Andy Nunez tries to get re-elected as a third-party candidate
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Rep. Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch) has become one of the most high-profile members of the Roundhouse in the past couple years, drawing attention for his sponsorship of bills trying to repeal New Mexico’s law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Nuñez has represented District 36 in Doña Ana County for 12 years but in this election year, he won’t be running as a Democrat. After a falling out with Speaker of the House Ben Luján in 2010, Nuñez dropped out of the Democratic Party and has been an independent — or, as it’s known in New Mexico, “Decline to State.”The 76-year-old has joked that he likes being the only DTS-er in the Roundhouse because it makes for short caucus meetings, but will it hurt him in November to not be aligned with Democrats or Republicans?
“I think it’s gonna be close,” Nuñez told Capitol Report New Mexico. “Democrats are going to pick up Democrat votes and Republicans are going to pick up some and I’m going to get some of both.”
Phillip Archuleta, a 63-year-old retired administrator from the state’s Workforce Solutions Department and former officer at LULAC, is running against Nuñez for the Democrats while Las Cruces business consultant Mike Tellez, 55, is running for the Republicans.
“It’s a very strange race,” Archuleta said, adding that “A lot of Democrats are angry at Andy for abandoning the party.”
“It’s anyone’s race,” said Tellez. “Phil can take, Andy can take it, I can take it. I think it’s going to come down to whichever one of us works the hardest.”
It’s hard to believe, but in the history of the Roundhouse, a DTS candidate has never won an election. But with Nuñez’s name recognition, his six terms representing the district and the fact that Archuleta and Tellez could split the vote, Nuñez could get re-elected with a plurality — rather than a majority — of the votes.
“It could happen,” Archuleta said. “You never know until Election Day.”
“I kind of think that Phillip and Andy might cancel each other out and then I can win,” Tellez said. “I look at the glass half-full.”
The last time Nuñez ran for re-election, he picked up 55 percent of the vote while running as a Democrat in 2010. In 2008, he defeated Tellez, garnering 53.6 percent.
While all three candidates say improving jobs in the district is their top priority, the driver’s license issue hangs over the race.
“About 70 percent of the people [in District 36] support [repealing the law],” Nuñez said.
“I am not going to Santa Fe and repeal the law,” Archuleta said. “There are issues like jobs, education, clean air … that are more important … If there’s a bill that’s fair, that’s a compromise, I can sign it.”
“I agree that we need to repeal that law,” Tellez said. “We need to stop with that practice … I back the governor on that.”
But re-energizing the district’s economy is at the top of the “to-do” list for all three candidates.
“Most people [in parts of District 36] are living in the third world,” Archuleta said. “Not even some roads are paved. Nobody pays attention to them … I think I could do a good job There are so many things that need to be done in our community.”
“If we’re gonna get jobs in New Mexico,” Nuñez said, “we have to get a right to work law passed … Business people support it and I’m pro-business because if you don’t have business, you’re not going to have employment.”
“Let’s bring in some businesses and tie them to Spaceport,” Tellez said. “We have New Mexico State University right here that’s graduating 1,000 people a year. We need to get them jobs and keep them in the area.”
On Nov. 6, we’ll find out if District 36 goes for a Republican, a Democrat or elects a DTSer for the first time in state history.
“I think people are ready for a change,” Archuleta said.
“I see people running for the last 10-15 years and say they’re going to do things, like fixing our schools,” said Tellez. “But nothing gets done.”
“I’ve had support all along from Republicans and Democrats,” Nuñez said, “and I think most of them will still support me.”
A look at the Secretary of State’s website see the money raised in the race shows that Nuñez has received $17,011, Archuleta has raised $10,220 and Tellez $2,100.
We talked to Archuleta and Tellez by telephone and talked to Nuñez when he attended a recent committee meeting hearing in Santa Fe. Here’s our quick interview with him on the trusty FlipCamera: