By Jim Ellis
Dec. 21, 2020 — Late last week, President-Elect Joe Biden announced that he is nominating New Mexico US Rep. Deb Haaland (D-Albuquerque) to be Interior Secretary. Upon confirmation, Rep. Haaland will resign her seat in the House, which will become the body’s third vacancy.
Biden has already chosen Reps. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) to run the White House Office of Public Engagement and become Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, respectively.
Special elections will be held in all three districts and scheduled once the member officially resigns to accept his or her new position. Democrats will be prohibitive favorites in Louisiana and Ohio, but it’s possible the New Mexico seat could become competitive.
Haaland was first elected to what was an open district in 2018 when then-Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) risked the 1st District House seat to wage an ultimately successful campaign for Governor. Grisham was first elected to the House in 2012 in an open seat campaign. She succeeded then-Rep. Martin Heinrich (D), who won a Senate seat in the same election.
Prior to Heinrich’s initial House win in 2008, the 1st District congressional seat, anchored in Albuquerque, had been in Republican hands for 40 consecutive years in the person of Reps. Manuel Lujan, Steve Schiff, and Heather Wilson, consecutively. Though the district has significantly changed politically, it has largely kept its same basic geographic context during the entire aforementioned stretch. Prior to the 1968 election, New Mexico’s representatives were chosen in at-large elections.
Once Haaland, one of the first Native American females to be elected to the House, resigns, Gov. Grisham will schedule a special election. Under New Mexico procedure, the political parties will caucus to choose their nominees, so there will be no primary election. Therefore, it is probable to see a contested convention process for both parties, particularly for the Democrats since their eventual nominee will begin the special election campaign in the favorite’s position.