GOP Gals Win Big -- But Not in the Roundhouse

In the legislature, Republicans have a female problem

State Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-Los Lunas)

The phenomenon was so striking, even the mainstream media couldn’t ignore it.

The Hill: “In a year that was supposed to see Democrats’ House majority grow, Republicans have expanded their ranks — thanks in large part to a new slate of female lawmakers.”

CBS News: “House Republicans exceeded expectations … unseating at least seven incumbent Democrats in competitive races, and women Republican candidates were the ones who flipped the seats in all but one contest.”

BuzzFeed News: “Republicans unexpectedly broke a record in the congressional elections, electing the largest number of new Republican women to Congress ever.”

FiveThirtyEight: “[T]he last time the GOP sent at least 30 women to Congress was in 2004, a record-breaking year then, too.”

How did it happen? “Moderate” pitches to soccer moms in the suburbs?

Nope.

Very few of the victorious ladies are chamber-of-commerce milquetoasts. Rolling Stone screeched that “Trump-loving Republican women were elected,” while the Susan B. Anthony List beamed that a “record 29 pro-life women will serve in the House of Representatives in the next Congress,” with all “11 pro-life women incumbents” winning reelection and “18 new pro-life women elected … with one race still to be called.”

In New Mexico, where Joe Biden won by 11 percentage points, a Trump-endorsed, pro-life woman reclaimed a House swing seat: Yvette Herrell triumphed over incumbent Xochitl Torres Small in a once-solid-red district that is increasingly up for grabs.

The story was quite different, though, for the Land of Enchantment’s legislature. When the 2021 session meets in January, women of both parties will have a majority in the state’s House of Representatives. But GOP gals will increase their cohort by only one lawmaker, and claim just a fifth of all female lawmakers serving in the lower chamber. In the Senate, the number of Republican women will stay right where it is today: two.

The failure of GOP women to claim a sizable chunk of the Roundhouse wasn’t for lack of trying. In 2020, all seven of the group’s House incumbents ran for reelection, and prevailed. But each of the 14 candidates who challenged Democratic incumbents lost. Two open seats were contested, with Stefani Lord successful in District 22 and Linda Calhoun falling short in District 42.

In the Senate, the effort was substantial as well, but the results were worse. One incumbent lost, one incumbent was reelected, and 12 attempts to unseat incumbents failed. Two open seats were contested by female GOPers, with Crystal Diamond prevailing and Diamantina “Stormy” Prada Storment losing.

What explains such grisly results? A likely answer is messaging. Just like their male counterparts, in 2020, female GOP candidates largely embraced the vacuous “Respect New Mexico” campaign, which attempted to boost Republicans’ prospects with trite phrasing (“elect a legislature that will finally bring widespread prosperity to New Mexicans — without compromising who we are and what we love about our state”) and ubiquitous billboards. And one no-brainer tool was left in the garage. Of the dozens of Republican women seeking to join the legislature, just six took the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, “made to a candidate’s constituents, who deserve to know where candidates stand on the tax issue.”

Taxes are — or at least, should be — a touchy subject for Gay Kernan, the only GOP woman in the Senate who will return in 2021. In the 2019 legislative session, she voted for HB6, an across-the-board tax hike that blatantly violated her Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Price paid? Zilch. No Republican challenged Kernan in the primary, and with no Democratic opponent in the general election, she was reelected with 100 percent of the vote.

Kernan’s doppelgänger in the House is Kelly Fajardo, first elected in 2012 and without question the most ambitious and publicity-seeking member of the chamber’s female Republicans. Her reign of error in office has been vast. Unlike Kernan, Fajardo did not back 2019’s big tax increase. But she did support two utterly disastrous pieces of legislation that the Hobbs senator opposed: a huge hike in the minimum wage and the “Energy Transition Act.”

In 2019, Fajardo compounded her huge blunders with several smaller-scale stumbles, casting YES votes for extending a tax perk for satellites and directed-energy weapons, capital-outlay goodies for her district, mandatory restroom baby-changing stations in every “place of public accommodation,” creating a new bureaucracy to regulate the home-inspection industry, and the placement of “agricultural enterprises within the definition of economic development goals.”

But then again, so did every female GOPer in the House. Every. Single. One.

Vague and visionless bromides during campaigns, Big Government enthusiasm once in office. It’s a problem that plagues New Mexico Republicans of both genders. But as the results of the 2020 U.S. House of Representatives election show, bold and “controversial” women can achieve success at the ballot box. No matter what the “experts” think.

NEXT UP: STEVE PEARCE’S PROMISES AS CHAIR IN 2018 AND THE RESULTS