New Mexico holds closed primary elections, which means that only registered Democrats and Republicans can vote in their respective races. In Santa Fe County, the Democratic winners of the county commissioner, assessor and sheriff’s races do not face Republican challengers in November, so the outcomes will be decided in the primaries. For other races, such as the gubernatorial seat, there will be notable partisan face-offs come Nov. 2.
SFR’s normal routine for elections is to bring all candidates in as a group for interviews prior to endorsement. We stuck to this process for the Santa Fe County races. But due to the unwieldy nature of this campaign season—not to mention the limited hours in a given day—we broke from routine for other challenges. Some interviews were conducted by phone and, in some cases, we are relying on our previous reporting on these races over the last few months to make our recommendations. Supporting information about the candidates is included, as are links to information regarding precincts and voter registration. SFR’s endorsements for this week only address primary races in which there are challenges; we will revisit all contested races for the November general election in the coming months.
Come 2011, New Mexicans will have a new governor, and Santa Fe County residents will have numerous new local government representatives. We provide these recommendations to our readers in the hopes that they are useful in choosing the best candidates for the jobs. But as recent history shows, there can never be too much watchdogging of public officials. We plan to keep an eye on whomever takes office in the coming year, and we hope our readers will help us do so.
Live coverage of 2010 primary election returns from Santa Fe County will be on the air at 8 pm, Tuesday, June 1 on KSFR 101.1 FM and on Comcast Channel 28. Anchoring the coverage from the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office will be Bill Dupuy and Dan Gerrity of KSFR and Editor Julia Goldberg of the Santa Fe Reporter.
Polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm, Tuesday, June 1. To view sample ballots and primary polling locations: santafecounty.org/clerk. The Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office can also be reached at 505-986-6280.
To check your voter registration status: https://voterview.state.nm.us
More information on Santa Fe County elections is available from The League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County: santafeco.nm.lwvnet.org
US Congress, District 3
Incumbent Democratic US Rep. Ben Ray Luján is unchallenged in the primary election. But two Republicans, Adam Kokesh and Tom Mullins, will compete to take on Luján in November, and approximately 15,000 registered Republicans in Santa Fe County have the opportunity to help set the course of that race. The diverse district also includes Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties, and stretches into Rio Rancho, Gallup and Farmington.
Mullins, an oil and gas consultant from Farmington, is certainly the favorite among Republican insiders; he blew Kokesh away at the Republicans’ pre-primary convention and has been picking up the lion’s share of endorsements.
While Mullins, who is traditionally conservative, may have greater appeal to GOP primary voters, we think Kokesh has more to offer the Democrats and independents that would be needed to overtake Luján (Kokesh also been a more successful fundraiser than Mullins, thus far; one of Kokesh’s signficiant backers is former presidential candidate US Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, whose Liberty PAC is supporting Kokesh).
Kokesh is perhaps best known for his opposition to the war in Iraq, his interest in veterans’ issues and his libertarian attitude toward government. While his campaign hasn’t won him fans in the party base, we find his independent thinking more interesting than that of his opponent. Kokesh’s appeal has been across party lines, and his disinterest in pleasing the Republican establishment bodes well for voters who are sick of party idealogues on both sides.
Quotable: “Santa Fe is still my hometown. I understand that [people here] identify as left-leaning, but I think that most of them still have more in common with me than Ben Ray [Luján] in terms of actual issues and philosophical grounding.”
SFR Links: Cover story, March 3: “Tea Party On” (with extended Kokesh interview); News, May 5: “Showing Support”; News, Oct. 14, 2009: “Kokeheads”
Republicans have plenty of reasons to believe the Nov. 2 general election offers an opportunity to retake New Mexico’s top seat. But first, they will need to pick a candidate from the five names that will appear on the June Republican primary ballot.
That candidate will need to appeal to more than just New Mexico’s 32 percent registered Republicans; he or she also will need to persuade some independent unaffiliated voters—who comprise 18 percent of registered New Mexico voters—not to mention Democrats, who make up 50 percent of the state’s registered voters.
Susana Martinez and Allen Weh have appeared as the front-runners in this race, if polls and dollar signs are the best indicators for such things. Martinez has received some big endorsements from the likes of Sarah Palin and The Santa Fe New Mexican. But polls also show many undecided Republican voters. To them we offer the thought that state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones is the candidate most likely to offer crossover potential. She doesn’t have the momentum of Martinez and Weh, isn’t as quotable as marketing guru Doug Turner and neither she—nor any of the candidates—have the dynastic nomenclature of Pete Domenici Jr.
But what Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque four-term legislator in the New Mexico House, does have is an established record as an accessible lawmaker: Her successful efforts to force the Senate into webcasting earned her the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government’s 2010 William S Dixon First Amendment Freedom Award. Arnold-Jones is less inclined toward broad promises, and staunchly practical in her approach to addressing the state’s budgetary problems with proposals to eliminate do-nothing commissions and consolidate duplicative state departments.
In SFR’s coverage of this race, it also became clear that Arnold-Jones is the least polarizing candidate on issues such as abortion, immigration and oil and gas drilling. She has shown, as a lawmaker, a willingness to think independently and buck her own party. This may not make her appealing to traditional Republicans in the primary but, again, such voters may want to think past June to the longer race ahead.
Quotable: “I tend to be brutally honest.”
SFR Links: Cover story, May 12: “Shadow Dancers”; Cover story, Feb. 11, 2009: “The Shining”; News, Sept. 23, 2009: “Uncertain Fates”
To that same end, SFR endorses Brian Moore, another four-term state representative (2000-2008), as the lieutenant governor candidate for the GOP ticket. Moore faces state Sen. Kent Cravens and former gubernatorial hopeful and legislator John Sanchez in this Republican primary race.
Conventional wisdom would argue that an Arnold-Jones/Moore ticket doesn’t offer enough demographically appealing contrast. We counter that two quietly efficient lawmakers who are less interested in partisan rhetoric and more committed to government transparency and economic growth will be of greater appeal to voters of various stripes. Furthermore, Moore is the only candidate stressing the hard truth that even if Republicans win the governor’s race, they will still need to work with a Democratic Legislature to be effective. We believe Moore, a Clayton grocer with a strong feeling for New Mexico’s rural communities, has the right approach to make this happen. As a lawmaker, Moore had a reputation for bipartisanship (noted by Gov. Richardson when Moore announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to his seat), which is exactly the quality Republicans should proffer to non-Republican voters this
Quotable: “Bush blamed Clinton and Richardson blamed Johnson. It’s just how it works and I hate that. At some point in time we’ve got to say, ‘Let’s forget what happened in the past; I don’t think it does any good.’”
SFR Links: News, April 28: “Race to Replace” (with extended interviews with the lt. governor candidates)
The Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is no easy race. Five candidates with distinctive backgrounds and outlooks all make strong cases for themselves; we could probably make argument for each of them, as well as the results of our interviews with all. Former Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón emphasizes tackling New Mexico’s poverty in a manner we find very authentic, given Colón’s successful personal trajectory from growing up with little means. State Sen. Lynda Lopez commitment to Native issues is one that is too often lacking among public officials. Former Executive Director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments Lawrence Rael has hard-earned administrative credentials, and makes a strong argument for his ability to make government work from the inside. We were particularly swayed by the credentials and ideas of Santa Rosa Mayor and state Rep. Joe Campos: He brings a real sense of urgency with his ideas for growing the state’s renewable energy industry.
But in the end, we recommend state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque. Ortiz y Pino, a former columnist for this paper (prior to becoming an elected official) has been a lifelong advocate for progressive issues and social change—and someone whose values and integrity we trust and appreciate. A former social worker, Ortiz y Pino has been a consistent supporter of issues that matter to progressives, such as health care reform and domestic partnerships. He would be vocally and credibly engaged in trying to reform the state’s approach to its managed care contracts, the high drop-out rate and corruption.
Quotable: “You can’t take the progressive wing for granted. They could stay home.”
Commissioner of Public Lands
Outgoing Commissioner of Public Lands Patrick Lyons is term-limited from running again, leaving an open seat for the office that oversees 9 million acres of state trust land across New Mexico, as well as 13 million acres of mineral rights. Revenue from state trust lands benefits nearly two dozen public institutions, mostly public schools. The revenue the office generates is significant—more than $520 million in fiscal year ’08 alone. The majority of that money—approximately 95 percent—comes from oil and gas production.
Democrats hope to retake the seat (Lyons currently is the only statewide-elected Republican in New Mexico) and all are emphasizing the need for New Mexico to diversify its revenue stream with an increased emphasis on alternative energies.
Public Regulation Commissioner Sandy Jones did not return several calls and emails seeking an interview in advance of this endorsement. Inaccessibility should be a strong strike against anyone seeking public service.
Santa Fe County Commissioner Harry Montoya convincingly cites his commitment to public education as a primary motivator in seeking this seat, as well as his experience creating land policy in Santa Fe County.
But SFR is ultimately more convinced by the candidacy of Ray Powell, a veterinarian who formerly held the office of land commissioner (1993-2002). Powell’s well-documented commitment toward conservation would serve New Mexico well in the coming years, particularly given the potential pressure to monetize public assets in the face of the state’s financial turmoil. As land commissioner, Powell was able to hold oil and gas companies accountable and recover money for the state. His work as director of the Four Corners States Region of The Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research Education and Conservation has given him a larger worldview about the important role public lands can play in society. If elected, Powell promises a fast review of current land office policies and an expanded emphasis on transparency. He also is committed to working with other local governments on land-use issues, and with the Legislature to create public financing for land commissioner elections.
Quotable: “Why can’t we be the Silicon Valley of the world in terms of restoration technologies?”
Farmer and rancher Matt Rush emphasizes the need to continue the fiscal stewardship of the land office—revenues have been up during Lyons’ tenure—but he also expresses concern regarding over-reliance on oil and gas, for long-term economic reasons, as well as environmental ones. Rush says a priority for him will be expanding the communication of the State Land Office into the schools and the public. We also believe Rush has the disposition to convince voters that he will be fair and calm in the midst of controversial issues such as the White Peak land swap. We believe Rush’s non-partisan approach, and his land-use experience makes him a better choice than Republican Bob Cornelius in this race.
Quotable: “I understand this is a partisan race, but this absolutely does not need to be a partisan race. I talk to Republican groups, I tell Democrat groups, ‘You need someone regardless of party affiliation who understands the land and land issues and dealing with our state trust lands.’”
SFR Links: Cover story, May 5: “Trust Issues”
PRC, District 4
In 1996, voters abolished the State Corporation Commission, which was rife with conflict, and the appointed Public Utilities Commission, and created the Public Regulation Commission to regulate utilities, insurance and New Mexico corporations. Clearly New Mexicans hoped for a fresh start. They didn’t get it. This particular seat is open because Commissioner Carol Sloan can’t run again now that she’s been convicted of a felony. District 3’s Jerome Block Jr. awaits trial on his own election-related felony charges. Meanwhile, observers say the PRC is making major decisions about insurance and utility rates without adequate preparation or expertise.
In an ideal world, voters would get to choose a candidate who seemed reasonably likely to perform the job both ethically and knowledgeably. Voters had such a candidate in 2008 when lawyer Bruce Throne ran, and lost, to Jerome Block Jr.
The Legislature should reconsider the wisdom of a $90,000-a-year post without any pre-requisites of knowledge or experience of the arcane and technical matter of utility rate regulation. But in the meantime, Democratic voters get to pick a nominee for District 4, which covers the northwest corner of the state, including portions of western and southern Santa Fe County. Santa Fean Hank Hughes, executive director for the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, Albuquerque South Valley accountant Andrew Leo Lopez, former Gallup mayor George Galanis and PRC Native American liaison Theresa Becenti-Aguilar are vying in this race; The winner will face Republican Gary Montoya in November.
We interviewed all four candidates by phone and don’t think any has the optimum combination of temperament, knowledge and experience. Lopez’ background as an accountant is a plus, but his provocative style is probably not what this already-controversial body needs. Hank Hughes doesn’t have direct experience with the type of complex rate cases the PRC tackles, but he understands the importance of the PRC’s decisions, and we believe he will work hard to protect consumers.
Quotable: “I think my 20 years working with the homeless points to my desire to be of use to society and be a public servant, and that’s really what the PRC needs right now.”
SFR Links: SFReeper.com, Jan. 22: “Q & A”
Most of the action for the June 1 primary stems from open seats—an open seat provides a more open playing field, since challenging incumbents is often an unrewarding and financially prohibitive proposition.
It shouldn’t be. As a general rule, it’s always refreshing to have new candidates who want to take on the power establishment.
Unfortunately, in his bid for the state House of Representatives District 46 seat held by Speaker of the House Ben Luján, Carl Trujillo fails to make a compelling case for himself. We agree with him that entrenched power doesn’t serve New Mexicans, and that the barriers to entry for political newbies—the Democratic Party’s refusal to sell Trujillo its proprietary database, for example—is pretty undemocratic. But beyond citing the generalized frustration of the public at large, Trujillo didn’t have much to say on the issues the Legislature tackles: budgetary, social or otherwise.
It’s unfortunate, because we agree that the Legislature needs new blood (if memory serves, we endorsed climate change activist Robb Hirsch when he took on Luján 10 years ago).
But in this race, Speaker of the House Ben Luján is clearly the better choice. He knows the issues well, and he’s done many good things over his years with bills on everything from acequia funding, to public campaign financing to job training. Luján says he won’t be in the House forever, but we’re guessing this isn’t the year he’s leaving.
Quotable: “I try to be very low key.”
SFR Links: News, May 19: “Challenge in the House”
The primary judiciary races illuminate certain inherent problems with New Mexico’s hybrid means of selecting judges. For district court judges and above, vacant seats are appointed by the governor, following recommendation by a large bipartisan panel. Appointed judges must then stand for one election cycle. After that, they are put up for a “retention” vote in which they must receive at least 57 percent of voters’ approval to remain on the bench.
This combination of merit selection and voter choice makes some sense on paper. But this year, in the case of the 1st Judicial District, it strikes us as less than ideal. Three open seats were filled by appointment with Democratic judges. Judges do not receive evaluations by the state Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission until after they have stood for one partisan election. The JPEC evaluations, available before retention races, can be useful for the public (and the media) in evaluating candidates, as they include evaluations from lawyers, jurors and court staff on judges’ performances. Not only have these judges not been seated long enough to create much of a track record but, because they all have contested races, they’ve had to campaign rather vigorously, which is a distraction from their new jobs.
As for those challengers, several of them also seem highly qualified to serve as judges but are in the unenviable position of having to try to unseat appointed incumbents who, even if they’ve only been judges for a short time, still enjoy the advantage of touting their incumbency.
In considering these issues at the macro level, we consulted with the Judicial Standards Commission and JPEC. In consideration of the specific seats, we reviewed each of the judicial candidates’ responses to a questionnaire from this paper. In the case of Division 7, we also conducted individual interviews with Judge David Thomson and challenger Glenn Ellington. There are no Republican challengers in these races; therefore, the June 1 primary decides the outcomes.
There are two Democratic candidates running for New Mexico’s Court of Appeals, Position 2. One of them, Dennis Montoya, currently has pending charges of professional misconduct from the Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court, which stem from a complaint Vanzi filed against him when she served as a judge in the 2nd Judicial District. The board reportedly is looking at other complaints against Montoya.
We strongly recommend that voters choose Vanzi, who was appointed to this seat in October, 2008 to replace Lynn Pickard. Five different nominating commissions have vetted Vanzi over the course of her career. Vanzi grew up in a variety of foreign countries, including Pakistan and Singapore, and has a deep appreciation for the impact the law can have on the rights of citizens. Her career includes a history of fighting for environmental and civil rights for a variety of constituent groups.
lst Judicial District
Sarah Singleton was appointed to her seat in December, 2009 to replace retiring Judge Jim Hall. Singleton has been actively involved in issues of legal justice; she faces Peter Culbert in this race.
Sheri Raphaelson was appointed to this seat in March, 2009 to replace Judge Timothy Garcia, who was appointed to the state Appeals Court. Raphaelson is challenged by Española lawyer Yvonne Quintana, whose legal practice has been the subject of several critical articles in the Rio Grande Sun. Prior to being seated, Raphaelson had a wide variety of experience practicing both civil and criminal law for 20 years. In addition to being a lawyer, Raphaelson also is a licensed midwife.
Former secretary for the Taxation and Revenue Department, Glenn Ellington was a Republican when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2000. He also was a Republican when he lost that seat to a Democratic challenger. Since then, he says, Ellington has switched party affiliation—not to win elections, but because he’s been disenfranchised by the religious right of the Republican Party. Ellington also has experience as a district judge, as the state’s chief public defender and in private practice. As a public official over the years, Ellington has always been accessible and knowledgeable. We thought it was unfortunate when he lost his judgeship to partisanship, and that voters would do well to return him to the bench. Ellington faces sitting Judge David Thomson, who was appointed to the seat in February to replace retiring Judge Daniel Sanchez, and who also brings impressive credentials.
Mary Marlowe-Sommer (she will appear on the ballot as Mary L Marlowe) was appointed in March to the newly created Division 8 slot, which oversees domestic violence. She previously served the 1st District for two years as its domestic relations hearing officer/child support hearing officer, and also has worked in both private practice and in the civil division of the state Attorney General’s Office. Marlowe is well-versed and committed to the difficult issues of her particular division, and we believe she is the best choice in a race with two other strong candidates: Margaret Kegel, who also served as the district’s domestic violence hearing officer, and lawyer Gary Elion.
Santa Fe County Sheriff
Four Democrats hope to replace outgoing Sheriff Greg Solano. There are no Republican challengers, so the winner of this primary race will take over the sheriff’s department come 2011. We interviewed Undersheriff Robert Garcia, retired Santa Fe Police Department officer Charles “Charlie” Dalton, retired SFCO Rex E Doerfer and Bernalillo County Deputy Sheriff Rubel A Tafoya as a group in consideration of which candidate to endorse.
All four bring law enforcement experience to the table, and there aren’t, actually, significant differences in terms of policy that we could discern. Rather, the election of Dalton, Doerfer or Tafoya seems to represent the chance for a regime change and—some of the candidates say—the opportunity to improve morale in the department.
Garcia, on the other hand, promises consistency and staying the course put in place during Solano’s eight years running the department.
Although we’d have preferred to hear some new ideas and goals from Garcia, ultimately we believe the sheriff’s department has made important improvements over the last two terms, and Garcia has been part of those changes. Under Solano, the sheriff’s office has been very accessible, using technology at every turn to help keep citizens (and the media) informed. Questions get answered, information gets shared and, when mistakes are made, they are acknowledged. While the city has suffered from a burglary boom, such crimes are down relatively in the county. At the same time, the sheriff’s office has prioritized, and Garcia says he will continue to prioritize, fighting DWI. Garcia is a 30-year law enforcement veteran who brought to his position as undersheriff years of service with the city police department; voters should choose him to continue the tradition of effective and open leadership in the Santa Fe County sheriff’s department.
Quotable: “We’ve come a long way in a very responsive way and everything will continue as it’s been.”
SFR Links: News, April 21: “Pop Quiz”
Santa Fe County Assessor
The basic gist of contention in the Santa Fe County assessor’s race is the extent to which properties have been adequately and properly assessed, and who is in the best position to continue this work. Of course, contention is perhaps not the correct word, since no one is claiming every property in Santa Fe County has been properly assessed. And, as one might imagine, each of the candidates argue that he is the guy to clean up the office once and for all. Former County Assessor Benito Martinez promises boots on the ground to make it happen. Former County Commissioner Paul Duran says he’ll bring fresh ideas.
We believe voters should return incumbent Domingo Martinez to office. Martinez isn’t claiming everything is perfect, but he’s also gone a long way during his term to computerize the office, professionalize staff and remain responsive to constituent concerns about home property values. We believe his background—Martinez served as state auditor, and as director for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department’s property tax division—makes him highly qualified to continue overseeing the day-to-day operations at the assessor’s office, and to remain actively involved should there be legislative changes down the road to the ways in which properties are valued and homeowners are charged.
Quotable: “I inherited an office that was behind the times.”
SFR Links: “News, April 7: “Home Sweet Home”
Santa Fe County Commission
The 1st District in Santa Fe County is a large and varied one, covering Santa Fe’s northeast corner, the southeastern edge of Española, and the areas in between. The race to represent this area also is wide and diverse. Outgoing Commissioner Harry Montoya is term-limited from running again. Former Public Regulation Commission Chief of Staff Daniel Mayfield, high school basketball coach Lenny Roybal, community activist and business owner Paul White and Pojoaque Valley School Board member Jon Paul Romero seek to replace Montoya on the Board of County Commissioners.
We were tempted by the candidacy of Paul White, a longtime activist who has been a vocal participant in the Aamodt water settlement, as well as other community issues.
But we ultimately believe Nambé resident Mayfield possesses the best combination of knowledge and experience for the job, and brings a practical sensibility to the matters of Santa Fe County—from its troubled financial state to ongoing concerns over the Aamodt water settlement.
He notes concern among those Española residents in this district who feel they are under-served by the county, while at the same time is up to speed on greater Santa Fe’s sprawl and development challenges. As for the county’s efforts regarding affordable housing, Mayfield was very detailed about the county’s efforts and costs so far, with specific administrative recommendations about how the county should handle its bidding process. We think his administrative background would serve the BCC well.
Quotable: “I would hope society would never collapse, and I would do everything to make sure that society was safe. And I would bunker down in my local parish.”
SFR Links: News, April 14: “Pop Quiz”
This three-way Democratic primary to replace term-limited County Commissioner Mike Anaya presents a difficult choice. There are three candidates: Santa Fe Public Schools Board Member Angélica Ruiz, former County administrator Robert Anaya (Mike Anaya’s brother) and energy activist David Bacon. We think both Anaya and Bacon are appealing candidates—for very different reasons.
Bacon makes a strong case for his candidacy and has a long reputation in Santa Fe as a smart and engaged thinker and activist; we endorsed him when he ran for Public Regulation Commission as a Green. He has big ideas—on everything from energy independence to jail management—and is well-informed.
At the same time, District 3, which includes among other areas Stanley, Galisteo, Madrid and portions of Agua Fria, needs meat and potatoes in terms of representation. Robert Anaya is, like Bacon, up to speed and thoughtful on the issues facing the county. But he also demonstrates to us a strong level of understanding of who the residents of District 3 are, and their very basic needs to have strong road maintenance and services for youth and elderly populations.
In the end, though, we recommend Bacon for this seat. With the pressing financial concerns in Santa Fe County, it will be tempting for public bodies to batten down the hatches and worry just about the day-to-day operations. We think the economic downturn also offers the opportunity for long-term planning, smart decision-making and out-of-the-box thinking. Bacon has proven himself capable of all of these actions over the years, and would be a welcome addition to a commission that has steadily been growing more responsive and proactive.
Quotable: “The reason I handed out the peak oil article is it’s pretty clear we’re in for a much, much rougher ride.”
SFR Links: News, March 31: “Pop Quiz”