The race to fill Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s congressional seat started even before she was nominated by President Joe Biden. One of the earliest contenders was State Rep. Melanie Stansbury. The first time Stansbury, 41, ran for public office was in 2018. She defeated seven-term Republican Rep. Jimmie Hall in District 28, Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights.
Stansbury worked as a staff member in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources under the Obama Administration to address climate change. She also worked as a researcher and advisor on land and water issues in New Mexico. Stansbury holds a Master of Science degree in Development Sociology from Cornell University. She says her background in ecology work is why she supports President Biden’s Green New Deal. “There are major issues we have to address,” she says. “We have to address greenhouse gases, which come from everywhere, not just the oil and gas sector. We need to have economic diversification and give communities tools and support in order to do that.”
She says the key to building a stronger economy in New Mexico is to invest in ourselves through supporting small businesses, schools and environmentally sustainable industries like agriculture, science and technology. “If we invest in ourselves, we will grow the local economy. Then people will stay here and continue to invest in their own communities.”
In the wake of the mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder and another eight people, including six Asian women being killed in Atlanta, Stansbury says the need for gun control is greater than it’s ever been. “We need to pursue legislation at the federal level that closes all the loopholes in background checks and reinstates the assault rifle ban, ensuring that those who have already shown to be potentially violent or dangerous can’t get weapons,” she said. “I believe it hasn’t passed because of the filibuster in the Senate. We also need to get the Violence Against Women Act through the Senate, because it includes a “red flag” law provision which would ensure that violent offenders don’t have access to a weapon.”
Last week, the House voted 244-172 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, with 29 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for the bill. NM Republican Rep. Yvette Harrell voted against the legislation. The bill faces a number of hurdles in the Senate.
To address school shootings, Stansbury says she’s been working with Eldorado High School students and administrators for the past few years to implement more mental health options for students. This includes funding social and emotional therapists on-site for students to talk to. “Gun violence is a public health crisis, which is tied to our mental health crisis. Nationally, as well as here in New Mexico, our mental health infrastructure has been completely dismantled over the last decade. Our current government and our governor are working to restore it.”
Under the Democratic and Republican Party rules, each party’s State Central Committee will decide. That group of a few hundred party insiders will hold a special convention Tuesday, March 30 to hear candidate speeches and cast their votes to determine the party’s nominee. Whichever candidate the Democratic Central Committee chooses will likely be favored to win the special election. Heather Wilson was the last Republican to win the coveted congressional seat in 2006.
Check out who else is running for Haaland’s vacancy. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver set the special election date for June 1st.