State senator joins Democratic competition for governor
Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City entered the race for governor on Wednesday, meaning the Democratic primary election will be at least a three-way competition.
Morales said he is taking a leave from his job as a hospital administrator so that he can campaign fulltime. He acknowledged that he was entering the race a bit late, but said the seven months between now and the primary election would be ample.
At 40, Morales is among the younger state legislators, but he said his campaign for governor was not a means of becoming better known.
"It's not a steppingstone or a way to get name recognition for something later. I'm running to win," he said in an interview.
Morales has been the Legislature’s most outspoken critic of Gov. Susana Martinez’s A-F grading system for public schools. He has called it volatile and inaccurate.
The Legislature this year approved a bill by Morales to revamp the grading formula but Martinez vetoed it.
Morales has a Ph.D. in education and spent the first part of his working life as a teacher. He also has been a baseball coach and a Grant County clerk.
Morales has been a state senator since 2008, originally appointed to the seat by then-governor Bill Richardson.
Along with education issues, Morales has touted his experience on the Senate Finance Committee, which he joined during the darkest days of the economic downturn.
“I was a part of making tough decisions to see New Mexico come out of the recession,” he said.
He has been calling fellow legislators to seek their support, and he has begun fundraising, well aware that Martinez already has a campaign account of more than $3.2 million.
Two other Democrats have been in the governor’s race for months. They are state Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and state Attorney General Gary King, at right and below.
Morales weighed his decision all summer. He waited because state Sen. Michael Sanchez also was considering a run for governor.
Morales said Sanchez, the Senate majority leader, would have been "tough to beat in a primary."
But Sanchez hesitated and then simply stopped talking about running after he missed a self-imposed deadline of Labor Day for deciding on whether to run.
Morales said at this stage it does not matter if Sanchez makes a belated entry.
Throughout summer, Morales positioned himself as an alternative for a party unexcited by Lopez or King.
Morales said he received encouragement from people who could not envision the Lopez or King providing tough competition for Martinez in next year's general election.
“The constant feedback I get is that is that it’s not going to work” with Lopez or King as the nominee, Morales said.
Lopez stumbled last winter when she delayed a committee vote for a third consecutive year on whether the Senate should confirm Martinez’s nominee for education secretary. King has lost two previous races for governor, an office his late father, Bruce King, won three times.
King, though, has been campaigning for more than a year. He has been picking up endorsements, and he starts the race as the Democrat with the highest name recognition.
Morales said he will make a formal campaign announcement at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Sixth Street Elementary School in Silver City, which he attended.