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When someone shot up Linda Lopez’s house, the truth is: She didn’t even know it, and she was there. Lopez lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The shooting happened on Jan. 3. That night, she’d stayed up late with her kids, and then they’d all gone to bed. It was about 1 in the morning when Lopez heard the bangs. And she assumed she knew what they were: fireworks.
Lopez’s 10-year-old daughter, Cherish, came into her room. Cherish had her own theories about what had woken her up. She thought maybe a spider had plopped down on her face? They’d had spiders before. She’d felt something, she knew that much. “She said she’d felt some sand or dirt on her face and on her nose,” Lopez said. “And I told her, ‘Sweetheart, maybe Mom needs to clean the fan on top of the bed.’ It’s not like I’m the best housekeeper in the world, so I thought maybe that’s something that needs to happen.”
Then, they went back to sleep.
“About 6:30, quarter of 7, I woke up and proceeded to turn on the bathroom light. I looked toward my bed, and on the wall, you could see what had happened. There was a hole in my wall above my bed. And then I looked to the left, and there was a hole through the closet door—12 bullet holes total. My daughter’s room is right next to mine. And the trajectory that the bullet had, it could have grazed her head if she had been sitting up.”
After seeing the damage inside, Lopez threw on a robe and slippers and went out front. That’s when she saw that the garage had been sprayed with bullets, too. So she pulled out her cellphone and called for help. Lopez works as a state senator, so she knew how to get the police chief on the line. “Within 30 minutes, police were present, and I had to wake up the children because they were still asleep.”
Lopez has been working in politics for almost 30 years. I asked her at what point it crossed her mind that what had happened could have been politically motivated. “I’ve had threats over the years, maybe via email or maybe somebody will leave a message on my home phone number. But it’s never risen to this point,” Lopez said. “When I was speaking to Chief Medina that morning, I distinctly remember he said, ‘Well, you’re the third one.’ Two county commissioners had also had their home shot up.”
On Thursday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with Linda Lopez about how a series of brazen, partisan attacks in New Mexico are making her rethink what it means to work across the aisle. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Mary Harris: As soon as state Sen. Linda Lopez realized other politicians had been attacked, she started reaching out to them. Pretty soon she realized it wasn’t three Democrats who’d been shot at; it was four. And for a little while, no one knew why, exactly. But pretty soon, that changed. Eventually, police ended up tracing the attacks to a man named Solomon Peña, who had recently run for the state House of Representatives as a Republican, and lost. Peña refused to concede and took to Twitter to claim the election had been rigged.
Authorities now say Peña hired four men to carry out these shootings, aimed at area Democrats. In addition to Lopez and those two county commissioners, a state representative named Javier Martínez was also attacked at home. Lopez had been hit last, and Peña allegedly attended that shooting himself. He was arrested on Jan. 16. When Solomon Peña was arrested, were you surprised?
Linda Lopez: Just grateful. Grateful that someone can be and will be held accountable for what happened. I still have many questions, to be honest. With our county commissioners—our county commission is the entity that certifies election results, so I kind of get it. For those who are election deniers, they go first to the body that certifies election results. But where do I come in this picture? Why me? Why my family?
You told my producer that basically you knew him because he had a big billboard near your house and that was sort of the beginning and the end of it.
Yeah, that’s it. There’s this one major thoroughfare that goes from the west side of Albuquerque over to the east side, crossing the Rio Grande. And you see the big billboard of Solomon Peña running for House district, and I’d see that every day. That’s about the closest I’ve ever come to meeting Mr. Peña or knowing who he was. Of course, he was running against Rep. Miguel Garcia. But the Senate district that Mr. Peña has his place of living in is not in my Senate district. So for me, I’ve just been trying to piece together why me.
It seems to me like Peña was kind of a distinctive candidate. He described himself as the MAGA king, and his candidacy was controversial enough that other Democrats had taken note. And actually Rep. Miguel Garcia had tried to make it so that Peña could not serve if he won the election. So it seems like he was sort of on people’s radar.
Most of us were aware of the news when Rep. Garcia sued in court to have Mr. Peña removed from the ballot. That was when it became much more public about his background.
Peña’s background was controversial for a lot of reasons. He claimed to have attended riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, for instance. But it wasn’t just that he was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump; he also had an extensive criminal record. He had spent seven years in prison for a string of robberies on big-box stores, which Democrats had argued should have disqualified him from serving. And in his district, critics also said he was an overly aggressive campaigner, urging voters to change their party affiliation to vote for him. But a judge ultimately decided that Peña could stay in the race.
What I have seen over my years is judges are very reluctant to remove somebody from the ballot.
Eventually Peña lost his legislative race by a significant margin, like 50 points, almost.
Right. The district that he was running in as a Republican is a solid Democrat district. And I think he already knew what the outcome was going to be, quite frankly.
One of the strange things to me is that right after he was allegedly involved with the shooting at your home, Solomon Peña was elected to a leadership position in the county Republican Party—a county ward chairman.
Yeah. Our county is broken up into wards. And in the particular ward for the Republican Party, he was elected, which is so ludicrous. I am hoping that the Republican Party of Bernalillo County will remove him at this point in time. But the response from the Republican Party for the state—it’s interesting. They’re waiting until he’s proven guilty. The decision that was made by the judge in district court is that he’s going to stay in jail until the trial begins, which I’m grateful for. But, this should be an automatic removal as ward chair. So TBD. Let’s see what they really are going to do.
Have any of your Republican colleagues reached out to you to talk about what you experienced?
I do have a couple of legislators who did reach out to me and did share their disgust with what happened. And I really appreciate the outreach that did take place. I know that Senate Republicans did have a press conference that mentioned something to the effect that this is uncalled for, etc., etc. But that’s the extent of it at this point.
I wonder if you thought about saying, like, “I’m so grateful for your comments. What are you going to do now?”
That’s part of a conversation that still needs to be had—on a national level. This happened here in New Mexico, yes, but it’s happened in other places across the country. It’s not just localized. You can look at the governor of Michigan. You can look at our secretary of state here in New Mexico, who’s been threatened. You can look at other secretaries of state who’ve also been threatened because of this whole issue of election deniers. And that’s kind of what happened on Jan. 6 with the insurrection. It’s a bigger issue across this country. It’s not just localized here in New Mexico. It’s a bigger thing. And I really believe that it’s an underlying issue about safeguarding our democracy. And as I said before, I’m sworn to uphold the constitution of the state. I’m also sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. And apparently the national Republican Party—they’ve got problems. And if the national folks can’t take care of it, then what are we going to do at the local level?
There’s this one detail about the attack on her home that Linda Lopez can’t shake. It’s about how easy it would have been for things to have gone much, much worse. Authorities now allege that Solomon Peña himself came to Lopez’s home because he thought previous shootings hadn’t been violent enough. He reportedly brought his own automatic weapon.
I’m not very familiar with guns, but he essentially had a gun that had a huge magazine attached to it, and it jammed while he was shooting at our house. If that gun had not jammed, it would have been a very different story.
This detail lingers because it connects so neatly to her work—work she has yet to finish.
I’ve introduced and co-sponsored legislation in the past about reducing bump stocks and all the other stuff. And I just did this this session again, too.
Gun control legislation.
We cannot keep going the way we are. It’s an epidemic in this country. We have to come to some point where we can’t use, and should not be using, guns as the end-all response. Even for me, somebody came up to me and said, “Well, why don’t you go get some guns now? That way you can protect yourself.” And that’s kind of the mantra. And I said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” There are other ways. I believe that we can have a discourse. But just because there’s more shootings now, you have to arm yourself to protect yourself and your family and your property. There’s that whole radicalization of guns. Yes, the Constitution guarantees it to us, but how far do we go? And I am going to learn a lot more as time progresses because it’s something that has hit close to home, very close to home.
Given all this, I wonder if you’re approaching your job any differently right now, especially since what happened is so tied to your work.
It causes me to be keeping my eyes open, watching my back, making sure that I know where the kids are and they know where I’m at. My neighbors also—I’ve noticed that change, that we’re all checking in. And I think that’s the most important thing that we can do because I also believe part of this tactic was to bring fear into the mix. And fear doesn’t have a place in my home. Fear doesn’t have a place in our community. They’re not going to win on that. And if that was part of the intent of what Mr. Peña and his associates or whoever else is associated with this action that was taking place in our community, fear’s not going to win.
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Are you sleeping in your house again?
Oh, yes. I try and keep it as normal as possible for the family because I don’t want for the fear to take over.
What was the hardest question your daughter asked you?
Two of them, I would say. She did ask, “Why us, Mom?” And the second, that she has stated repeatedly, is she says, “I’m very lucky.” And when a 10-year-old is able to do that—because 10-year-olds in my world are supposed to be a little more happy, thinking about many other things—for this to be on her mind and to ask me those questions, it gives me as a mom the challenge of trying to find how we work through this. And we’re working on it just one day at a time. We’re still processing, and it’s going to take a while. It’s not going to be over tomorrow. It’s not going to be over next week. It’s going to take time. But we’ll get there. We will get there.