Michelle Lujan Grisham

The New Mexico congresswoman and Hispanic Caucus chair will step down to run for an open governor seat. She would become the first Democratic woman of color to lead a state.

Riva Richmond By Riva Richmond

Editor’s Note: Our coverage of Michelle Lujan Grisham is part of Running Women, a project following 15 compelling women candidates for U.S. political offices in 2018. Check back often for updates.

Michelle Lujan Grisham, candidate for New Mexico governor

New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham has her eye on higher office in 2018. Among the country’s few Hispanic lawmakers, she is relinquishing her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to run for an open governor seat.

Lujan Grisham is part of a wave of women who are readying runs for governorships around the country, an office held by only a half dozen women today that, historically, has been a challenging post for women to win. But the 12th generation New Mexican aims to replace another woman, Republican Governor Susana Martinez, who was first elected in 2010 and will not run again due to term limits. 

In her campaign announcement video, Lujan Grisham promised New Mexicans a “new beginning” — one that will do away with Gov. Martinez’s “failed policies” and take on the state’s high unemployment, poverty and addiction rates and improve its school system. Born in Los Alamos and raised in Santa Fe, she is a single mother of two daughters, grandmother, caregiver of her mother and a widow — who would add to that list first Democratic woman of color to serve as a governor. (We are also following the race of Debra Haaland, who aims to succeed Lujan Grisham and would be the first Native American women in Congress.)

Gov. Martinez’s departure opens the door to a competitive race, however, and a number of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring. But the race is seen as leaning Democratic, and Lujan Grisham could well find an easy path to the party’s nomination. She leads the Democratic pack in political experience, having been elected in November to a third term in Congress representing New Mexico’s first district. She has already raised an impressive $2.2 million in total contributions as of Sept. 30 and has been endorsed by Emily’s List, a powerful fundraiser for women candidates.

Related: Emily’s List Aims to Seize Its Moment

Lujan Grisham’s competition in the primary includes Jeff Apodaca, a communications executive and son of former New Mexico Governor Jerry Apodaca; State Senator Joseph Cervantes; and Peter DeBenedittis, who worked on the New Mexico Media Literacy Project and founded the Alcohol Literacy Challenge. Congressman Steve Pearce, who represents New Mexico’s second district and has a solid background in business, politics and the military, is the only Republican candidate for governor so far.

Among the 8.5 percent of Congress of Hispanic descent, Lujan Grisham currently serves as chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In the House, she has focused on health policy and the elderly, and particularly on increasing veterans’ access to health care. She came to Congress with expertise in those areas, having previously served as president of a health insurance consulting business and the appointed head of New Mexico’s Department of Health as well as an attorney for the elderly and director of the state agency on aging.

Lujan Grisham has also passed legislation to help local Native American tribes, improve public schools and pay for law enforcement training. As governor, she says her priorities will remain the same, along with strengthening New Mexico’s economy. Among the people running for her House seat is Debra Haaland, who would become the first Native American woman in Congress and whose campaign Running Women is also following.

Posted: January 17, 2018

Riva RichmondMichelle Lujan Grisham