Michael McDevitt, Las Cruces Sun-News
Published 10:04 p.m. MT Oct. 1, 2020


Many states are planning on drastically different elections this year and mail-in ballots could be a big game changer.


LAS CRUCES – State Rep. Nathan Small, D-Doña Ana, is being challenged by schoolteacher Brandi Polanco for the District 36 seat in the New Mexico House.

Small, a former Las Cruces city councilor and a conservationist, was first elected to the seat in 2016. He’s seeking his third two-year term. The state representative is married to U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.

The district covers parts of northwest Doña Ana County.

The Democratic candidate is running on a platform which includes investing in education — such as raising teacher pay and boosting classroom budgets —  improving access to health care, creating jobs, protecting public land and making it easier for residents to get hunting licenses.

Small said he was proud to have supported successful Senate legislation in 2019 that banned surprise medical billing for patients.

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“New Mexico was one of the first three states … that held the New Mexico resident harmless. Through no fault of their own, say they had an emergency procedure or the hospital didn’t tell them an out-of-network caregiver would be working on them,” Small said. “They don’t have to pay that bill anymore.”

Polanco, a Republican, is a math teacher for Las Cruces Public Schools. She teaches Algebra I, Algebra II, geometry and financial literacy, she said, and has taught history and language arts in the past. She’s been a teacher for 16 years and has worked in the education system for the past 22 years. Polanco has four children.

Polanco is running a campaign which is focused on improving the state’s low education ranking and education outcomes. She said more money needs to go to the classroom rather than administrative costs and money needs to “follow” the student.

“I want to be a part of that fix,” Polanco said. “The money that has currently been allocated to education is not going to all the students. I’m in the classrooms. I know what we get. I know what’s available to us.”

Polanco said teachers need to be held accountable, and the state needs a better evaluation system that’s equitable and rewards good teachers.

Brandi Polanco (Photo: Brandi Polanco)

She opposes the state’s red flag gun law, wants to reduce youth suicide and increase the availability of mental health resources and treatment options and believes in “comprehensive immigration reform.”

New Mexico is consistently ranked last in education and reported the highest national suicide rate in 2018. The state also recently ranked fifth highest in youth suicide. The pandemic is expected to increase the need for mental health care in the state.

“New Mexico just continues to rank the highest in the worst things,” Polanco said.

Small also recognizes New Mexico’s uphill battle on education and said he agrees with continuing to make investments.

The Republican candidate said her Christian faith makes her pro-life on abortion and opposes so-called “late term abortions” — a non-medical term for the rare instances in which an abortion occurs during or after the late second trimester.

Small said what he thinks has made him an effective legislator is his spot on the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. He said as the only representative of solely Doña Ana County on that committee, voters can rely on his ability to secure spending on roads and flood control projects in his district as the pandemic tightens the state budget.

The state representative said the COVID-19 pandemic and the vulnerabilities it presents for people with preexisting conditions has exacerbated the need for accessible health care.

“We have to make sure folks can get the health care they need at an affordable price,” Small said.

New Mexico House Rep. Nathan Small, D-Doña Ana, has served District 36 since his election in 2016. (Photo: Courtesy of Nathan Small)

But Small said the transition to online schooling for thousands of New Mexico students due to the pandemic has cemented the need for broadband infrastructure development in his district.

While Polanco opposes the state’s red flag gun law, advocates of the law point to statistics which have shown a decline in firearm suicides in places where similar laws have been passed.

Asked why she opposed the red flag law as a method of preventing suicides, Polanco said she doesn’t think the suicide rate and gun laws “are connected at all.”

“Anybody that wants to end their life, they are going to find a way to do it,” Polanco said.

Small introduced a bill in the winter that makes electric transmission projects eligible for industrial revenue bond funding. It went into effect in July and is supposed to help increase renewable energy infrastructure and jobs, a tenet of Small’s reelection campaign.

He also cosponsored the Energy Transition Act, which passed in 2019. It calls for New Mexico to become carbon-neutral by 2045 and provides financial assistance to communities where coal-fired power plants have closed.

The representative cosponsored an unsuccessful bill this past winter that would have restructured the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. But Small also supported creation of the state Independent Ethics Commission in 2017, an Outdoor Recreation Division at the state level in 2019 and passed legislation supporting value-added agriculture.

Small also sits on the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources committees.

The general election is Nov. 3 and early voting begins Oct. 6.

Candidates provided their positions on a series of general issues for the League of Women Voters of Greater Las Cruces. Their responses can be viewed at http://onyourballot.vote411.org/race-detail.do?id=21626019.

You can also learn more about Small and Polanco on their websites.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, [email protected] or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

View a map of the 36rd state House district here:

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