Historical Overview of the Democratic Party of Santa Fe County
By Tom Mauter [Soley based on articles published in New Mexico newspapers]
The Early Years
Will Rogers — “I don’t belong to an organized political party — I’m a Democrat”
This well-know phase certainly is fitting when one reviews the history of the Democratic Party in Santa Fe County; a history that pre-dates statehood. It was the shortly after New Mexico gained statehood January 6, 1912 that the Democratic Party was divided into Progressive and Jeffersonian fractions. Early on from roughly 1912 to 1917 local Democrats were led by a Santa Fe City Democratic Central Committee chairman and by a Santa Fe County Democratic chairman. From 1918 to 1920 several members of Santa Fe’s Democratic and Republican parties fused together in what the New Mexican called “fusion” to oust the “Republican Gang” running the city’s administration. In the late 1920s, Republicans were dominating Santa Fe County politics. With the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s and 1940, Santa Fe political power swung to the Democrats.
Democrats were under a single Santa Fe County banner 1920 to 1938. That is not to say there weren’t differences. There certainly were but in the end the party united around a single chairman. That “fusion ticket” appeared again in 1938 when five local “Independent Democrats” joined Republicans running for election under the Republican banner. The formation of the Independent Democrats Organization (IDO) was launched by contesting Governor Tinnley delegates to the Democratic state convention. This lead to a return to a City Democratic Party and a County Democratic Party from 1938 to 1960.
1960’s – 1980’s
In the early 1950’s there was a trend of some Democrats registering as Republicans putting the two parties on more of an equal basis in terms of registrations. From 1960 to today we are again united under the single banner of the Democratic Party of Santa Fe County. The history of the Santa Fe Democratic Chairs is as varied as our party’s past. Several chairmen have gone on to be State Democratic Chairs, some have been ousted by local Democrats only to return again. One became a New Mexico State Supreme Court Judge. As with the nature New Mexico politics, independent of parties, the practices of patronage were a part of our past leading, in part, to various party splits. Then, until the mid 1980s, voters were registering 60% Democrats and 40% Republicans. In 1984 that was reversed. That year Ronald Reagan came within 3,000 votes of carrying Santa Fe County.
By 1990, Santa Fe County had 46,043 registered voters; 32,511 Democrats and 10,298 Republicans. Santa Fe was again at the heart of the state’s Democratic voters. In 1989, 50%+ of registered Democratic voters in New Mexico were in four counties: Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Dona Ana and Eddy. Add in McKinley and Sandoval counties and the total is 60%. Not only did voter registrations change over time but so did the party. Gone were the days when it was the announced norm of having the local political party in power being a partner with county officials in filling jobs making the party responsible for good government.
In 1999, rule changes required the Chair and Vice Chair of the State Democratic Party must be of different genders. Also, County Democratic Chairs could no longer endorse primary candidates. Today, County Democratic delegates to the State Convention must be evenly divided by gender. As with our history, we continue to evolve and debate as a party. Emerging issues always generate change. Confronting issues as a united party continues to be a challenge of the Democratic Party of Santa Fe County . . . a challenge that makes us better.