This story is a staff report from The Paper.


NM Elects First Black Senator

What a week. It was a week of historic wins on the national scale, and for New Mexico as well. For Senator-elect Harold Pope Jr. (D-Bernalillo), it was a good week. Pope was elected the first African American state senator in New Mexico. He won a tough race over Republican incumbent Sander Rue in northwest Albuquerque. Rue had served the district since 2009. In a state that has a mere 2.6 percent Black population, his race signaled a new era in New Mexico politics.

The Paper. spoke with the retired Air Force Captain just after it was announced that President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had won the election.

The Paper.: How aware were you of the historic nature of your candidacy in New Mexico?

Pope: Actually, when I first got into the race, I didn’t know how historic it really was. Congresswoman Deb Haaland pulled me aside and told me that I would be the first Afrian American to win if we succeeded. I just said, “Are you sure?”

I understand why that is, though. We have a small African American population in N.M. And I didn’t decide to run because of that, but I realized it was bigger than me. It was for my community and for my family. We are part of this community, and we all need to be included.

What does it mean to be the first African American state senator for N.M.? And on a larger scale, what does it mean to have the first Black South Asian woman as vice-president?

It means that representation matters. I was raised by a single mom, and growing up, I never saw people who looked like me in those places. It means that you can make it if you work hard, regardless of where you come from, or how much money you have. I want to recognize all of the African Americans in the state doing great things. They are small business owners, educators, judges and working hard in so many positions in this state. They deserve recognition.

With such a partisan election, and with such an upset in certain districts, how will you reach across the aisle to work with Republicans in the legislature?

We have to work together. I plan on using my experience from the military. We were people who came together from all economic backgrounds, races, religious beliefs and we focused on the mission. The mission now is the people of New Mexico. We lost some races, and they lost some races. But we can’t just play politics. We have to get it done, because that’s what we were elected to do. We have much bigger issues to tackle now like socioeconomic issues and education. It’s not about us anymore: It’s about the people we serve. [ ]