

Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda López Askin speaks to the county's board of commissioners during their meeting in Las Cruces, N.M. on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.

In the midst of vandalism, looting and violence in the Capitol building, a woman was shot and killed. 

All five members of New Mexico's delegation confirmed via Twitter posts that they were safely sheltering in their offices or undisclosed locations, and offered terse comments on the mayhem.

U.S. Rep Debra Haaland, a Democrat representing New Mexico's 1st congressional district and whom President-elect Biden has designated as his Interior Secretary nominee, posted a video saying she was sheltering in her office with a staff member. 

"I am here today to affirm the will of the people and to fulfill my constitutional duty, as are all of my colleagues," she added.

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Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat elected on Nov. 3 to represent New Mexico's 3rd congressional district, tweeted that she was safe and added, "Violent thugs encouraged by a desperate loser won’t get their way."

The lone Republican among New Mexico's members of Congress, Rep. Yvette Herrell from New Mexico's 2nd congressional district, also tweeted that she was safe. 

Herrell is among the House Republicans who had signaled that they would challenge the certification of Biden's electoral win in certain states, yet she denounced Wednesday's violence and disruption as "entirely unacceptable." She called on rioters to "allow Congress to continue its business as the Constitution requires."

Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol as smoke fills the corridor on Wednesday.

Like other members of the delegation, Herrell issued a statement thanking Capitol police officers, and added, "I condemn anyone who would endanger our men and women in law enforcement like this in the strongest terms." 

Meanwhile, the recently departed Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat who lost her bid for a second term to Herrell, wrote on Twitter, "This is not a peaceful protest — it is a riot." She called on the leadership of both parties to "immediately unite behind the results of a legitimate election." 

New Mexico's two U.S. Senators, Luján and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, took shelter in undisclosed locations, according to staff members. 

Photos: Rioters storm into U.S. Capitol

Jan. 3,2021 photo of Congresswoman Yvette Herrell, representing New Mexico's second district taken in the Longworth Building in Washington, D.C.

Heinrich subsequently tweeted: "This is not how we do things in America. Please know that we are not going to rest until we restore our Democracy. None of this insanity does anything to change the outcome of the election. When order is restored, we are going to go back and do our jobs and certify the election."

'We are a nation of laws, not anarchy'

As reports of violence in DC continued to come in, New Mexico Republicans responded with statements rejecting the chaos. 

In a terse statement, New Mexico GOP Chairman Steve Pearce wrote, "The Republican Party of New Mexico condemns the acts of violence happening at the U.S. Capitol. While we support the right for free speech and to demonstrate peacefully, such violence and threatening actions cannot be tolerated."

And the New Mexico House Republican leadership issued this statement: "New Mexico House Republicans condemn violence in any form. Our American values are important, our Constitution must be preserved and it is within each of our rights to peacefully protest, however violence is not acceptable."

In this Nov. 25, 2020, file photo provided by the New Mexico Office of the Governor, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs legislation at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, called the invasion of Congress "nothing less than domestic terrorism, enacted in an effort to overturn a free and fair election." She added that Trump "has stoked this anti-democracy sentiment. He has fanned flames of hatred and violence."

In their own response, New Mexico House Democrats stated, "We need leaders to speak with a unified voice and condemn any and all violence. We are a nation of laws, not anarchy. The 2020 election results represent the will of American and New Mexico voters. These actions of sedition must end.” 

Earlier this afternoon, Biden made a statement before reporters calling the riots an "insurrection" and calling on Trump to make a television appearance immediately telling his supporters to go home. 

Trump did that, via Twitter, in a brief video address urging crowds to disperse and observe "law and order" yet stating, once again, his false claim that the election "was stolen from us" and "fraudulent."

Twitter immediately blocked the video from replies or retweets "due to a risk of violence."

Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.