By Steve Terrell | The New Mexican

Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics on Tuesday night won the four-way race for the Democratic nomination in sprawling state Senate District 39. Stefanics topped her opponents by a wide margin.

In another contested Democratic primary in House District 48, Santa Fe School Board member Linda Trujillo won the race to replace retiring Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela.

Meanwhile, in Northern New Mexico, the longest-serving member of the New Mexico Legislature, Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Okay Owingeh, will be back for his 23rd term. Salazar, 86, defeated his much younger primary challenger, Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo, by a healthy margin.

It was a good night for incumbents. All four Democratic senators who had primary opponents won their races.
The only incumbent who lost was Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena, D-Albuquerque, who was appointed to the Legislature in a split vote of the Bernalillo County Commission late last year.

In District 48, Trujillo led throughout most of the evening, though the first vote totals in Santa Fe didn’t post until two hours after the polls closed. Behind her was former Santa Fe County Commissioner Paul Campos and running third was Jeff Varela, son of the current representative.

The winner of the District 48 primary is virtually assured of serving in the Legislature, as there is no Republican running in the general election. Democrats in the district outnumber Republicans 69 to 11 percent.

In Senate District 39, which includes parts of six counties, including southeastern Santa Fe County, Stefanics topped former Santa Fe County Commissioner Mike Anaya, San Miguel County businessman Ambrose Castellano and former San Miguel County Commissioner Hugh Ley.

The Senate district also includes portions of San Miguel, Torrance, Valencia, Lincoln and Bernalillo counties. It was represented for 18 years by Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, who resigned last year in the midst of an ethics investigation. He now faces criminal charges, including bribery and fraud.

Stefanics will run against Sen. Ted Barela, R-Estancia, who was appointed last year by Gov. Susana Martinez to replace Griego. Stefanics was a state senator in the 1990s.

In one of the most closely watched Democratic primaries, Sen. Benny Shendo of Jemez Pueblo defeated former state Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint by a wide margin in the Western New Mexico District 22 contest.

Shendo was backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and by Conservation Voters New Mexico Action Fund, which along with a national organization counted Jeff as a “dirty dozen” lawmaker from her time in the state House of Representatives.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, easily thwarted a challenge by former Sen. Shannon Robinson in southeast Albuquerque’s District 17. Stewart was a longtime member of the House of Representatives before being appointed to the Senate. She replaced Democratic Sen. Tim Keller after he was elected state auditor. Robinson had held the Senate seat for 10 years until he lost to Keller in the 2008 Democratic primary. Four years later, Robinson switched parties and ran as a Republican against Keller. Keller won again. Robinson switched back to the Democratic Party after that defeat.

Other senators who defeated primary opponents were George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who bested two challengers, and John Sapien, D-Corrales, who topped Jodilyn Ortiz of Placitas. Sapien will face Republican Diego Espinoza of Rio Rancho in the general election.

Lechuga-Tena of Albuquerque, lost to Albuquerque teacher Debbie Sariñana. A third candidate, Amanda Kinkcaid, finished third in the race.

Lechuga-Tena was chosen last year by the Bernalillo County commissioners to fill former Rep. Stephanie Maez’s seat in District 21. She was a controversial choice from the start, admitting last year that she’d voted in a local election before she was a U.S. citizen. She also admitted that she has only recently moved into the district. Sen. Stewart, who represented that House district for years, supported Sariñana.

In other House races, Darryl Madalena of Jemez Pueblo, son of longtime lawmaker Rep. James Roger Madalena, lost to Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo.

Incumbent freshman lawmaker Bill Gomez of Las Cruces handily defeated two opponents in the House District 34 Democratic primary. Freshman Rep. Doreen Wonda Johnson of Gallup, who two years ago won Jeff’s old seat, edged challenger Kevin Mitchell, vice president of the Gallup-McKinley school board in the House District 5 race.

Incumbent Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, by a 3-1 margin defeated Chris Berkheimer, a former deputy director of the state Homeland Security Department. Berkheimer campaigned with an ankle bracelet, having run afoul of the law as he ran for office.

In one of the few contested Republican primaries, former Rep. James White won a four-way primary in the race for the Senate District 19 seat held for years by retiring Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort. White will face Democrat Harold Murphree in November.