High school teacher defends NE Heights House seat

House District 30 candidates Kurstin Johnson, left, and Natalie Figueroa

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Until the 2018 election, an Albuquerque state House seat in Northeast Heights had been reliably Republican for the previous 20-plus years – with only two years of mixed Democratic control.

But the seat was one of many in the Albuquerque metro area claimed by Democrats in 2018 amid a blue wave that swept incumbent GOP lawmakers in the state’s largest city out of office.

Now, Republican Kurstin Johnson is trying to win it back in an election cycle that could be more favorable to Republicans, defeating Republican incumbent Natalie Figueroa, a high school teacher elected in the seat four years ago.

Johnson, a real estate broker, said she was compelled to run for the House District 30 seat after interacting with homeowners planning to leave Albuquerque because of violent crime and a noticeable homeless population. “It’s gotten out of control if people are willing to leave here,” she said in an interview.

She also said she was troubled by the way the Democratic-controlled House blocked several crime-related bills during this year’s 30-day legislative session without acknowledging the grief of victims’ family members who testified in support of the measures.

Figueroa, for her part, also cited crime as a priority, but said improving the criminal justice system will require more than just tougher sentences. She said expanded behavioral health treatment, more law enforcement officers and a more efficient court system must be part of the solution.

“There’s a lot more we need to do for public safety,” said Figueroa, who cited the passage of a bipartisan bill dealing with the sale of stolen car parts as among the steps lawmakers have already taken.

Figueroa also cited her work to improve broadband in New Mexico and said she would push for an independent redistricting commission if re-elected.

The House district is one of the state’s most competitive, having been redrawn last year following the release of the decennial census. It moved slightly north and now stretches from Comanche NE to San Antonio NE, taking in the Arroyo Del Oso golf course.

Both candidates have raised hefty sums in the race, with Johnson receiving nearly $180,000 in donations and Figueroa reporting about $125,000 in contributions as of last month.

While the race has featured a flurry of campaign mailers, both candidates say they have no personal issues with their opponent. But they disagree on a number of issues, including abortion and whether lawmakers should be paid a salary.

Figueroa, who teaches part-time at Volcano Vista High School, said most voters are smart enough to see through fraudulent mailers. She also said her students are part of her motivation to seek re-election. “Hearing them talk about what they want for the future informs me a lot as a legislator,” Figueroa said.

As for Johnson, whose husband, Wayne Johnson, is a former state auditor and Bernalillo County commissioner, running for the state House is something she felt compelled to do, given her city’s trajectory.

“It’s rare to find a welcome mat anymore – it’s more common to find cameras and gates,” she said.

Q&A: House District 30 Candidate Kurstin Johnson

NAME: Kurstin S. Johnson POLITICAL PARTY: Republican OCCUPATION: Realtor/Small Business Owner HOMETOWN: Albuquerque…

Q&A: House District 30 Candidate Natalie Figueroa

NAME: Natalie Figueroa POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat JOB: Spanish High School Teacher HOMETOWN: Albuquerque…

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