Hate Crimes and Violence Against Democrats

New Mexico is making headlines again. This time we have the distinction of producing the first MAGA Republican candidate known to shoot up the homes and offices of Democrats. We must hope Solomon Pena is the last of them, though he could just be the first.

Pena was defeated in the November 2022 general election for Albuquerque’s south valley District 14 seat by Miguel Garcia, who has served proudly for 25 years. He received 2,005 votes in the general election to Garcia’s 5,588.

Pena allegedly hired three men to help him shoot up the homes and offices of Democrats, including county commissioners Debbie O’Malley and Adriann Barboa, Sen. Linda Lopez, Rep. Javier Martinez, and attorney general Raul Torrez. Pena had made uninvited appearances at the homes of O’Malley and Barboa to complain that he was cheated out of office.

Pena was a convicted felon when the state GOP approved him to serve as their candidate and voted for him in the primary. In state court, he survived a challenge based on the fact that he did not seek a pardon after serving his full prison term and parole. (The decision allowing him to seek the post made a valid point that he should not be required to seek a pardon for crimes in addition to completing his prison and parole, but that is an issue for another day.)

Pena’s campaign website highlighted his beliefs: “There is no systemic racism. Latino/Hispanic persons and our Black brethren are free to pursue fulfilling lives. Prior to Trump being President the coastal elites, welfare deadbeats, foreign nations and illegal aliens were benefiting at the expense of the American middle class. This was a consequence of multifaceted global forces of erosion such as globalization and it was specifically being done to appease the demonic theories of the Globalist Elites and their foreign counterparts.”

It can be troubling to attempt to understand the mind of a hater triggered by defeat and unable to acknowledge that an election is a competition in which one candidate inevitably loses. Living with the knowledge that such a mind exists and has access to weapons did trouble many Democrats–including those protected by law enforcement during our county party’s Legislative Expo earlier this month.

Pena’s hate reminds us of the vulnerability of people protected by hate crimes laws. As with other perpetrators of hate crimes, Pena’s purpose appears to be not only hurting individual Democrats but also injuring a whole group. He can be punished for attempted murder, conspiracy, and other criminal activities, but not for the hate likely at the core of his motivation.

People who belong to minority groups and whose affiliation or identity is permanent or immutable are those whose victimization can lead to hate crime charges under our state law. In other words, Democrats don’t have a claim to being hate crime victims in these circumstances.

It’s possible state Democratic legislators will see in Pena’s actions a reason to amend the state hate crime penalties statutes. Currently, the only way to punish a hate crime under state law is to tack on a one-year “enhancement” penalty to a conviction.

In some other states, legislators have enacted “bias incident” legislation that allows for civil penalties such as injunctions and making financial damages available. Maybe it’s time for New Mexico to add to the available penalties now that we’ve been reminded how much it hurts the entirety of a community to target its members.