Competition opens for New Mexico House, utility elections

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Major-party candidates seeking election or re-election to the New Mexico House of Representatives, the state's utility-oversight commission and local judicial seats registered to run for office on Tuesday with state and county election regulators.

The one-day window for filing signature petitions with the Secretary of State's Office and county clerks marked the start of earnest competition in June primary and fall general elections. Election officials have a week to confirm that candidates meet requirements.

Seventy House seats are up for election in November. Democrats currently have a 38-seat majority, and are aiming for trifecta control of the governor's office and both legislative chambers as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez leaves office after two consecutive terms. Elections for the Democrat-controlled Senate take place next in 2020.

Republicans last won a House majority in 2014 elections, interrupting six decades of Democratic control.

Republican Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes announced Tuesday that she would not seek re-election to an Albuquerque-based seat that she wrested from Democratic control in 2014. She endorsed as a successor Republican candidate Brad Winter, an Albuquerque city councilor.

Democrat Andrea Romero of Santa Fe registered to run in against an incumbent House Democrat despite criticism about spending of public funds on fancy dinners and liquor in her role as executive director of an agency of municipalities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This year's election also will determine three seats out of five on the Public Regulatory Commission that oversees investor-owned utilities, the transportation industry and telecommunications.

The agency is guiding a major shift in bulk electricity production away from coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners area where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet — with major financial and environmental implications. The Public Service Co. of New Mexico utility is seeking to recover prior investments as it close the San Juan Generating Station in 2022 and divests its ownership shares in the nearby Four Corners Power Plant when its coal supply contract runs out in 2031.

Republicans Joseph Bizzell of Los Lunas and Chris Mathys of Las Cruces filed paperwork early Tuesday to run for the southwestern commission seat held by Democrat Sandy Jones. Democrat Stephen Fischmann of Las Cruces also will seek the seat.

The Libertarian Party could factor in select Legislative races. It will appear on June primary ballots as a major party after failed presidential candidate Gary Johnson won more than 5 percent the 2016 vote.

The registration deadline for statewide offices took place last month, with Republicans uniting around gubernatorial candidate and Congressman Steve Pearce. At least three Democratic candidates for governor are vying for their party's nomination.

Nationwide, Republicans control two-thirds of all state legislative chambers and hold a trifecta of the governor's office and both legislative chambers in 25 states, compared with just eight for Democrats.