Democrats vying for treasurer, PRC nominations

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Two Democrats are locked in a nasty primary for treasurer that has prompted allegations of bigotry and concerns that the race is getting out of hand.

Former Democratic state party chairman John Wertheim says in a campaign ad that his opponent, state Sen. Tim Eichenberg, discriminated against Latinos, women and gays with votes in the Senate and as Bernalillo County treasurer.

“Is Tim Eichenberg a real Democrat?” a voice asks on the TV ad. “He sided with Republicans to prevent equality for gay couples and failed to stand up to insurance companies that discriminate against women.”

Eichenberg denied the claims and called the ad a “smear.”

“My opponent is using 39-year-old smears because he doesn’t want to talk about experience, integrity and qualifications,” Eichenberg told supporters in a recent email. “On those issues, I’m the right choice for state treasurer.”

The winner in Tuesday’s primary will face Republican Rick Lopez in November.

The back and forth prompted current State Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman to blast the campaign ad, without naming Wertheim, for using “character assassination” and “unacceptable and despicable” attacks.

Bregman and Wertheim ran against each other in the 2000 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District seat. Both lost to John Kelly.

In addition, Bregman is listed as a registered agent for New Mexico Property Tax Consultants, a company owned by Eichenberg that helps real estate owners file protests of property tax assessments, New Mexico secretary of state records show

Meanwhile, three seats are up for grabs on the state Public Regulation Commission, one of New Mexico’s most powerful and highest paid panels. Its five members decide complex utility and telecommunication issues and regulate transportation, transmission and pipeline companies.

The races come as the federal government is considering regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. The commission will play a key role in determining how New Mexico utilities adjust and how much of the costs are funneled to customers.

In District 2, Republican Pat Lyons is running unopposed. In southern New Mexico’s District 5, former PRC Commissioner Sandy Jones and General Motors executive Merrie Lee Soules are vying for the Democratic nomination. The winner will face incumbent Republican Ben Hall in the general election.

In District 4, incumbent Democrat Theresa Becenti-Aguilar is being challenged by Lynda Lovejoy and Edward Michael. There is no Republican challenger so the primary will decide the race.

The district includes part of the Navajo Nation, several other Native American communities and parts of Farmington, Gallup and Albuquerque. It’s also home to two major coal-fired power plants and natural gas, coal and uranium deposits. Still, many residents in the district lack basic utilities.

All three candidates in District 4 were raised in rural New Mexico, and Becenti-Aguilar and Lovejoy are Navajo. Lovejoy previously served on the commission and is a former state lawmaker. Michael is a business owner and former Cibola County commissioner.

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Follow Susan Montoya Bryan at http://twitter.com/susanmbryannm and Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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