By Mike Linn
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega is seriously considering expanding his political aspirations to the stately stage of the New Mexico House of Representatives.
The Democrat said there’s a 50 percent chance he will run for the District 66 position. He said he will make his decision on Monday morning.
If he decides to run, he will be facing off against veteran lawmaker Rep. Earlene Roberts, R-Lovington, who said Thursday she plans to run for a ninth term.
The election is slated for Nov. 9.
“I feel very honored that many throughout the New Mexico Democratic Party are considering me as a viable candidate,” Ortega wrote in a statement to the Portales News-Tribune. “It’s a very positive thing; I’ve got the support.”
If elected, Ortega said he “would have to consider” giving up the remainder of his term as mayor, but would continue to work at Eastern New Mexico University’s KENW-TV.
Ortega worked as a city councilman from 1996 to 2002, when he was elected mayor.
“I never had the intentions of becoming a politician,” Ortega said. “But in working with my community and helping my community — that’s exciting. This is an opportunity to be involved.”
Roberts, a Realtor who has worked with Ortega on many issues related to local government, said being a legislator for 16 years is a big advantage for her reelection.
“Most everyone who has to run every two years would prefer to not have an opponent,” Roberts said. “But experience is a factor in Santa Fe. Most newcomers are treated like freshmen.”
Ortega’s experience as mayor of a rural community will give him a big advantage if elected as a state lawmaker, according to Santa Rosa Mayor and Rep. Joe Campos, a Democrat.
“I think (Orlando) is an exceptional mayor,” Campos said. “I think he would be a great asset in Santa Fe. We need more representatives to be aware of local governments’ needs. We have a lot of representatives who have no idea of what we go through as far as local government needs.”
For example, Campos said city and county officials in rural areas are knowledgeable on a variety of issues affecting their communities, while officials in larger cities and counties are not.
“If you’re the mayor of Santa Fe or Albuquerque you have professionals in every department and all you have is a cup of coffee in the morning and get your people to give you briefings,” Campos said. “It’s not that way rural government: You’re out there in your boots and you’re getting out there in the mud, out there with issues, out there to meet the people, to talk to the people about the issues.”
Campos described Ortega as “not shy about expressing his opinion” and a “good speaker,” but said he wasn’t sure of Ortega’s chances against the veteran Roberts.
Ortega emphasized that he is completely dedicated to his duties as mayor, but just needs to decide if he could better help the community as a state lawmaker.