I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
A Rawson loss appears increasingly likely
LAS CRUCES — With all votes counted except whatever provisional ballots are deemed valid, it appears increasingly likely that state Senate Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson is going to lose, and that could mean a shift in the balance of power in Santa Fe.
Democratic challenger Steve Fischmann currently has a 505-vote lead over Rawson, a Las Cruces Republican. Fischmann has 12,853 votes, or 51 percent, to Rawson’s 12,348 votes, or 49 percent.
That led Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, to call Fischmann a senator-elect in a news release, and for Gov. Bill Richardson to call him a newly elected lawmaker in a statement released by his office. But Fischmann said he’s not ready to declare victory.
“We’re feeling very good about the numbers, but I’m a pretty cautious guy, so I’m not declaring anything,” Fischmann said. “We’ll see how the process goes, but it sure looks like it’s rolling in my favor.”
Rawson, who has served in the Senate since 1987, has not responded to requests for comment. Fischmann said he has not heard from Rawson.
Doña Ana County spokesman Jess Williams said the elections supervisor told him there are approximately 2,100 provisional ballots countywide to be considered, and Fischmann said there are eight provisional ballots from the one precinct in Sierra County that is located in the Senate district.
Williams said Doña Ana County won’t start sorting its provisional ballots and know how many are relevant to the Rawson/Fischmann race until Thursday.
One other potential factor is Doña Ana County’s absentee ballot snafu. The county didn’t comply during the election cycle with a law requiring that absentee ballots be mailed out within 24 hours of the office receiving requests for the ballots and, as of Tuesday morning, 3,844 people who had requested absentee ballots had not yet voted.
Williams said he doesn’t have updated numbers on how many who requested absentee ballots didn’t vote in the election. Rawson and others raised concerns in the days leading up to the election about would-be voters being disenfranchised by the situation.
But it’s not clear that provisional ballots or would-be absentee voters would help Rawson. Historically, Democrats have tended to grab the lion’s share of provisional ballots. And, statewide, absentee ballots tended to swing to Democrats in this election. In this race, 1,523 absentee ballots that were cast went to Fischmann, while 1,154 went to Rawson.
A change in leadership?
Rawson is one of two Republican senators trailing in close races. Sen. Steve Komadina of Corrales is also on the ropes, trailing John Sapien by 53 votes. In addition, Republican Sen. Diane Snyder of Albuquerque was defeated by Democrat Tim Eichenberg on Tuesday. While there are currently 24 Democrats and 18 Republicans in the state Senate, that could shift to 27-15 if Sapien and Fischmann hold on to win.
Which could have big implications for the Senate’s leadership. The president pro tem of the Senate, Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, upset many Democrats last week when he denounced in a robocall negative attacks against Rawson. Jennings pointed out that he didn’t endorse Rawson, but Richardson and others accused him of breaking a pledge to back Fischmann.
Jennings is one of a handful of Democratic senators who often band together with Republicans to form a coalition that has kept the governor in check for the last two years. Insiders have said primary losses by two conservative Democrats to progressive challengers in June, coupled with losses by Republican senators on Tuesday, could lead to an overthrow of the Senate’s leadership and a new, more governor-friendly Senate in January.
Richardson, in decrying Jennings’ robocall, said earlier this week that the senator was trying to protect his leadership position. Jennings said at the time that he opposes negative campaigning and, as the Senate’s leader, was doing what he would for any member — Democrat or Republican — who was unfairly attacked. He said he’s been at odds with the governor before, and if he has to be “in the dog house” again, so be it.
Sanchez, in today’s interview, said he doesn’t know what will happen to Jennings’ leadership position.
“I certainly wish he would have talked to us about (the robocall) before he did it, but he didn’t,” Sanchez said. “… I’m sure those things will be talked about in caucus.”
Sanchez, who backed Fischmann and contributed financially to his campaign, said he feels good about the “dramatic swing” in the Senate based on Tuesday’s results.
Richardson, in the statement from his office, agreed.
“I look forward to working with Steve Fischmann and other newly elected legislators,” the governor said. “I see an opportunity to engage in honest dialogue and once again break the gridlock that has plagued our progress on a few very important issues.”