Two challenges vie for Romero's House District 46 seat

·4 min read

May 21—Rep. Andrea Romero, who already has served two terms in the House of Representatives, wants to keep the job. But she faces two fellow Democrats anxious to take her seat in the District 46 primary.

One is Henry Roybal, who has served as a Santa Fe County commissioner for eight years and has considerable name recognition. The other is political newcomer Ryan Salazar, who, like Roybal, is a contract management employee at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Not surprisingly, Romero and Roybal are emphasizing their experience in political office as a plus while Salazar is stressing his role as an outsider running a grassroots campaign with little funding. The winner of the June 7 primary election will face Republican Jay Groseclose, who does not face an opponent in the primary.

Romero, 35, just graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law and plans to move into a career in civil litigation. She was one of the main proponents of legalizing recreational cannabis last year. She has pushed for — though not always successfully — more affordable housing and funding for acequia systems.

She said she is the best candidate for the House seat because "experience is an advantage. It is a challenge to learn the ropes and figure out how to be effective in our legislative chambers."

She said if reelected she wants to work on strengthening the state's water management policies, codifying reproductive health rights in state statute and funneling some of the incoming cannabis industry revenue into behavioral and mental health programs.

Roybal, 52, said the District 1 zone he serves as county commissioner is almost identical to the lines encompassing House 46 District.

"I've served this same constituency for eight years," he said.

Among other legislative goals, Roybal said if elected to the House he would push for more Local Economic Development Act funds to help both businesses and contractors who want to build affordable housing. Noting he has supported behavioral and mental health facilities in the county, he said he'd advocate for more funding for those facilities and work to create a mobile unit that can bring those services into communities that may not have them.

Recently Roybal has recently seen ads targeting him as either a "corporate Democrat" or a Republican. He said such accusations are "dishonest."

Romero, meanwhile, was the target of ads paid for by the NRA Political Victory Fund, a political action committee, asking voters to "defeat anti-gun" candidate Romero.

State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat and chairwoman of the influential House Appropriations and Finance Committee, donated $1,000 to Roybal's campaign. The donation is seen by some as a larger rift between moderate and progressive forces in the House.

Romero shrugged off Lundstrom's support of her opponent.

"Everyone can give to who they like," she said. "I am hopeful I can gain support around our district. I don't serve Rep. Lundstrom, I serve the people of House District 46."

Romero has raised about $62,000 and spent about $20,000 of that in campaigning, according to Secretary of State campaign finance reports. Roybal has raised more than $33,000 and spent close to $9,000.

Among other initiatives, Salazar — who has raised and spent about $1,000, according to campaign finance report data — also wants to find a way to create more affordable housing for New Mexicans. He said he would like to see the state adopt a program similar to Maryland's Smartbuy 3.0 program, which allows residents with student debt to purchase homes through a state mortgage program.

Like Romero and Roybal, he also feels water conservation issues need to be at the forefront of legislators' priority lists, as well as more support for behavioral and mental health services. He said more can be done to make police officers allies of the community while dealing with crime and helping those suffering from behavioral and mental health problems.

District 46 covers three pueblos, Hispanic-dominated rural communities and fast-gentrifying urban neighborhoods. It weaves through the entire northern end of Santa Fe County, part of Española and over to the small communities of Cundiyo and Chimayó. It also stretches as far south as Cerrillos Road and as far east as the Railyard.