A Republican candidate paid for shootings targeting N.M. Democrats, police say A former candidate for the state legislature was arrested Monday for allegedly orchestrating the shootings at the homes of local Democratic officials.

A losing Republican candidate in N.M. is charged over shootings at homes of Democrats

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Police say a man who lost an election lost again when he plotted against the rival party.

A MART├ŹNEZ, HOST:

Now, Solomon Pena ran for state legislature in New Mexico. The Republican refused to accept his overwhelming defeat. And according to police, he then paid people to open fire on the homes of Democrats. He's expected in court today.

INSKEEP: Our colleague Alice Fordham is with member station KUNM and is on the line from Santa Fe.

Good morning.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the charges against this man?

FORDHAM: Well, they're numerous. He's charged with multiple counts of shooting at homes, shooting from a car, conspiracy, firearms offenses. All of them are related to four incidents in recent weeks where two Democratic county commissioners and two legislators in Albuquerque had their homes shot at. In at least one case, the bullets passed through the walls of a home. And Pena visited at least one of the county commissioners, uninvited, previously with documents falsely claiming the election he lost was fraudulent. No one was injured in these attacks, but of course they were frightening not just for those targeted, but for other elected officials. Police say they have lots of evidence that Pena gave money and firearms to four men to carry out these attacks and personally rode along for at least one of them.

INSKEEP: This election that he was upset about was not exactly a barnburner, as they say.

FORDHAM: Yeah.

INSKEEP: He's a Republican, ran in a heavily Democratic district, lost to an incumbent by 48 points but made this claim that the system was rigged. Is this a widespread belief at this point in 2023 in New Mexico?

FORDHAM: Yeah. There are a lot of people in New Mexico - there are activists who believe that elections aren't conducted correctly. One prominent couple, David and Erin Clements, who travel the state and beyond giving presentations falsely saying that Dominion voting machines are not to be trusted - they have a big following. And a former county commissioner from the south of the state, Couy Griffin, was convicted of trespassing after he participated in the events of January 6. But if these allegations about Solomon Pena turn out to be true, it'll be an intersection of violent crime and election skepticism in a way we haven't seen like this before.

INSKEEP: How are people responding who are in office right now?

FORDHAM: Well, he was arrested Monday, the day before the New Mexico legislature began its 2023 session. So that was top of everyone's minds yesterday. Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate here, and the governor called for gun control legislation, including a ban on assault weapons. On the Republican side, state leaders have condemned the violence, praised law - police but didn't address the alleged political dimension to the attacks so far. One person I spoke with was New Mexico's secretary of state, Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Now, she's personally faced threats, which were investigated by the FBI. And she's highlighted the risk that local elected officials face often while administering elections. She laid the blame for these alleged attacks on the widespread promotion of the lie that the 2020 election and other elections in the U.S. aren't valid.

MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: This is exactly the issue that I have been trying to sound the alarm on here in our state for the last couple of years. Based on what I've been through and what others are now going through, this is when political rhetoric and, frankly, lies are used to incite political violence.

FORDHAM: And I spoke with Senator Linda Lopez, whose home was targeted. And she said that she was worried that people might not want to run for office if they thought the price would be putting their family and their neighborhood at risk.

INSKEEP: Reporter Alice Fordham with our member station KUNM.

Thanks for your reporting.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me.

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