June 06--Outgoing Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza late Tuesday appeared to win a four-person race for the District 3 seat on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.
With 221 of 273 precincts reporting, Espinoza held a slim margin over fellow Democrat Virginia Vigil, the outgoing Santa Fe County commissioner, with 38 percent to Vigil's 32 percent. Espinoza's lead grew all night long. In the first hours after polls closed at 7 p.m., Espinoza and Vigil's vote totals were neck and neck. But as the night wore on, Espinoza's lead steadily grew.
The other two Democrats in the race, Brad Gallegos and Danny Maki, lagged far behind in their vote-getting totals, capturing 17 percent and 13 percent of the vote, respectively.
Around 8 p.m. Tuesday night, Espinoza appeared jovial at the Santa Fe County complex. A phone at her ear as often as not, she greeted precinct judges who were delivering ballots to elections workers.
Whoever wins Tuesday's Democratic primary will earn $90,000 representing District 3 on one of the most powerful governmental bodies in New Mexico.
No Republicans are running in November to represent the district, which includes Santa Fe and much of north-central and northeastern New Mexico.
Beyond regulating utilities, the Public Regulation Commission has a say on health-insurance premium appeals and overseeing the registration of corporations and fire inspections. It also struggles to tackle long-term issues such as striking the right balance on where New Mexico derives its electricity.
The winner of Tuesday's night race also joins the commission at a potentially transformational moment in the history of the regulatory body, which was created in 1999.
The agency has been rocked in recent years by a series of scandals, perhaps none bigger than last year's guilty plea by former District 3 commissioner Jerome Block Jr., who admitted to fraudulent use of his state-issued gas card, identity theft and embezzling public campaign funds.
Momentum for reform climaxed this year when the Legislature passed three measures New Mexicans will get a chance to vote on in November.
At issue will be whether to give the Legislature authority to craft minimum qualifications for commissioners and whether to move the Insurance Division out from under the PRC. The third measure before voters would give the Secretary of State's Office oversight of corporations. Currently, the Public Regulation Commission has that duty.
While the commission is a down-ballot race, meaning it exists in the shadow of more high-profile contests, competition for the District 3 seat was not without rancor this spring.
Espinoza had to defend herself against criticism of her support for Republican Dianna Duran in 2010 against then-Democratic Secretary of State Mary Herrera. Meanwhile, Espinoza's campaign appeared to be behind a website attacking the other three candidates.
Vigil was fined by the Secretary of State's Office for violating the law creating the public financing of PRC campaigns.
And in the days leading up to primary election, some candidates complained about robo-calls to Democratic voters that they said spread falsehoods about them.
To read about the other candidates' backgrounds, click here.
Contact Trip Jennings at 986-3050 or at email@example.com.
(c)2012 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)
Visit The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) at www.santafenewmexican.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services