“YOUR VOTE IS SAFE & SECRET! Despite what you may have been told, no one can find out who you vote for—not even an elected official. If anyone tells you otherwise, please call our campaign hotline…”
The statement above, from Carl Trujillo’s campaign literature, raises more questions than it answers. In that sense, it’s typical of Trujillo’s enigmatic primary challenge to long-serving state House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe. A homebuilder and materials engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Trujillo is a divorced and remarried father of four who, until recently, showed little interest in party politics.
Prominent local Democrats say Trujillo is the wrong man for the job. But he is a man of the times: Trujillo, 43, shares the reflexive suspicion of power that animates today’s anti-government movements, in which conspiracy is always assumed but rarely proven. In many ways, he is like the Democrats’ own tea party candidate.
The comparison is especially fitting, given that one of his campaign staff, David Cortez, most recently worked for Adam Kokesh, the tea-party-affiliated Republican congressional candidate hoping to unseat the speaker’s son, Ben Ray Luján, in November.
In a sit-down interview with
, Trujillo is amiable, but nervous. He sees himself as an antidote to the “patrón-type politics” of Luján.
“My opponent has had a notorious reputation for intimidation in the northern part of the district,” Trujillo says. As evidence, he offers this: Luján placed calls to some voters who had signed Trujillo’s nominating petition—necessary to get his name on the June 1 primary ballot.
What did Luján say that was so intimidating? Perhaps Luján was simply trying to win back some votes?
“You can certainly spin it in whatever way you choose to,” Trujillo replies.
Luján doesn’t deny contacting potential Trujillo supporters, but says Trujillo’s claims of intimidation are harmful innuendo. “I would never try to hurt anyone, or send anyone a message,” Luján tells
Trujillo says he can’t share any names because his sources fear reprisal. However, as further evidence, Trujillo says he has recorded conversations with three people who urged him not to run. (One, Trujillo says, was his uncle, state Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe. He declines to name the others.)
“They prefaced the conversation as stating, ‘Well, the speaker called me yesterday,’” Trujillo says. “But then they were very careful after that, and they said, ‘You need to drop out of the race.’ And I said, ‘Excuse me?’ And they said ‘you need to drop out. What are you doing? You’re ruining a dynasty. Why would you do this?’
“I said, ‘Because it’s a democracy,’” Trujillo goes on, growing more animated. “I raised my kids in this valley…where for 30 years or 40 years that I’ve lived there…I still don’t have city trash pickup…we don’t have a wastewater system. We don’t even have a park!”
Finally, Trujillo raises a defensible point: Despite all his years in power, Luján hasn’t done enough for his district. But Trujillo refuses to put it so plainly.
“I’m not going to badmouth him,” Trujillo says. “You’re skewing the words here: I’m not going to say he hasn’t done anything for the district. That’s the most ludicrous thing to say…What I’m saying is that we can progress, and move to, uh—there’s thinking outside the box, so to speak, that can help.”
Although he claims to be running a “positive campaign,” Trujillo has an easier time casting aspersions than explaining his platform and principles.
Would he seek to raise taxes to close the enormous state budget
? “I would have to get more information,” Trujillo says, dodging this question as he does many others.
What about his work experience prepares him for the consensus-building required of lawmakers?
“I’m a citizen that has dedicated my life to the area. I’ve been a very career-oriented person. I’ve raised children. I’ve donated my time. I’ve been a taxpayer, which is…and so…Those are my qualifications,” Trujillo says. “I’m not exactly sure what you’re driving at here.”
A passing dog comes to the rescue. “C’mere, boy!” Trujillo says, making kissing sounds. The dog’s owner, a middle-aged Anglo man, senses that he’s run across a candidate for office. “Democrat? Republican?” he asks.
“Democrat,” Trujillo says.
“You lost me immediately,” the man, a self-identified libertarian, says. “I don’t believe there’s a difference between Democrat or Republican, at all…[Politicians] couldn’t care less about me, about my neighbor.”
Trujillo makes his pitch anyway, noting that he won’t take donations of more than $100. The libertarian is unmoved.
Their impromptu exchange shows that Trujillo has tapped into the real, growing public distaste toward politics. He has not, however, offered a clear alternative.
“His message is, ‘I’m not Ben Luján.’ Which is not the best message, because I think the speaker is pretty well-liked,” state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, says. Santa Fe County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg had lunch with Trujillo. “I was impressed by his lack of any issues,” Ellenberg says.
Whatever their real reasons, the party establishment clearly doesn’t favor Trujillo. State party officials denied Trujillo access to a proprietary database of voters, citing a policy of protecting incumbents. “They’ve shut me out,” he says.
An invitation to Luján’s home did nothing to change Trujillo’s feelings. The two live nearby in Nambé.
“I sat with him [at] the dining room table and I said, “Mr. Luján…I’m not running to run against you; I’m running to represent the people of this district…You haven’t done anything to offend me…This is just my natural progression in my life,’” Trujillo recalls. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Well, Carl, who can better represent the people than the speaker of the House?’”
By both candidates’ accounts, Luján encouraged Trujillo to run for lesser office.
“He hasn’t been involved or done anything for the community,” Luján tells
. “I asked him, ‘Do you know the principles of what the Democratic Party stands for?’ He looked at me for a couple of minutes and said, ‘Well, I’ve read it online.’”
Back on the street, Trujillo’s father, Luciano, strolls by. He’s sure his son can beat Luján, against all odds.
“People are angry,” he says. “I have never seen people so angry.”
he doesn’t see that anger. But then again, he used to count the elder Trujillo as a supporter.