Senate District 17 candidates will face each other for the third time

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Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – It’s not often that two candidates face off against each other three different times.

But that’s happening this year in Albuquerque’s Senate District 17, where incumbent Democrat Mimi Stewart is facing off against old foe Shannon Robinson, a former senator, in the June 2 primary election.

Shannon Robinson

“There’s a bit of a deja vu aspect to it,” Stewart acknowledged in a recent interview.

Stewart has a big fundraising advantage in this year’s contest, having raised $58,485 so far for her reelection campaign, including several hefty contributions from labor unions.

In contrast, Robinson has reported raising $1,400 – via two separate donations to his own campaign – and said he is not soliciting outside donations.

“We’ve got to prove to young people that you don’t need money to win,” Robinson told the Journal.

He also cited large contributions that have been made to the Senate Democrats’ caucus committee, which Stewart is helping to run.

But Stewart, who is the Senate majority whip, said she’s focusing less on her opponent and more on her constituents, many of whom have been calling with questions during the coronavirus pandemic.

If reelected, Stewart, a retired educator, said she would focus on efforts to diversify New Mexico’s economy, in part by expanding the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

“I am really sick of the boom and bust of the oil industry,” Stewart said. “We can’t keep doing this.”

She also said she would fight to avoid spending cuts to public schools, early education programs and health care services during an upcoming special session.

Mimi Stewart

For his part, Robinson, an attorney, said he would prioritize funding for safety net programs and push for a New Mexico “green new deal,” a package of legislation aimed at combating climate change.

The history between the two candidates dates back to 1992, when then-incumbent Robinson defeated Stewart in a tight primary election race.

The 2016 rematch was won by Stewart, who was appointed to the Senate in 2014 after serving 20 years in the House of Representatives.

In between the two contests, Robinson was ousted from the Senate in 2008 by now-Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. He then ran unsuccessfully as a Republican against Keller in 2012, but now says that was an emotional response to his defeat and that he supports policies like abortion rights.

The past results make this year’s contest a rubber match, though both candidates say they’ve evolved over the years.

Stewart describes herself as a political pragmatist, and says she has learned over her tenure in the Legislature the value of collaborating with other lawmakers.

“I have finally learned the art of compromise,” she said, citing her work on bills with Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, as an example.

During his tenure in the Senate, which stretched from 1989 through 2008, Robinson headed what he called the “bull moose” alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate, which worked to protect outdoor traditions and rural life.

But he said, if elected this year, he would work with other Senate Democrats to defeat a conservative coalition that has stymied bills dealing with abortion and marijuana legalization in recent years.

The Senate District 17 seat encompasses a large swath of Albuquerque’s east side. Whoever wins the primary race will face Republican Rodney Deskin in the November general election.

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