New Mexico, Doña Ana County primaries simplified after 36 candidates withdraw or are disqualified

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – Several New Mexico primary contests statewide were pared down Tuesday as 36 candidates were either disqualified or withdrew from the June 7 nominating contests.

Tuesday was the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the primaries, and 18 did just that across the state, including three in Doña Ana County, which the County Clerk's Office said was "more than we have seen based on recent memory."

Former Chaparral state Rep. Rick Little, a Republican, withdrew from what might have been his fourth election contest against Democrat Willie Madrid. Madrid ousted Little in the 2018 election to represent District 53, which straddles Doña Ana and Otero counties. 

Little, who owns a business in Chaparral and is active with the local community development association, said, "I've got other things I need to get done," and while he enjoyed his time in office, "I put in enough time. … I was happy to serve the state of New Mexico." 

His withdrawal leaves fellow Republican Elizabeth Winterrowd unopposed in the primary, positioning her to run against Madrid in the November election. 

Former state Rep. Rick Little of Chaparral attended a rally against the Extreme Risk Firearm Protection Order bill outside the New Mexico Capitol building on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.

A four-way Democratic primary for a seat on New Mexico's Third District Court in Las Cruces was pared down to two after a candidate was disqualified and another, former Doña Ana County Magistrate Judge Jeanne Quintero, withdrew. That leaves Robert Lara and Jessica Streeter on the ballot. 

Disqualifications winnow primary fields

Among statewide contests, the state Libertarian Party (which holds major party status in New Mexico) saw its primary field for governor narrowed by the withdrawal of Tim Walsh, leaving former Republican Karen Bedonie and write-in candidate Ginger Grider seeking the Libertarian nod to challenge Democratic incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Las Cruces Republican Isabella Solis, a former Democrat who served on the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners from 2016 to 2020, was disqualified from the GOP primary for lieutenant governor, along with Patrick Lyons and Anastacia Morper. Solis could not be reached for comment 

That leaves Republicans Peggy Muller-Aragon of Albuquerque and Ant Thornton of Sandia Park to challenge sitting Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, a Silver City Democrat seeking his second term. 

Voting takes place at the Las Cruces City Hall on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

To appear on the ballot, candidates must have their certificate of registration, declaration of candidacy and nominating petitions in order. Candidates may be disqualified for failing to submit the required number of valid signatures or other issues with their nominating petitions. They may also be disqualified for failing to file a financial disclosure notice if running for statewide office or the legislature. 

Valid signatures for primary candidacies are from registered voters in the district or county relevant to the office the candidate is seeking and who belong to the candidate's political party. The voters must sign (in blue or black ink) and then print the name and address as they are registered and they may only sign one candidate's petition for the office. 

Other details, such as not including the relevant district or division number in the description of the office being sought, can invalidate an entire petition. 

Candidacies challenged in court

That's what happened to Democratic primary candidate Mick I.R. Gutierrez, a local attorney and former prosecutor who was knocked off the primary ballot for a seat on the district court bench after his nomination petitions were challenged in court in March. 

Gutierrez submitted petitions describing the office as "Third Judicial District Judge" instead of "District Court Judge Division 2." Under election law, that was enough for a judge to throw out all 47 pages of his petition. The court complaint also challenged individual signatures, but the allegations were not heard once the entire document was declared invalid.

A contentious disqualification for statewide office took place in March after the New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver's office barred former State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn from entering the Republican primary because he did not first compete at the state GOP's pre-primary convention in February. 

Aubrey Dunn, who served as New Mexico's public lands commissioner from 2015 through 2018, holds a news conference near the Santa Teresa, N.M. Port of Entry on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.

Had Dunn entered his name there and failed to earn sufficient pre-primary delegate support, he could then submit the required number of signatures to qualify for the ballot anyway, the office ruled. 

Dunn, who served in the office from 2015 through 2018, sued the Secretary of State's Office last month, but a state district judge ruled on Monday that the office was following election law properly. 

That leaves Republican Jefferson Byrd, a Tucumcari rancher who sits on the state Public Regulation Commission, as the lone primary candidate and presumptive challenger to Democratic public lands commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard. 

'I'm not going to cry about it'

Two more Republicans withdrew or were disqualified from primaries for local office.

Ronnie Sisneros' disqualification from a state legislative primary leaves fellow Las Crucen Rene Rodriguez in an uncontested primary to challenge state Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, in November. 

Ronnie Sisneros of Las Cruces, N.M. was disqualified from the 2022 Republican primary for a seat in the New Mexico Legislature.

Sisneros, who ran for Las Cruces City Council last year, said he had hoped to add a conservative Hispanic voice to Santa Fe, but was disqualified because eight pages of his petitions did not precisely describe the office he was seeking: He had written "New Mexico House District 37" atop the page instead of "New Mexico House Representative, District 37." 

He expressed frustration that the problem had not been caught by the County Clerk's Office and brought to his attention, saying he was notified of his disqualification by the Secretary of State's Office. He had 10 days to challenge the disqualification, but said that would have required a costly court case.

"I don't have the resources to do that," he said. "It's very disappointing … but I'm not going to cry about it." He also hinted it might not be his last bid for office. 

Janice Williams was the only Republican to declare a run for the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners in District 1, challenging a seat currently held by Democrat Lynn Ellins, but she withdrew her candidacy. 

Williams, a previous school board candidate, said unforeseen family circumstances required her to drop her primary bid. 

Ellins is facing a three-way primary to keep his seat, with fellow Democrats Christopher Schaljo-Hernandez and Emma Johnson Ortiz challenging him.

New Mexico's primary elections are on June 7 and the general election is on Nov. 8.

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