Home Part of States Newsroom
Former Democratic fundraiser takes on long-time incumbent for district 15 senate seat


Former Democratic fundraiser takes on long-time incumbent for district 15 senate seat

May 22, 2024 | 5:30 am ET
By Jeanette DeDios
Former Democratic fundraiser takes on long-time incumbent for district 15 senate seat
Heather Berghmans is challenging Daniel Ivey-Soto for state senate seat for district 15, which is one of the Albuquerque districts.

Early voting in primary elections is already underway. One race set to be closely-contested is Albuquerque’s District 15’s Democratic state senate seat where Heather Berghmans is running against incumbent Daniel Ivey-Soto. Whoever wins the seat will be up against Republican Craig Degenhardt in the general election.

Candidate Heather Berghmans is an Albuquerque native who spent more than five years as a policy analyst for Democratic officials including House Speaker Javier Martínez, and served as finance director for the New Mexico House Democratic Campaign Committee.

As the challenger, Berghmans said she wants to be that new voice for the district as a young person and a woman.

“I want to help make the government work for the people. I’m not just there for my ego or to do the politicking thing – ‘we’re hanging with a lobbyist at The Bull Ring in Santa Fe.’ I want to do the policy work. That makes the difference,” she said.

Berghmans said her previous positions gave her the opportunity to learn more about the legislative process.

“I learned how the bills work, and how bills are written and then how the Roundhouse works and moves, how to get legislation through both chambers, and ultimately, hopefully not vetoed by the governor. The work I got to do in the session definitely gave me the experience to be a legislator,” she said.

Her opponent, Daniel Ivey-Soto has been in the state legislature for nearly 12 years and has helped pass 87 different bills into law.

“That includes bills dealing with voting rights, dealing with intimate partner violence, dealing with economic development, dealing with public safety. And so there’s still a lot of things to continue to work on,” he said. “I think I have the experience and the track record.”.

In her campaign, Berghmans raised allegations of sexual harassment brought against Ivey-Soto by a lobbyist in 2022. He did not face official punishment, but did resign as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, saying the allegations were a distraction. Senate leadership removed him from the chairmanship of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee. Last year, another complaint to the State Ethics Commission alleged he committed financial impropriety.

As early voting expands, more than 27,000 New Mexicans cast their votes in primaries

Ivey-Soto told KUNM the Commission dismissed all charges against him.

“If the allegations that were made were true, I should not be in office. But they’re not,” he said.

Berghmans said Ivey-Soto has been in the state legislature for too long.

“I think the district needs a new perspective and a new voice, especially a young person and a woman,” she said.

Public safety is one of the top priorities for the candidates in this race. Ivey-Soto said in the last legislative session that he was a part of a bill that passed that will keep repeat felony offenders off the streets.

“Ensuring that before someone gets out if they have other felony charges pending, that each of the judges who put the person on conditions of release has to be able to review those conditions of release,prior to that individual being released from jail,” he said. “That’s going to have an overnight difference on felony crimes in the metro area.”

Berghmans attended college at the University of New Mexico and she said lately while she’s visited her younger sister, who lives near campus, it feels different.

“There’s like homeless people doing drugs in the alleys by their house all the time. And when I lived in the student ghetto, that’s not what I experienced. So definitely finding solutions to make our streets more safe, that don’t just criminalize people or put them in jail longer,” she said.

Ivey-Soto said that homelessness is a problem not just at the local level but at the national level. He said that each region has to deal with it in their own way because there are different levels of homelessness.

“It’s important to understand that a one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness doesn’t work,” he said. “You need to actually understand who you’re dealing with, so that you can tailor the resources necessary.”

NM Senate candidates spend more than $1 million – at times on each other – ahead of primary 

The housing shortage is a big issue for New Mexico and Berghmans said that although the state has all different levels of governments working on housing, there’s not much collaboration between them.

“I think trying to create a cohesive, collaborative environment where all the levels of government talk to each other would be useful. Where the money is streamlined. The ideas are streamlined, and the people who work in these areas actually talk to each other, I think is definitely a good place to start,” she said.

Ivey-Soto said housing shortages are a big issue in the state for both renters and buyers.

“We really need to stimulate more housing in this area. So that people have options, right. And, you know, we pride ourselves on the low cost of living in this area. But if housing prices keep going out of whack to the rest of the cost of living, then people start reevaluating if they’re going to be staying in this area or not,” he said.

When discussing health care, Berghmans said while there is a doctor shortage here, she experienced good care giving birth two months ago.

“There was a lot of systems Presbyterian seems to be trying out that were helpful. And it would be nice to expand on ideas like that,” she said. Anything we can do to keep doctors here and bring doctors here would be helpful. And just making sure everyone can get access to the health care they deserve.”.

Ivey-Soto said that cost-effective health care is important for New Mexicans. He sponsored a bill that passed a few years ago that required the maximum prescription for insulin be no more than $25 dollars which is less than the national requirement of $35 dollars.

“I think $25 is better than $35. And so we have a better deal in New Mexico, because of the bill that I carried,” he said.

He said that New Mexico needs to have medical providers.

“I understand that people need to be compensated when something goes wrong. But at the same time, we need to have that be at a reasonable level, that doesn’t create liability so high, that the insurance costs are so high that doctors and other medical providers choose not to practice in New Mexico. And that’s part of what’s happening right now,” he said.

Records show fundraising flurry among state legislative candidates over last month

Education is also another important issue. Berghmans said that while she didn’t attend Albuquerque Public schools, she knows that APS needs help.

“I’ve told this to my teacher friends and to the union, that I want to work with teachers, for teachers and just be the voice they need and to listen to them,” she said. “I definitely don’t know the answer. So I’d love to learn from educators what we can do better.”.

As a former school teacher, Ivey-Soto said that he understands the challenges that educators face and advocates for higher wages.

“One of the things that I think we don’t focus enough on are actually the educational assistants, the cafeteria workers, the bus drivers, the custodians, the school secretaries, these are folks who quite frankly, don’t get paid very well,” he said. “We really need to beef up the pay for the ancillary workers and the educational process because they have an impact upon our children as well.”.

With some state lawmakers recently taking public positions related to Israel’s war against Hamas, Berghmans said she advocates for a ceasefire. She said her decision stems from her time spent minoring in Middle Eastern Studies.

“I would say that I’ve been someone advocating for an end to the blockade in any type of ceasefire each time Israel has decided to bomb Gaza,” she said.

However, she said there’s not much a state legislator can do.

“I have received emails and people saying that our state legislators should do something about it, but I wish that was a realistic possibility.”

Ivey-Soto said these issues are a federal matter.

“I always took the position that as a state legislature, it’s not our job to weigh in on international relations, I would never hear those resolutions or those memorials,” he said.

According to reporting from Source New Mexico, the race has seen the third-highest spending among the state’s senate primaries, with both candidates spending more than $30,000 between April 2 and May 6.

The primary elections will be on June 4th and early voting is already underway.

 Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation.