The race to fill Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s previous seat in Congress is a crowded one — and it’s gaining national attention from tribal leaders, even celebrities.

Every major party in New Mexico is tasked with choosing one person to represent them in a June 1 special election, according to rules set by the state’s secretary.

State lawmaker and attorney Georgene Louis, Acoma Pueblo, is running as a Democrat for the position.

If selected on Tuesday by the state’s Democratic Party, she will be on the ballot in June and will ultimately pave the way for one pueblo woman to succeed another in Congress.

“Tribes realize that this isn’t just an important election for New Mexico, but it’s an important election for Indian Country,” Louis said.

Louis is currently a five-term state representative and serves as general counsel of Tesuque Pueblo. She is also a justice at San Ildefonso’s Supreme Court. Previously, Louis has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law where she earned her law degree at.

(Related: Georgene Louis: Continuing Deb Haaland's momentum)

Democrats have held the 1st District seat since 2009, which includes most of Albuquerque. But Republicans see an opening in a potentially low-turnout special election set for June 1.

The state’s Republican party chose its nominee on Saturday. State Sen. Mark Moores will represent the GOP in June after being selected out of a pool of seven candidates.

A three-term state senator, Moores positioned himself as a seasoned campaigner and fundraiser, with a conservative voting record at the statehouse in Santa Fe on issues of gun rights and natural resources.

Republican Elisa Martinez, Diné, Zuni and Hispanic, was among the candidates who was considered but was not ultimately chosen.

The district has consistently been a stepping stone to higher office for Republican and Democratic politicians, including now-deceased Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., former U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

ENDORSEMENTS
Louis has quickly garnered the support of tribal nations, Indigenous lawmakers and prominent celebrities like actors Mark Ruffalo and Wes Studi, Cherokee, after declaring her candidacy in January.

“It's important that a Native woman win Deb Haaland's seat in Congress because #RepresentationMatters,” Ruffalo tweeted Friday.

Louis has also gained support from every pueblo nation in New Mexico and Texas through an endorsement from the All Pueblo Council of Governors. Others, including the National Coalition of Large Tribes and the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, have endorsed her.

Indigenous lawmakers across the country have issued statements of support including Kansas state reps. Ponka-We Victors and Christina Haswood. North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Buffalo and the American Indian Caucus of the Montana state legislature have endorsed Louis.

“They’ve really been such great supporters coming to the table to ensure that they are supporting me, not just as a Native American candidate, but someone that has the experience to step up and run with where Deb left off.”

THE PROCESS
New Mexico Democrats will choose its nominee in a closed-door, internal election by a special coalition called a “state central committee.” The committee is composed of approximately 200 local Democrats who are tasked with making key decisions about Democratic party leadership.

All of the committee members have been campaigned heavily by Louis and the 7 other Democratic candidates. 

Declared Democrats vying for the party’s nomination in June’s special election

  • State Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez
  • State Representative Georgene Louis
  • State Representative Patricia Roybal Caballero
  • State Representative Melanie Stansbury
  • Francisco Fernández
  • Selinda Guerrero
  • Randi McGinn
  • Victor Reyes

Louis said many of the coalition members have taken time to learn about every candidate. “They're learning about our education, our background and our experience in government and listening to how we plan to serve New Mexico in Congress.”

The party held a public forum on Sunday where candidates expressed their values. At the event, Louis campaigned heavily for the position, saying she will aim to provide COVID-19 relief, combat climate change and work for social justice.

Democrats will pick a nominee through a balloting process that will start Tuesday and could extend for days until one candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes. If needed, run off elections will continue throughout the week until a candidate is chosen.

(Related: What happens to Deb Haaland’s House seat?)

If chosen as the Democratic party’s nominee, Louis said she plans to campaign “in full force,” aiming to target all voters to win the seat.

If not selected, Louis said she will get back to work as a state lawmaker and will support whoever the Democratic candidate is. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report