House 41 race pits incumbent against businessman

·4 min read

May 22—Four years ago, the former CEO of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation defeated a longtime political incumbent in the Democratic primary race for state House District 41.

Now, as she seeks her third two-year term in office, Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, says she remains the best candidate for the job as fellow Democrat Marlo Martinez, a former three-term probate judge, challenges her for the seat.

"I think I've done the things I said I would do," Herrera, 74, said in a recent interview. "I said I would work on educational reform, water reform, predatory lending reform — and I did."

Martinez, 64, is an Española native who has run a family office supply store there since the late 1970s. He said he has spent his life serving his community — either in the probate system or as a businessman.

"As a small-business owner, we were responsible and accountable for every action. We were not subsidized," he said of his family business, which his father started in the late 1950s. "We had to get customers, take care of customers, manage our cash flow and all of this stuff to run a business. That experience did a lot of good for me in my career."

House District 41 represents about 30,000 people in several counties, including Rio Arriba, Taos and Los Alamos.

In a decisive June 2018 victory, Herrera, who has long championed educational initiatives, beat then Democratic Rep. Debbie Rodella. Herrera did not face a Democratic opponent in the 2020 election.

This year's primary race drew attention when Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, contributed $1,000 to Martinez's campaign, a move that came as a surprise to many of her colleagues.

Lundstrom, who is chairwoman of the influential House Appropriations and Finance Committee, told the Albuquerque Journal her decision was not personal, but she was disappointed in some Democratic lawmakers' lack of support for a bill she introduced that would have helped boost a hydrogen industry in New Mexico.

Herrera said she thought Lundstrom's move was a mistake but said Lundstrom has since donated $500 to her campaign. "I'm grateful for that. That says a lot," Herrera said, adding the considered the contribution "a good luck charm."

Martinez said he had never met Lundstrom before she gave him the $1,000. "But her being madam chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee — that was a pleasant surprise, and I'm happy to have her support," he said.

Both candidates believe rural water and acequia systems need more financial support. Both also want to bring more money to Rio Arriba to help support youth and substance abuse programs.

Herrera said she already is working with other lawmakers on a bill that would create a central board of professionals to oversee the state's regional water systems. She's also drafting a bill to transform the "citizen Legislature" — in which lawmakers don't receive pay for their work — into a paid body of lawmakers.

"I think the days of the volunteer Legislature are over," she said.

Martinez — who said he also supports pay for legislators — said if elected, he would prioritize funding to pay local police officers more money and provide them with more training and professional development opportunities.

As the state began sending tax rebates to residents last week — a financial relief measure initiated by the Legislature and supported by Herrera during a special session this year — Martinez said he wishes the state had found better ways to use that money, such as providing more capital outlay to counties like Rio Arriba, for road repairs and other infrastructure improvements.

Instead, he said, New Mexicans will get "$500 for a Sam's Club run."

If money matters in this race, Herrera has an edge with over $72,000 raised, according to campaign finance data from the Secretary of State's Office. She has spent about half of that — roughly $35,699.

Martinez's campaign finance report could not be accessed online Wednesday. He said he has about $12,000 in the bank.

While he acknowledged his funding gap, he said his service as probate judge has given him "name recognition" in the community.