plame with voter

Former CIA officer and Congressional candidate Valerie Plame met with voters in Española in November 2019.

Of the seven Democratic candidates in the race for the U.S. Third Congressional District seat, former CIA officer Valerie Plame and Santa Fe-based lawyer Teresa Leger Fernandez have received the most attention.

First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna, environmental attorney Kyle Tisdel, Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, Sandoval County Clerk Laura Montoya, former Obama administration and state official John Blair and Plame and Leger Fernandez will all compete in the June 2 primary for the seat.

By the end of March, Plame had raised the most money––$1,694,417 in total contributions––and had over $690,000 on hand, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Leger Fernandez was close behind her, at $1,058,115, with more than $640,000 on hand.

Serna followed, with $643,108 total and more than $256,000 on hand. Blair raised $341,344 total and had more than $141,000 on hand; Sanchez raised $121,613 total and had about $29,000 on hand; Tisdel raised $64,590 and had around $2,800 on hand; and Montoya raised about $37,000 in total and had about $6,500 on hand.

Leger Fernandez was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a White House Fellow and by President Barack Obama as vice chair of the Advisory on Historic Preservation. 

She has worked for 30 years as an attorney for tribes and community leaders and has served as an acequia commissioner and on the board of Homewise to increase access to affordable housing.

She describes herself on her website as a “proud daughter of Northern New Mexico.” 

She mentions the issues she would prioritize––early childhood education, land and water rights, the creation of a renewable energy economy, environmental preservation and access to broadband, transportation, affordable housing and healthcare–through the lens of her own experience in the state.

Leger Fernandez has been endorsed by Taos Pueblo, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Sierra Club, the Latino Victory Fund, the Working Families Party, Planned Parenthood and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among others.

Plame is emphasizing her former CIA career in her campaign. One campaign video displays her racing through an obstacle course while her brother says that the CIA trained her to do so.

She was outed as a CIA agent in 2003, when officials in the Bush administration leaked her name after her husband published an opinion piece in the New York Times challenging the administration’s claim that a nuclear threat in Iraq was imminent.

She states on her website that “there are two existential threats to our existence: climate change and nuclear war,” and that she worked in the CIA to combat the threat of nuclear weapons and is determined to combat the climate crisis.

Her main priorities are education, the environment and expansion of economic opportunity.

Some are skeptical that Plame could represent the district well, since she is not from New Mexico.

Political activist Antonio DeVargas, of Servilleta, said though he thinks Plame is a “very capable person,” and though he is sympathetic to her because of how she was outed from the CIA, he will not vote for her.

“I would still prefer to vote for somebody who’s born and raised here,” he said.

Plame’s website states that she first “became enchanted” with New Mexico’s beauty when she visited Los Alamos National Laboratory while working on nuclear counter-proliferation issues for the CIA, and that since making the state her home, she has become involved with local foundations and nonprofits.

DeVargas also said he has always been suspicious of the CIA, because of the injustices the agency has committed.

Political activist Felipe Martinez echoed DeVargas’ suspicion about Plame’s CIA connections, citing the CIA’s involvement in U.S. intervention in Latin America. In multiple countries, the U.S. helped to overthrow democratically-elected left-wing leaders and replace them with right-wing dictators.

“We are largely responsible for the conditions in those countries, and the CIA is involved in a lot of those covert activities and regime change,” he said. “Because Valerie Plame and her husband were CIA operatives, I have no respect, no need to even think that I could ever support a CIA operative. Whether or not she worked in Latin America is beside the point.”

Martinez said he is leaning toward voting for Leger Fernandez, because he feels she has a “good grasp” of the issues faced by Northern New Mexicans.

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