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Native American advocate is challenging former state senator for District 30 seat

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Native American advocate is challenging former state senator for District 30 seat

May 28, 2024 | 9:46 am ET
By Jeanette DeDios
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Native American advocate is challenging former state senator for District 30 seat
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(KUNM / Courtesy Candidates' Campaigns)

Two Democratic candidates are vying for the District 30 State Senate seat in western New Mexico. With no Republican candidate running that means whoever wins during the primary election, will be the winner. Advocate Angel Charley is facing off against former State Senator Clemente Sanchez.

Redistricting plays a key role in this race. The Republican incumbent Joshua Sanchez is now running for District 29 and some Native communities like Isleta Pueblo are now part of District 30.

But Charley, who’s from Laguna Pueblo and the Navajo Nation, said this race has not been won yet.

“Well, it depends, right?’ she said. “Native vote needs to turn out, it’s not enough to have the numbers reflect. The numbers don’t mean anything if we don’t show up.”

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District 30 also includes Acoma, Zuni and Laguna pueblos as well as Alamo Navajo Nation.

Charley formerly led the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women and now leads Illuminative, a national organization focused on Native representation. She said that all the work she did at the coalition brought her to where she is now.

“We did a lot of advocacy and education around state legislature bills, especially around murdered and missing Indigenous women,” she said. “So supporting the MMIWR task force, holding the taskforce accountable, advocating for funding for multiple initiatives across multiple issues. We were one of four organizations that came together to codify the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is now a state law.”

Her top priorities include protecting abortion access and reproductive care, and lessening the state’s dependence on oil and gas.

“I’ve long advocated for our lessening dependence on oil and gas and extractive industries, because there’s a correlation with violence against Native women when extractive industries are present,” she said.

Charley said that her opponent has a history of making decisions that are not in the best interests of District 30 and the state of New Mexico.

“His legislation on minimum wage is one of the reasons that we have the $12 minimum wage we do right now,” Charley said. “He didn’t tie it to inflation, so it could have and should have been higher than it is right now.”

She said that people need to have a livable wage.

“We cannot continue to live paycheck to paycheck, work multiple jobs, single income households just cannot make ends meet. It’s just not acceptable.”

Sanchez, who is not Native, said he spent his life among the Acoma and Laguna communities. His wife is from Acoma and his children are half Native American.

“I know our Native American communities because I’ve lived here longer than my opponent has been alive,” he said.

Sanchez lost to progressives in the 2020 primaries. His main priorities include finishing a new interchange in Valencia County, for which he helped secure $75 million when he was in office previously. He also wants to tackle infrastructure projects.

He said that his experience makes him an ideal candidate.

“I know how to get legislation drafted, I know how to get it passed through the House and Senate,” he said. “And I know how to get it signed by the governor. And I have been doing that for eight years and have been successful in legislation and getting that done.”

Despite being a former state senator, Sanchez said the job’s not done.

“There’s projects that I want to do, there’s road projects, and sewer projects and water projects in my rural communities that I want to get done,” he said. “I still have the energy, the health and everything to run and continue that.”

Sanchez said that he makes every effort to be accessible to his district.

“I publish my cell phone number, and I answer every call or I get back if they leave a message. So I’m accessible. I’m available all the time to my constituents in Senate District 30.”

Sanchez said he wants to look into our insurance law to help doctors currently practicing.

“We need to make sure that we can bring doctors in and keep them here because they’re leaving the state because they cannot get malpractice insurance,” he said.

He said as a result, it’s hard for people to get doctors’ appointments.

“People with serious illnesses like cancer, arthritis, heart problems, they’re having to wait months just to see a physician. That’s not right,” he said. “It should not be happening. Health care is a right, it’s not a privilege.”

Sanchez said when it comes to public safety that there are a lot of stolen guns that are being used in crime and that we need to address and look closely on how we solve this issue.

“Whether it be through policy, or our current laws, or keeping people locked up if they’re dangerous. We can’t let them out.”

Charley said that we need more comprehensive gun reform in the legislation.

“My family owns guns, it’s about safety,” she said. “We need smart, comprehensive gun legislation.”

Both candidates recognize that there is low turnout for young voters and are finding ways to reach them.

Sanchez says he’s trying to reach younger voters through social media and mailers, but nothing has been more impactful than talking to them on the campaign trail.

“A lot of them are not registered, and I’m educating them now,” he said. “And a lot of them are independents, I’m telling them now you can go to the polls and change to one of the parties and vote or you can if you’re not registered, you can go to the polls and register to vote now.”

Charley said she recognizes that many young voters are discouraged.

“But it’s still important that we show up,” she said. ‘This is the system that we have to operate in. And so we need to make it work for us. If we want change, if we seek that change, that we have to elect new people into that legislature who bring our values with them.”

Primary elections are on June 4th and early voting is already underway.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation.