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PRIMARY ELECTION PREVIEW - REDISTRICTING SPURS TOUGH SENATE MATCHUP

Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM) - Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Author: Kate Nash
Had it not been for the redrawing of political lines this year, the race for state Senate District 8 in northeastern New Mexico could have gone by like many in the past, with Sen. Pete Campos poised for an easy re-election. 

But a rejiggering of the boundaries of nearby House districts left state Rep. Thomas Garcia with little choice but to jump into the Senate race in the Democratic primary, rather than face longtime incumbent Rep. Nick Salazar for another term in the House after redistricting left Garcia and Salazar in the same House district. 

Some predicted that facing Salazar, the longest-serving member of the House, would have been a tough fight for Garcia, who has been in the House since 2006. Salazar is running for a 21st term. 

But the attempt to switch to the Senate also pits Garcia against a formidable competitor in Campos, the president of Luna Community College and a state senator since 1991. 

In the past, Garcia's House district included areas around but not in Las Vegas, Campos' hometown. And Campos is a popular and well-known incumbent in Las Vegas and the surrounding area. 

Still, political observers aren't counting Garcia out as election day nears. Garcia has reported nearly $40,000 more campaign cash on hand than Campos. 

The Senate district is one of the most rural in the state, encompassing small towns and villages in seven counties, from Raton to Mora to Mosquero and Roy. It includes Maxwell, Las Vegas and Sapello, too. Parts or all of Harding, Guadalupe, Quay, Colfax, San Miguel, Taos and Mora counties are included in the district. 

That part of the state in the past 10 years lost population, and redistricting officials had to redraw the Senate district's boundaries to include more residents. 

Both men say they want to continue representing people in the area and look forward to the challenge of helping small rural communities with little money, limited clout and big needs. 

Garcia said he made a promise to area constituents to represent them for 10 years and wants to live up to that. "Redistricting totally took me out of the area I committed to work with," he said. 

Campos said he repeatedly has pledged his time to the people of his district as well, even though some supporters have urged him to run for higher office, including governor. 

"When I started, I used to be an at-risk instructor and guidance counselor for migrant students," he said. "And I really made up my mind to help this whole area grow." 

Both Democrats work in education; Garcia is the superintendent of Mora Independent School District, and Campos has been president at Luna Community College since 2008. Both play up that experience as something that qualifies them for the Senate seat. 

And both talk about plans to fix up aging infrastructure, address the area's water woes and bring economic development to far-flung residents. 

Garcia said one of his major goals is to make sure residents have their basic needs addressed. 

"We shouldn't be building new buildings when there's a community on the verge of running out of water," he said. "We need to focus on those types of things." 

The area's water supply is also something Campos mentioned as something he's working to solve. 

"The biggest project is going to be how to connect a water system to ensure communities like Las Vegas have drinking water for years to come," he said. 

Las Vegas, in particular, for years has faced among the strictest water rationing in the state. 

Both candidates point to their work in the Legislature as reasons they should be re-elected. 

Garcia said he's worked on everything from basic capital outlay projects to statewide veterans' issues. A veteran himself, he co-chairs the interim Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee. 

Campos said he has put his energy into many projects as well, like a soon-to-open behavioral health institute in Las Vegas and a new Department of Public Safety building there as well. 

No Republican is running in the general election, so the outcome of Democratic balloting in the June 4 primary will determine who fills the Senate seat. 

As of the April 9 campaign finance reporting deadline, Garcia had $44,463 in the bank, and started the reporting period with a $35,769 opening balance. He collected about $12,175 in the first period, from October through April. 

Campos had $5,150 in the bank, raising about $4,000 of that in the first period. He had about $1,300 in unpaid debt. 

Contact Kate Nash at 986 3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com. 

STATE SENATE DISTRICT 8 CANDIDATES 

Pete Campos 

Age: 58 

Residence: Las Vegas, N.M. 

Occupation: President of Luna Community College. 

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy, 1974, and master’s in counseling, New Mexico 

Highlands University, 1993. 

Experience: Superintendent and associate superintendent 

of support services, 

Las Vegas City Schools, April 2004-June 2008; interim 

superintendent, December 2003-February 2004; mayor 

of Santa Rosa, 1986-1990; administrative assistant, Office of the State Auditor, 1983; high school counselor, Santa Rosa Consolidated Schools, 1978-1982. 

Personal: Married to Lori; one adult son. 

Website: http://petecampos.com/campos/ 

Thomas Garcia 

Age: 40 

Residence: Ocate 

Occupation: Superintendent of Mora Independent School District since July 2010. 

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and combined science, with an emphasis in chemistry, math and secondary education from Highlands University, 1997; 

master’s degree in history and Southwest studies, 2003. 

Experience: New Mexico House of Representatives, 

December 2006-present; deputy district director and 

veterans’ liaison for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, November 

2000-April 2007; Army squad leader, C. Co 52nd Engineering Battalion, April 1992-April 1998; History and political science professor, Luna Community College, August 1998-June 2010; science instructor, Springer Municipal Schools, August 1997-May 1998. 

PRIMARY ELECTION 

This is one in a series of stories profiling candidates in the June 5 primary election, when many state and local offices in Northern New Mexico will be decided by Democratic Party voters. Go to www.santafenewmexican.com/election for more information online.