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New Mexico state lawmaker Melanie Stansbury. Campaign photo.

New Mexico Democratic officials on Wednesday nominated a white state lawmaker over Latina and Native American candidates for Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's former U.S. House seat.

Why it matters: The selection of state Rep. Melanie Stansbury to replace one of the nation's first Native American female U.S. House members could put a relatively safe Democratic seat in play for a special election in the heavily Latino central New Mexico district.

  • Republicans nominated on Sunday Hispanic state lawmaker and former college football player, Mark Moores.

Driving the news: Stansbury beat out retired law professor and state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo López by six votes in a runoff decided by Democratic Party insiders.

  • Stansbury came in second in the first round, edging out an Acoma Pueblo member, who received the endorsement of national Native American activists, and other Hispanic candidates, some also supported by national groups.
  • New Mexico state law for special elections allows state parties to select nominees -- a process some Democratic Latinos and Native Americans said put them at a disadvantage since liberal whites yield considerable power.
  • After the second round, Stansbury worked to get endorsements from other white Democrats, including former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

Some white Democrats dismissed claims on social media that Hispanic voters would be angry if a woman of color was not nominated.

Yes, but: Latino state senators and Hispanic Democratic Party activists have said the state party is failing to recruit and develop more candidates of color in the state's rural areas at a time when Republicans are making gains with Latinos nationwide.

The intrigue: In 2020, white, left-leaning Democrats ousted a number of Hispanic moderate New Mexico state lawmakers during primaries, angering a number of Latino Democrats.

  • Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature in the nation's most Hispanic state, yet the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, and Senate Pro tempore are all white.

Where it stands: Stansbury faces state Sen. Mark Moores, a Hispanic former football star at the University of New Mexico, for a special election on June 1.

  • Republicans in New Mexico have done well in previous special elections where turnout is low and voters have revolted against party-selected nominees.

Go deeper

Updated Mar 30, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on key issues in the Latino community

On March 30, Axios justice and race reporter Russell Contreras hosted one-on-one conversations with civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) for the launch of the Axios Latino newsletter.

Dolores Huerta discussed immigration reform, equality for marginalized groups in America, and unpacked the history of Asian-American and Latino solidarity in labor organizing in the 1960s.

  • On how the foundations of activism remain the same: "[Social media] gives organizers a great tool to be able to bring people together. But in terms of really educating people...I think sometimes we really have to sit down and have one on one talks with people so that we can make them understand. "
  • On immigration as a cornerstone of American history: "Every single immigrant group that came to the United States got their legal status and eventually became citizens of the United States. And our first immigrants, we have to remind them, came from Europe...It's been the policy of the United States since this country was formed."

Sen. Ben Ray Luján discussed Latino representation in the federal government, the economy in New Mexico, and how the latest COVID-19 relief package will impact constituents.

  • On the American Rescue Plan on New Mexico: "Ninety-five percent of families with children in New Mexico will benefit from the new child tax credit. That's an investment in them and in their futures."
  • On Latino representation in Congress: "We have a responsibility now that we are at the table to ensure that the Latino community in the Hispanic community are not going to be left out."

Subscribe to Axios Latino.

Thank you Bank of America for sponsoring this event.

Luján: Diversifying New Mexico's economy will bring in more "homegrown" opportunities

New Mexico Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D) said at an Axios event Tuesday that diversifying New Mexico's economy will create "homegrown" opportunities, providing a different type of job security for workers who rely on oil and gas industries.

Why it matters: Politicians have sparred over environmental justice and its impact on workers in the oil and gas industries. But even major oil and gas producers across the U.S. are making changes now, Luján said, which means New Mexico needs to move fast about planning for the future.

Civil rights groups sue Georgia over law restricting voter access

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against Georgia's new election law, stating that the law restricts voting rights, "particularly voters of color, new citizens, and religious communities."

Why it matters: The legislation was signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) last Thursday, making Georgia the first battleground state to pass such a law following the 2020 election.