By Milan Simonich
No resident of Santa Fe can vote for congressional candidate Gabe Vasquez, who’s running in a different district. He came to town anyway.
A Democrat from Las Cruces, Vasquez has everything to gain by moving beyond the boundaries of his 2nd Congressional District to enlist supporters driven by the politics of rage.
On a recent workday afternoon, he met with 13 people in the small Community Room of DeVargas Center mall. Most operate under the acronym POW, which stands for Patchwork of Women.
The group formed immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.
“It galvanized everything,” said Santa Fe resident Leslie House. “Even though everyone realized it could happen, it was a gut punch the day it did.”
House and all other members of Patchwork of Women see abortion rights as a defining issue in the November election. They’re committed to helping Vasquez financially and by campaigning for him in his far-flung district stretching from the Mexican border to Albuquerque’s South Valley and west side.
Vasquez, 38, grew up a Roman Catholic, but he denounced the Supreme Court ruling that clears the way for states to enact anti-abortion laws.
His opponent, 58-year-old Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell, applauded the court for ending Roe v. Wade. “Life wins,” Herrell said soon after the ruling.
She went further Thursday with a religious pronouncement. “We’re fighting for more God and less government,” Herrell wrote in a pitch for campaign donations.
Leaving God out of the equation, Vasquez says Herrell and other Republicans are guilty of hypocrisy when they talk about limiting government’s reach. With anti-abortion laws, Herrell and her party want to make health care decisions for more than half the population, hardly a move toward small government, Vasquez said.
One of his supporters from Patchwork of Women interjected: “It’s small enough to fit in the uterus.”
Vasquez says he doesn’t consider the end of Roe v. Wade a political opportunity. Rather, it’s a ruling he opposes on practical grounds.
“We do not want the government in our bedroom, [or] in our doctor’s office,” he said.
Abortion is the great divide between Herrell and Vasquez, though it’s far from the only issue separating the two.
Herrell attached herself to former President Donald Trump in an outlandish maneuver that might hurt her in the Nov. 8 election. She voted against certifying Electoral College victories for Joe Biden in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Without supplying evidence, Trump claimed he won both states but somehow was cheated. Herrell, a freshman in Congress, supported Trump even though she knew little or nothing about the elections in Pennsylvania and Arizona. Worse still, she voted against certifying the elections after rioters backing Trump tore through the Capitol.
Trump’s coattails were long enough in the old 2nd District to help Herrell win in 2020. His influence might not matter as much this year because the district has been redrawn.
Republican strongholds such as Lea and Eddy counties were splintered in congressional redistricting.
Sections of Albuquerque that were moved into the 2nd District should strengthen Vasquez.
With Trump returned to private life, Herrell appeared recently at a campaign rally with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible presidential contender in 2024. Any impression DeSantis makes in New Mexico will be minimal.
Along with her anti-abortion plank, Herrell’s platform includes support for oil, gas and ranching, industries she says are under attack. She recently co-sponsored a bill to better compensate producers of livestock whose herds are “adversely affected” by endangered Mexican gray wolves.
Vasquez, an American-born son of immigrants, is a first-generation New Mexico resident. A former Las Cruces city councilor and aide to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, Vasquez presents himself as a public servant with no trappings of wealth.
“I got a dog, a truck and a house, and that’s all I got. I’m very proud of all three,” he said.
Wary of politicians enriching themselves while undermining fair play, he favors a long-shot reform: “I want to prevent members of Congress from trading stocks while in office.”
Vasquez says Congress has failed to deliver a smart and fair immigration system. He places blame on both political parties.
But abortion was the issue that stirred people to organize. “The catalyst was Roe being overturned. The same day six or seven or eight of us got together,” said Diane Buchanan of Patchwork of Women.
Her group will spread the word. Vasquez hopes it brings about a statewide coalition to go along with his dog, truck and house.