Publicly financed candidates nearly sweep Election Day contests

In six of seven races, publicly financed candidates were in the lead on Tuesday night

By: - November 8, 2023 12:01 am

Nikhil, a volunteer for the Alma Castro campaign, stands outside Carlos Gilbert Elementary School on Nov. 7, 2023. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

Hours after polls closed on Tuesday, most publicly financed candidates for local office in New Mexico had won their races based off unofficial results at midnight from the Secretary of State.

In the state capital of Santa Fe, publicly financed candidates are leading in two of the three city council races where they were taking part.

And in Albuquerque publicly financed candidates were winning in all four city council races where they were participating — although in one race, both competitors were publicly financed.

A dozen candidates in N.M. running on small donations and public funds

Santa Fe votes

More than two-and-a-half hours after polls closed on Tuesday, a publicly financed candidate for the District 1 seat on the Santa Fe city council and a privately financed one were very close to each other in the ballots counted.

Initial counts showed privately financed Geno Zamora and publicly financed Alma Castro with 38% and 36% of the vote, respectively.

Privately financed Katherine T. Rivera and publicly financed Brian Patrick Gutierrez trailed with 15% and 11%.

By 9 p.m., Castro took the lead with 37% of the vote to Zamora’s 35%. Rivera stayed at 15% while Gutierrez rose to 13%. The unofficial results have Castro leading Zamora by just 142 votes.

This race is the only one in Santa Fe that is a ranked choice ballot, meaning voters rank the candidates and one must get 50% of the vote plus 1 to win. If no one reaches that threshold the bottom is eliminated and their votes go to the second choice voters made, that process continues until a candidate reaches the threshold to win.

That process was completed by midnight and left Castro ahead by 320 votes over Zamora. Unofficial results leave her at 52% of the total vote after the rank choice process.

An hour-and-a-half after polls closed, publicly financed incumbent District 2 councilor Michael J. Garcia was leading with 55% of the vote over privately financed challenger Phillip Allen Lucero. Garcia held onto this margin through 9 p.m., and then 10 p.m.

By midnight Lucero narrowed the lead slightly but Garcia remains the unofficial winner with 54% of the total vote.

An hour-and-a-half after polls closed, privately financed District 3 candidate Pilar H. Faulkner was in the lead with 63% of the vote over publicly financed Louis A. Carlos. By 9 p.m., Faulkner’s lead had shrunk to 58%.

By midnight, with all precincts reporting Faulkner ended the night with 56% of voters in the district.

Voter’s thoughts on publicly financed candidates

Dan Gerber is a Santa Fe County resident who voted during the lunch hour on Tuesday in the gymnasium at Carlos Gilbert Elementary School. He said he was not aware of whether the candidates for whom he voted were publicly financed.

“I investigate the qualifications pretty thoroughly,” Gerber said. “It’s usually pretty clear for me who to vote for. If I know that some big corporation or some big outfit that I don’t like (has their support), I would not vote for them.”

Molly Wagoner is a Santa Fe resident and mother of two who voted during the lunch hour on Tuesday in the gymnasium at Carlos Gilbert Elementary School. She said she was not aware some candidates were publicly financed while others were privately financed, and it did not factor into her vote.

Ceryndipity Schoel, a University of New Mexico law student who voted in Albuquerque on Tuesday, said publicly funded candidates are a great idea.

“If you are not independently wealthy or know a whole bunch of wealthy people, then the ability to get public funding is really important to allow for actual representation,” Schoel said.

Karen and Tom Miller voted on Tuesday at the polling place at the Rio Rancho Sagebrush Plaza shortly after noon.

“We’re supposed to,” he said. “It’s a privilege.”

Karen said she’s worried people didn’t know the local regular election was happening on Tuesday, contributing to what’s typically a lower voter turnout than general elections. She said it would probably be better if candidates were limited to public financing.

“If everybody that was running would get that, then everybody would be on the same playing field,” she said.

Albuquerque supports publicly financed candidates

In the race for the District 2 seat on the Albuquerque City Council, an hour-and-a-half after polls closed, publicly financed Joaquin J. Baca led with 56% of the vote, while publicly financed Loretta A. Naranjo Lopez and privately financed Moises A. Gonzalez each had 22%.

By 9 p.m., Baca’s lead had shrunk to 53%, and Naranjo Lopez had risen to second place with 24%.

Baca finished with 51% of total votes after all precincts reported by midnight.

An hour-and-a-half after polls closed, privately financed District 4 challenger Abby Christine Foster led with 51% of the vote, leaving only a 2% margin for publicly financed incumbent councilor Brook L. Bassan to catch up as more votes were counted.

By 9 p.m., Foster held onto her lead, but by 10 p.m., it was an even split with both candidates holding on to 50% of the vote.

When all precincts reported by midnight the unofficial result gave a slight nod to Bassan, who finished 156 votes ahead of Foster, carrying the district with 51% of the vote.

An hour-and-a-half after polls closed, publicly financed candidate for District 6 Nichole Lillian Rogers and privately financed Jeffrey Aaron Hoehn had 37% and 36% of the vote, respectively.

At that point, publicly financed Kristin M. Greene and publicly financed Abel Otero trailed with 18% and 9%, respectively. Otero dropped out in October after it became clear he had misrepresented himself to the public.

By 9 p.m., Rogers had 38% while Hoehn had 34%. Greene and Otero’s margins had not changed.

At the end of the night, Rogers carried the district with 40% of the total unofficial votes.

Idalia Lechuga-Tena and Daniel Champine each ran publicly funded campaigns for the District 8 seat on the Albuquerque City Council. There were no privately funded candidates for the seat.

An hour-and-a-half after polls closed, Champine led with 56% of the vote. By 9 p.m., Champine’s lead went down slightly to 55%, and ended the night with 54% of the total unofficial vote.

Could public financing be expanded?

Santa Fe and Albuquerque are the only two places in New Mexico authorized to allow publicly financed candidates in local races. Voters in other areas shared their thoughts on the practice and expressed some interest to see it expand.

David Bency, a former Rio Rancho city councilor, voted in the afternoon on Election Day at the Community of Joy Lutheran Church in Rio Rancho. He said it’s always important to vote, and that he is against political action committees majorly funding candidates, giving them too much power.

Kurt Villers voted at the Rio Rancho Community of Joy Lutheran Church on Tuesday. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Kurt Villers arrived at the Rio Rancho Community of Joy Lutheran Church to vote on Tuesday afternoon. He said it’s important to vote amid wild things happening in politics.

Villers said candidates have to jump through hoops to access public funding for their campaigns, and he doesn’t have a problem with people who get private donations. However, he said, it’s important to know who’s funding politicians still.

“Typically, if somebody gives you a lot of money and you get elected, you’re gonna owe that person for that organization some favors. They’re gonna want something in return,” he said. “And so I think people can learn a lot by looking at who’s giving the politician they’re voting for money.”

Chris Bauman came to the Corrales Recreation Center on Tuesday evening to vote.

Bauman said publicly funds for candidates and campaigns gives everyone a better chance to get their message out.

“I think it levels the playing field,” he said.

Matt, who declined to share his last name, showed up at the Corrales Recreation Center Tuesday evening to vote. He said candidates should all be running on the same public funding, not pulling at all from private donors.

“Money in politics is a big root of a lot of the evil in politics,” he said.

Another voter in Corrales who declined to share their name said it’s difficult to know whether publicly funded candidates and campaigns are good or bad. They said they don’t necessarily care if funding is private as long as they know who or what groups funding is coming from.

“I like to know where the money is coming from,” they said.

But, they said, they’re also worried if too much money is going to one candidate, people are just paying for their win.

They said they could think of better ways to spend taxpayer dollars than on campaigns, when the roads or bridges aren’t kept up or education ranks so low nationally.

Reporter Megan Gleason contributed reporting to this story.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.