In the aftermath of the November 8th elections, the winner of the New Mexico Supreme Court race, Justice Judith Nakamura, will be retaining her seat on the court, much to the disappointment of her opponent Michael Vigil, the Chief Judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals.
“It’s devastating,” Vigil said, “You work very very hard, you believe in your candidacy, you believe in your message, you believe in the reactions you’re getting from people that you talk to… it’s a very very difficult thing to lose.”
Vigil was defeated 52 percent to 48 percent according to official count by the New Mexico Secretary of State. Vigil will retain his seat on the NM Court of Appeals.
“I’m going to be the best judge of the Court of Appeals I can be.” Vigil said, “I didn’t lose my job on the Court of Appeals, so I’ll be there. I won retention in 2012 for an eight year term, so I’m good to go until 2020.”
Vigil says one of the reasons his campaign was unsuccessful was a change in voter behavior. It seems, he says, that voters simply favored female candidates. Vigil cited the numbers from the New Mexico Court of Appeals race between Julie Vargas and Stephen French where Vargas’s winning percentage was nearly identical to Nakamura’s.
Nakamura won the Supreme Court race in Bernalillo County by 9.24 percent, capturing 54.62 percent of the vote. Vargas won the Court of Appeals race in Bernalillo County by 8.48 percent, capturing 54.24 percent of the vote.
“I looked at that and I said ‘Wow! What’s going on here?’” Vigil said.
The trend, as Vigil saw it, was that voters were casting their ballots for the female candidates in a race regardless of their party, incumbency, or public persona.
Vigil says he also noticed this trend in the Metropolitan Judicial race between Chris Schultz and Christine Eve Rodriguez, where Rodriguez won.
“I would not interpret the numbers from that race the same way,” UNM Political Science Professor, Gabriel Sanchez said.
“I think he (Vigil) may be suggesting that because there was a female presidential candidate on the ballot, that might have galvanized more female turnout than you would see ordinarily,” Sanchez said. “What I know did not happen is that those women voters said ‘there’s also a female candidate running for judge, I’m going to vote for her as well’.”
Sanchez said that voting by that criteria alone wouldn’t have awarded Nakamura the win, but instead that it was the “crossover Democratic” votes that decided the race — that is Democratic voters who crossed over to favor a Republican Candidate. He said that it was Nakamura’s public persona that gave her an advantage, meaning it was a candidate-based decision for the voters rather that a party-based decision.
Sanchez said that from an analytical standpoint that Nakamura “might have been one of the only Republicans who would be able to do really well in this (political) environment, largely because she has a lot of name recognition here in the metropolitan area and a lot of Democrats don’t necessarily view her from a partisan lens.”
Sanchez says that the other structural difference that could have been a factor in various races was the decision of the previous Secretary of State, Dianna Duran, to remove “straight-party tickets” where voters simply have to check the box for their party.
“It used to be the case where I could just walk in and check D or R, call it a day and leave,” Sanchez said, “now you actually have to go and click all the bubbles all the way down the ticket. That leads to the prospect of Republicans, like Nakamura, being able to get more crossover votes.”
While Vigil’s campaign proved unsuccessful, he doesn’t rule out the possibility of running for Supreme Court should another vacancy occur.
“You never say no, you never close all your doors,” Vigil said. “I’m not going to say absolutely and I’m not going to say absolutely not, it depends on what the lay of the land is.”
Vigil is up for judicial retention in 2020.