SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A third Democratic candidate, Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City, joined the race for governor on Tuesday in a bid to unseat Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
Morales announced his candidacy in his southwestern New Mexico hometown, saying he was "ready to take on a political system that no longer works for our people."
He joined Attorney General Gary King and Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque in seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Morales said his father worked as a copper miner and his grandfather was a custodian.
"They instilled in me the New Mexico values of caring for each other and the importance of doing everything you can to make things better for the next generation," Morales said in his announcement speech, a copy of which was released by his campaign.
Morales, a hospital administrator, has served in the Senate since 2008, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson to fill a vacancy created by Sen. Ben Altamirano's death. Morales won in the general election later that year and was re-elected to a four-year term in 2012.
Morales criticized Martinez for "out of touch leadership that's more concerned with political ambition than the ambition of our young people," and for vetoing legislation that would have raised the state's minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour. Lawmakers rejected a proposal backed by the governor to raise the hourly minimum wage to $7.80, which is the same as neighboring Arizona.
Martinez campaign spokesman Danny Diaz said that "Morales will not be able to conceal his out-of-the-mainstream record, which includes voting to reinstate the food tax on hardworking New Mexicans."
Morales supported a package of tax increases in 2010 that would have imposed the gross receipts tax on groceries and food staples at the rate levied by local governments. Richardson vetoed the food tax provision but signed other tax increases in the legislation to help balance the state's budget.
Morales said if he's elected, he would ask the Legislature to approve a new evaluation system for educators rather than use a plan implemented by the Martinez administration.
Martinez vetoed Morales-sponsored measures approved by the Legislature earlier this year for overhauling the teacher evaluation system and revamping a newly implemented program for assigning schools A to F grades, which depend heavily on student performance on tests. Education groups have been critical of the evaluation and school grading systems.
Morales said "we will take back our schools and end the unfair reforms that limit our children by teaching to the test instead of giving kids the freedom to dream."
He previously served as Grant County clerk, and started his career as a special education teacher in the Silver City area.
Morales, 40, earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Western New Mexico University and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from New Mexico State University.
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