New Mexico Democrats vie for attorney general in primary election

Morgan Lee
Associated Press
A ballot drop box awaits deposits at an early voting center in Santa Fe, N.M., on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

SANTA FE – Democratic voters are deciding on a nominee for New Mexico attorney general as state prosecutors contend with a surge in urban gun violence, outside claims to scarce water supplies and concerns about pollution, consumer protection and political extremism.

Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raúl Torrez is running against State Auditor Brian Colón for the Democratic endorsement to succeed termed-out Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas. Absentee and early in-person voting are underway in advance of Election Day on Tuesday.

The winner will compete against Republican attorney and U.S. Marine veteran Jeremy Michael Gay of Gallup. Republicans have held the office only three times in New Mexico’s 110-year history as a state.

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Torrez, a second-term district attorney for the county encompassing Albuquerque, has portrayed himself as a seasoned courtroom attorney and prosecutor of crime and corruption.

He has pledged to expand the state’s capacity and expertise to handle consumer-rights litigation and prevail in a prolonged legal battle with Texas over management of Rio Grande waters amid a decades-long drought.

New Mexico state auditor-elect Brian Colón, right, delivers his acceptance speech in Albuquerque, N.M., Nov. 6, 2018. Colón is running against Albuquerque-based District Attorney Raúl Torrez for the Democratic endorsement to succeed termed-out Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Colón is seeking to follow in the footsteps of Balderas, who parlayed his work as state auditor into a successful bid for attorney general in 2014. The two previously worked at the same law firm.

Colón has emphasized his upbringing in an impoverished New Mexico family and his watchdog role as auditor reviewing local government finances and calling out misconduct by pubic officials — including Las Vegas ex-Mayor Tonita Gurule-Giron before her convictions of interfering in city contracts to benefit her boyfriend.

The campaign has cast new light on the current practice of hiring outside lawyers to represent New Mexico in complex consumer protection and class-action lawsuits.

Torrez has criticized Colón for accepting campaign contributions from law firms that could benefit from referrals. Colón defended the system as effective and has pledged a transparent process in selecting outside lawyers.

Torrez’s recent tenure as district attorney coincides with a crime crisis in Albuquerque, including a record-setting number of homicides in 2021.

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Torrez has sought unsuccessfully to roll back bail reforms that allowed judges to deny pre-trial release to dangerous defendants and release low-risk defendants who might remain in jail because they can’t afford bail bonds.

Both candidates have said they will support access to abortion, enforce state gun control provisions and confront political extremists who flout the law.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez speaks to a panel of New Mexico lawmakers during a meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., Sept. 27, 2017. Torrez is running against State Auditor Brian Colón for the Democratic endorsement to succeed termed-out Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas.

Torrez is prosecuting a right-wing militia that brought rifles and tactical gear to a 2020 protest in Albuquerque against a statue of Spanish conqueror Juan de Oñate.

Torrez previously served as as a federal prosecutor and senior adviser at the U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder during Barack Obama’s presidency. Colón is a former chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party.

Separately, five Republican candidates for governor are competing in Tuesday’s primary to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Democrats are also deciding on nominees in open races for state auditor and treasurer.

The primary will lock in nominees to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque and Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo.