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Incumbents' primary losses could be a win for paid family and medical leave


A years-long push to enact paid family and medical leave in New Mexico may have gotten a boost after the June 4 primary, when three of the House Democrats who voted against the proposal lost their races.

While the measure passed in the Senate, it failed to clear the House on a 36-34 vote during the 30-day session earlier this year with 10 Democrats joining their Republican colleagues in voting down the bill.

On Tuesday, three of those Democrats — Reps. Ambrose Castellano of Serafina, Harry Garcia of Grants and Willie Madrid of Chaparral — lost their reelection bids. Each of their rivals has indicated they would support a paid leave measure.

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat who has been a fierce champion of paid family and medical leave, said their losses at the ballot box "might" help get the proposal across the finish line.

"It's up to the House," she said. "I certainly am pleased that it seems as though we now have a majority in the House that would support it."

The proposal, of course, would only have enough votes to get through the House if no lawmaker who previously backed it decided to change their mind and if the Democrats retain all of the seats they currently hold in the November general election.

Only one of the three candidates who bested a Democratic incumbent in the House will face a challenger in November.

Anita Gonzales, who beat Castellano in their third matchup for the Democratic nomination to represent House District 70, and Michelle Abeyta, who won the race for House District 69 against Garcia, are all but guaranteed to win the November election since they are running unopposed.

Jon Hill, who bested Madrid in the race for House District 53, will face Republican Elizabeth Lee Winterrowd in November.

"I've been working on paid family [and] medical leave for four years," Stewart said. "I think it's a very important economic and quality of life issue for our public, and I will continue to work on it until I get it passed."

House Speaker Javier Martínez said he's not in a position to handicap how members of the chamber will vote.

"I think paid family leave is a big, complex policy, and I think regardless of the outcome of the election, every member of our caucus and every member of our chamber will now have another opportunity to debate, to influence, to dissect the policy proposal and really make it something that works for all New Mexicans," he said.

Martínez said there are a "host of issues" lawmakers will be considering for next year's 60-day session.

"As we look at all the issues impacting New Mexicans, from energy transition to diversification of the economy to [the state Children, Youth and Families Department] to behavioral health, these are all issues that we're going to be tackling," he said. "There's just not one issue that takes precedent over the other."

Martínez said the House Democratic caucus looks forward to welcoming "those new voices" who won election while lamenting the loss of incumbents.

"Most of our incumbents with challengers will be returning," he said. "We did have three esteemed members of our caucus who were defeated on primary night. We are certainly going to miss them. They were valuable members of our caucus. At the same time, we respect the voices of voters in those districts."

paid, family leave, medical leave