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Did Lee Cotter win his race or did Mary Jane Garcia lose it?

By   /   December 16, 2012  /   No Comments

Lee Cotter, state Senator-elect, District 36

One of the surprise victories in the November election was turned in Lee Cotter, who knocked off Mary Jane Garcia, who had served in the New Mexico Senate for 24 years.

But did Cotter win the race as much as Garcia lost it?

“I think it was a combination of both,” Cotter said.

We had a chance to meet Cotter last Thursday (Dec. 13) when he — along with every other new member of the House and Senate — spent a couple days at the Roundhouse going through freshman orientation.

“I think they (Garcia and her supporters) didn’t think they’d have to try very hard, so they didn’t” Cotter said of his surprisingly easy 53 percent to 46 percent victory in Senate District 36 that sent him, a Republican, to the Roundhouse.

“Twenty four years implies you’re a likely winner. In my case, I tried very hard. So did they drop the ball? Well, they probably did the exact same things they’ve done the last several times, so I kind of expect that I committed the win as they dropped the ball on the loss.”

Cotter had run and lost to Garcia twice in the past but 2012 was different as weeks before the election, Garcia found herself in a controversy when an investigative story from the New Mexico Watchdog disclosed that the long-time Democrat from Las Cruces had, over time, been paying herself thousands of dollars of cash from her campaign account.

Garcia then proceeded to commit a number of stumbles, including telling KOB-TV that “I can’t be there reading the law every time I travel.” Garcia ended up paying a $1,200 fine from the Secretary of State’s Office, saying, “I don’t want my constituents to think I’m a crook.”

Although she outraised Cotter by nearly $9,000 ($54,488.50 to $45,919), Cotter ended up heading to Santa Fe.

Cotter said the victory still hasn’t quite sunk in.

“They announced the early voting and I’m quite a bit ahead,” he recalled. “I was thinking, ‘there’s gotta be something wrong that’s going to happen with this deal.’ ”

The SD-36 is a 53.6 percent Democratic-performing district so it will be interesting see how conservatively Cotter votes during his 4-year term.

“I would really like to make it easy to be in business, easy to employ more people, which is what we need,” he said.

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Here’s part of our interview with Senator-elect Cotter:

 

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Since 2010, Rob Nikolewski has covered New Mexico politics and investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government. He also writes an opinion column in the Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Rob joined New Mexico Watchdog after 20 years in television as a sports anchor and reporter. He anchored at MSNBC, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Reno and Boise, winning three regional Emmy awards along the way. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in public administration from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Trinity University in San Antonio.