ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Former Public Regulation Commissioner Lynda Lovejoy was leading in early returns Tuesday night as she vied for her old seat on the powerful state panel.
Unofficial results showed Lovejoy leading incumbent Theresa Becenti-Aguilar and Cibola County businessman Edward Michael in District 4 with 44 percent of the vote.
With no Republican challenger, Tuesday's primary will effectively decide who wins the seat.
The race was tighter in District 5, where former Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones was leading retired automotive executive Merrie Lee Soules with 51 percent of the vote.
The winner in that contest will face Republican incumbent Ben Hall in the general election.
Incumbent Republican Pat Lyons ran unopposed in District 2, and there were no Democrats vying for his seat.
One of New Mexico's most powerful and highest-paid commissions, the Public Regulation Commission's five members decide complex utility and telecommunication issues and regulate transportation, transmission and pipeline companies.
The primary follows Monday's announcement of new federal guidelines for greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. The commission will play a key role in determining how New Mexico utilities adjust to the federal government's goals for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and how much of the costs associated with curbing pollution will be funneled to customers.
Two of the Southwest's largest coal-fired power plants are in District 4, along with significant natural gas, coal and uranium deposits. But many residents in the region still lack basic utilities. The district includes part of the Navajo Nation, several other Native American communities, and parts of Farmington, Gallup and Albuquerque.
All three District 4 candidates were raised in rural New Mexico, and Becenti-Aguilar and Lovejoy are Navajo. Lovejoy served previously on the commission and is a former state lawmaker. Michael is a former Cibola County commissioner.