Dec 21, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: MMA icon eyes run for New Mexico House seat

Trainer Greg Jackson appears with a battle-scarred MMA fighter Diego Sanchez after a fight.

Mixed martial arts trainer Greg Jackson, right, consoles Diego Sanchez after he lost a fight in 2012. Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

A renowned mixed martial arts coach is considering an independent run for the U.S. House seat in New Mexico being vacated by Deb Haaland, potentially disrupting the Democrats' effort to retain it in a closely divided Congress, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The potential candidate, Greg Jackson, is a celebrity within the MMA world. A campaign by him could attract enough votes to throw off the carefully calibrated picks the Democrats and Republicans are expected to make in the special election to succeed Haaland, who is being nominated to serve as Interior secretary.

Flashback: Republican Bill Redmond flipped a reliably Democratic congressional seat in Northern New Mexico during a 1997 special election, after independent candidates and the Green Party took votes away from Democratic nominee Eric Serna.

The backstory: Jackson is co-owner of the Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque and one of the world's most sought-out MMA trainers.

  • The academy, located off famed Route 66, is a tourist spot. MMA fans often camp outside to get selfies with Jackson and famed fighters.
  • Jackson has trained former MMA champions Jon "Bones" Jones and Holly Holm.

What they’re saying: "I'm exploring a run because I care about this community and I feel I can make a difference," Jackson told Axios.

  • While unaffiliated with any party, Jackson said he leans Democratic and is passionate about criminal justice reform. Among his ideas is teaching officers how to use MMA combat techniques to avoid resorting to deadly force to protect themselves and suspects.
  • Jackson also said he would push for the expansion of federal early childcare programs to fight poverty in New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the U.S.

Driving the news: President-elect Joe Biden informed Haaland last week he had picked her to lead the Department of Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

  • Haaland's pending departure has set off a scramble by aspiring political stars who want the marquee seat representing Albuquerque.
  • New Mexico law allows political parties to pick their own nominees for special elections to U.S. House seats without a primary, a king-making role sometimes angering voters who dislike the choices.
  • Some Hispanic Democrats have been angry themselves at the white, progressive wing of their party for squeezing out Latino moderate state lawmakers over differences about abortion and spending priorities.
  • Factions among Republicans — led by state party chair and former Rep. Steve Pearce versus fans of former Gov. Susana Martinez — remain at odds over the party's direction and big losses in 2020.

Be smart: Biden's selection of Haaland has further trimmed an already narrow Democratic margin in the House. The risk of having an independent throw the New Mexico race to the Republican Party is sure to get the attention of the president-elect, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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