In a scathing dissent from the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that, by equating corporations' campaign spending to individuals' free speech rights, the Court's opinion was "a rejection of the common sense of the American people." The ruling prompted an explosion of campaign spending: The 2012 elections are expected to be the most expensive in US history, and multimillion-dollar TV attack ad campaigns are already flooding airwaves—even as Congress becomes increasingly unproductive. In such a climate, it can be tempting to repudiate the whole charade and refuse to vote. But to disenfranchise ourselves is to abrogate our duty as citizens of a republic. The influx of money and influence into politics calls for more engagement and common sense than ever: Is health care reform really so evil? Do we care that Mitt Romney worked for Bain Capital? For these endorsements, we interviewed candidates, conducted background research and applied every ounce of common sense we could muster. In the end, of course, the choice is yours—and it's one of the most important rights you exercise.
US Senate (Democrat)
To say that the US Senate is at a crossroads is an understatement. This august body, once a model for across-the-aisle collaboration, has become known for its intractability; the fact that a two-thirds supermajority is needed to accomplish even the most basic of tasks—such as a budget—is often cited as evidence that the Senate is broken. Martin Heinrich, a former Albuquerque city councilor, has distinguished himself during his two terms in the US House of Representatives. His voting record leans slightly left of center, showing he’s willing to compromise without sacrificing his constituency’s progressive ideals. His coolheaded, wonkish approach to policy mirrors the legacy of New Mexico senators before him, including outgoing Democratic US Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Pete Domenici (R) and sitting US Sen. Tom Udall (D), whose laudable attempts at election reform Heinrich says he would support. Heinrich has developed the knowledge, experience and Washington connections necessary to succeed in the Senate, and polls show he’s well positioned to defeat GOP candidate Heather Wilson, should she win the Republican primary.
While Heinrich clearly has the potential to improve the Senate and effectively represent New Mexico, State Auditor Hector Balderas is a wild card. When asked about his priorities, Balderas repeatedly invokes a mantra of fiscal accountability, advocating frequent investigations to ensure that government is run efficiently and ethically. On paper, the idea of methodically tracking federal spending is soporific. But Balderas has the energy and enthusiasm to make even that concept seem exciting—especially to Republicans, who usually wear the penny-pinching mantle. Balderas' commitment to transparency and focus on finding more funding for early childhood education dovetails nicely with his devotion to fiscal responsibility.
A broken Senate needs more than just another well-prepared, experienced candidate; it needs a game-changer. While Balderas lacks Heinrich's history on the national stage, he has the energy, intelligence and commitment to learn quickly. His intimate knowledge of the state—from a boyhood in Wagon Mound to a six-year stint parsing its finances as State Auditor—will allow him to use his energy and charisma to advocate passionately for New Mexico.
SFR Pick: Hector Balderas
US Senate (Republican)
New Mexico’s Republican Senate field underscores the ideological rift the party faces. On one side is the underdog, Las Cruces small businessman Greg Sowards, a straight-talking conservative and Tea Party darling (Rand Paul endorsed him). He owes little to special interest groups—his fundraising pales in comparison to any other Senate candidate’s—and sticks, both literally and figuratively, to his guns. On the other side is veteran politician and Washington insider Heather Wilson, whose positions on many issues have fluctuated wildly. Wilson has issued press releases slamming Heinrich for voting for the stimulus plan in 2009, for instance, even though she voted for the TARP bailout in 2008. The “Issues” page of her website is vague enough to allow her to move in virtually any direction; her jobs plan involves “getting our government debt under control…fair, predictable regulations…and an all-of-the-above energy policy that will increase domestic energy production while creating tens of thousands of jobs.” That’s a big promise, given the lack of concrete ideas her campaign has offered. With Sowards, what Republican voters see is what they get: fiscal and social conservatism. (One campaign slogan: “Short. Bald. Honest.”) Wilson’s changing views provide an opportunity for the bipartisan compromise Washington so badly needs, and her Hill connections could translate into effective representation for New Mexico. But Wilson’s apparent willingness to bow to the pressure du jour is also a weakness, and her pricey campaign may leave her indebted to wealthy, out-of-state donors. Sowards may not compromise as easily, but he’s principled, down-to-earth and harbors earnest hopes for a more perfect union. He can build the connections he needs, and he’s open-minded enough to learn that stubborn ideology only hurts his constituency. Given that he’s run a comparatively low-budget race and is open to campaign finance reform, Sowards’ election may also make it easier for regular New Mexicans to hold office in the future.
SFR Pick: Greg Sowards
US House of Representatives, NM Dist. 3 (Republican)
Although two-term incumbent US Rep. Ben Ray Luján is generally considered a popular and successful lawmaker, two Republican candidates—Tucumcari rancher Jefferson Byrd and Taos defense contractor Rick Newton—are vying for the opportunity to challenge Luján in November. Byrd and Newton share a general viewpoint common among Tea Party-leaning Republicans: that America’s path to prosperity lies in repealing health reform, simplifying the tax code, and reducing or eliminating government’s regulatory role. Although Newton has experienced some missteps—in March, he got in trouble for falsely claiming that Luján is a socialist—his views are more specific and nuanced. His support of the “fair tax,” a system that would establish a 23 percent national sales tax but create a pre-bate subsidy for low-income families, may be wishful thinking, but Newton has clearly given his positions some serious thought. His knowledge of the defense industry and military policy would also prove useful to a district that includes Los Alamos National Laboratory.
SFR Pick: Rick Newton
New Mexico Court of Appeals (Democrat)
Both Democratic candidates for the New Mexico Court of Appeals have judicial experience—Victor Lopez as a worker’s compensation judge, and Monica Zamora as a 2nd Judicial District Court judge in the children’s court division. Their reasons for running are relevant to their respective experience: Zamora says she wants to ensure that children’s court cases don’t stall in the Court of Appeals; Lopez says a history of helping workers receive swift justice has informed his judicial philosophy. Both candidates say they’re dedicated to moving cases through the court as quickly as possible, and both display the type of work ethic necessary to deliver on that promise. Lopez has based his campaign on a commitment to public financing as a means of moving toward election reform—a commendable goal, and one that we hope to see candidates use more widely. Zamora, however, has a wider breadth of judicial experience and would likely adjust more quickly to the demands of an appellate judge.
SFR Pick: Monica Zamora
New Mexico Senate Dist. 39 (Democrat)
Phil Griego was elected to the state Senate in 1996. In the years since, he’s become a heavy hitter, chairing the powerful Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee and—as his challenger, former Santa Fe County Commissioner Jack Sullivan, has pointed out—raking in campaign contributions. Sullivan, in fact, has such a beef with the way Griego has handled his campaign contributions that he’s filed a complaint with the New Mexico Secretary of State. (Griego, despite not returning repeated calls to his cell phone, wrote in a letter to the Secretary of State’s office that the allegations of misspent campaign funds are bogus; so far, the office itself hasn’t weighed in.) At the very least, Griego’s unwillingness to show up for endorsement interviews or return phone calls suggests no love of transparency. Sullivan, by contrast, is almost painfully devoted to ethics and transparency, and he’s well-versed in the diversity of issues—rural development, water resource management, education—that need addressing in Dist. 39. A third challenger, Santa Fean Nicole Castellano, is refreshingly moderate and highly energetic, but as a political novice, her power to sway the Legislature may be limited.
SFR Pick: Jack Sullivan
New Mexico House of Representatives Dist. 46 (Democrat)
The battle to fill former New Mexico House Speaker Ben Luján’s shoes has been an interesting one. As SFR recently reported, while both candidates tout their Democratic credentials and leadership abilities, each also has a serious weakness [news, May 16: “Crapshoot”]. Despite coming close to beating Luján in 2010, Los Alamos National Laboratory staffer Carl Trujillo has done little to refine his message since then, and his views on many issues are difficult to nail down. While we appreciate the concept of a “listening” campaign, he’s had plenty of time to listen; now, voters need to know what he believes and the types of concrete proposals he’ll bring to the Legislature. Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, on the other hand, wishes to hold two seats at once—a feat not without precedent, but one that could deprive the district (and the city) of the single-minded, focused leadership and advocacy that Luján once delivered. But Coss’ views have the meat that Trujillo’s lack, and his experience better equips him to hit the ground running in January. Though his campaign calendar and mayoral schedule have at times crossed wires, Coss is confident he can do both jobs well; indeed, he says they’re complementary. We hope he’s right.
SFR Pick: David Coss
New Mexico House of Representatives Dist. 50 (Democrat)
We commend the candidates from HD 50 for proving that, no matter how much money goes into attack ads on the national level, local campaigns can still be relatively friendly affairs. In this race, each candidate’s unwillingness to trash the others was utterly refreshing and inspiring, and we urge them to continue this spirit of positivity in the general election race. While both Democratic candidates, Eldorado consultant Stephen Easley and Edgewood rancher Patricia Lincoln, are committed to the issue of education and are well-versed in related reform initiatives, Easley’s views seemed clearer and, as such, more easily adaptable to legislation. Additionally, Easley’s experience in the technology field will enable him to advocate realistically for the type of forward-looking economic development that New Mexico needs—and that complements any education reform effort.
SFR Pick: Stephen Easley
New Mexico House of Representatives Dist. 50 (Republican)
During this year’s redistricting, HD 50 became one of the state’s largest and most diverse districts. Stretching from Eldorado down to Mountainair, the district encompasses liberal areas of Santa Fe, conservative parts of Edgewood and plenty of rural areas in between. SFR was unable to meet with the Republican candidates in person—both of them live in the southern half of the district—but spoke with Charles Larry Miller, a former educator, over the phone. Miller emphasized his ability to work across the aisle and his commitment to education reform; his experience, we believe, is suited to what is sure to be a continued legislative focus on improving New Mexico’s education system.
SFR Pick: Charles Larry Miller
New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Dist. 3 (Democrat)
The PRC’s 3rd district has experienced some upheaval lately. After the fraught career of Jerome Block, Jr. came to a spectacular end late last year, Gov. Susana Martinez appointed the eminently qualified Doug Howe to take his place. But Howe isn’t interested in running to keep his seat, leaving four eager Democrats—former Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza, mortgage banker Brad Gallegos, Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club Development Director and former political aide Danny Maki, and outgoing Santa Fe County Commissioner Virginia Vigil—battling for the $90,000-a-year gig. Gallegos claims he’s best qualified for the job because of his business experience, but he lacks the additional knowledge necessary to excel. (When asked, for instance, whether he deems the commissioner salary appropriate, he claimed to have no idea what it was, suggesting a naïveté that won’t serve him well on the PRC.) Vigil has had problems with her campaign finance reporting, raising more than the allowable $5,000 in seed money to qualify for public financing. Vigil says it was an honest mistake, but such an error—particularly given the seat’s history (and the fact that she’s using public money)—is still cause for worry. Vigil has claimed there’s ambiguity in the state’s campaign finance laws; however, the New Mexico Supreme Court recently published an extensive opinion clarifying the same laws. Maki, by contrast, is well-informed, enthusiastic and meticulous about reporting every last campaign expense; we expect to see more of him in future campaigns. But Espinoza is everything the PRC needs right now: hardworking, intelligent, proven and squeaky-clean. Her record—eight years spent turning the Santa Fe County Clerk’s office into a bastion of efficiency and honor—says it all; her work ethic and commitment will serve her well in the momentous task of familiarizing herself with the PRC’s many complex issues.
SFR Pick: Valerie Espinoza
1st Judicial District Attorney (Democrat)
The most telling difference between the two candidates for 1st Judicial District Attorney, former Chief Deputy District Attorney Lloyd Drager and incumbent Angela “Spence” Pacheco, lies in their philosophies of the prosecutor’s role. Drager, who has known Pacheco for years and is among her most vocal critics, says that she has “very little philosophical commitment to the concept of prosecution.” His own philosophy, he says, derives from a duty to serve victims of crimes; he uses the word “zeal” to describe a prosecutor’s drive for convicting offenders. Pacheco, a formal social worker, has a different view.
"Our goal is to hold [offenders] responsible—but you don't want them to come back into the system," Pacheco says. District attorneys, she adds, are in a "unique position" to choose how to charge an offender and what type of punishment to seek—and, as such, play an instrumental role in criminal rehabilitation. Drager has also criticized the inner workings of the DA's office under Pacheco. He cites two high-profile DWI cases—those of Scott Owens and repeat offender John Paul Chavez—as evidence of endemic mismanagement; Pacheco blames the legacy of her predecessor, Henry Valdez. In the end, a "lock 'em up" philosophy will do little to ameliorate Santa Fe's crime problems; a more thoughtful approach is essential. With one term under her belt, we hope that Pacheco can continue to improve the efficiency and productiveness of the DA's office.
SFR Pick: Angela “Spence” Pacheco
Santa Fe County Clerk (Democrat)
This year’s race for Santa Fe County Clerk offers an exciting slate of candidates, all of whom (with the exception of Gilbert Garcia, who has declined to return calls or appear at campaign events) will likely continue to define and shape local politics. Seasoned candidate Letitia Montoya is full of ideas for improving voter outreach and turnout. Her plan for a mobile voting unit that would enable rural, elderly and disabled county residents to vote closer to home is innovative; however, it requires grant money, and Montoya’s proposal to hire a full-time grant writer seems unrealistic given both county and federal (where the grants would come from) funding issues. Tara Luján, an independent contractor with experience on political and legislative issues, has a more cautious approach, telling SFR she’s looking into but still hasn’t fully formed opinions on voting-reform issues such as open primaries and same-day voter registration. Her passion for energizing the youth vote is palpable, though, and we expect she’ll continue to be a force within the party. But Geraldine Salazar, the public information coordinator for the Santa Fe County Clerk’s office, has both the experience and dedication to continue to improve local elections. In her current position, Salazar has effectively kept the public informed and has furthered the office’s commitment to transparency. As clerk, we believe she will continue to push the county forward in terms of both effectiveness and openness.
SFR Pick: Geraldine Salazar
Santa Fe County Commission Dist. 2 (Democrat)
Three candidates are vying to replace outgoing County Commissioner Virginia Vigil’s seat in District 2, which extends from the City of Santa Fe up to the northeastern edge of the county and includes several disparate communities. Retired county employee Gilbert “Dennis” Hernandez has cast himself as a “strong, independent voice” on the commission and advocates a back-to-basics approach centered around “refocusing on services residents need,” such as road maintenance and waste disposal services. A resident of Agua Fría Village, Hernandez could offer insight on preserving local traditional communities. Similarly, former Santa Fe City Councilor Miguel Chavez proposes a balanced approach to sustainable growth and a focus on protecting county residents’ rural way of life. Chavez’ eight years on City Council and his unflagging dedication to openness, ethics and transparency make him an attractive candidate; episodes like the fast-tracked purchase of the Santa Fe Canyon Ranch make it all too apparent that the commission lacks the type of watchdog that Chavez was to the City Council. First-time candidate Maria-Ester De Anda Hay, a lawyer and the chairwoman of Santa Fe County Development Review Committee, has a sophisticated understanding of the county’s complicated land-use codes, as well as a commitment to ethics and openness. While we appreciate what Chavez has done for the city, it’s time for new leadership.
SFR Pick: Maria-Ester De Anda Hay
Santa Fe County Commission Dist. 4 (Democrat)
“I don’t like the way the county is going financially,” former Santa Fe County Deputy Assessor Victor Baca tells SFR when asked why he’s running. Baca preaches a philosophy of fiscal conservatism that would befit the county given its economic situation. Baca says the county should consider selling the $7 million La Cienega ranch the commission voted to acquire in 2009 and has yet to develop; he also advocates a reassessment of the county’s role in the struggling Santa Fe Studios project. While Baca surely has the fiscal chops to make these changes, incumbent Kathy Holian’s commitment to water resource and sustainability issues, combined with her ability to absorb the lessons of a first term on the commission, make her the more well-rounded candidate. She should steal a page from Baca’s playbook, though, and work to bring the commission a greater sense of fiscal responsibility.
SFR Pick: Kathy Holian
Santa Fe County Treasurer (Democrat)
In early April, Patrick Varela got an unexpected windfall: his primary election rival, former Santa Fe County Deputy Treasurer Oliver Garcia, was charged with six counts of fraud for allegedly using falsified county vouchers to wash his personal vehicle at the Oilstop on Cerrillos Road. A few weeks later, Garcia was fired.He has since denied the charges, claiming he was set up and insisting he’s still running, but the damage has been done. Still, “damage” may be the wrong word. The soft-spoken Varela (a physical plant manager at the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the nephew of longtime state Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe) has the ability to restore whatever reputational capital the treasurer’s office has lost. What Varela lacks in fiscal sophistication, he seems willing and able to learn, and his reluctance to pile on the accusations against his opponent suggest a refined sense of right and wrong—which may be just what this office needs.
SFR Pick: Patrick Varela
For videos of each candidate, visit the SFR YouTube channel.
Working the Polls
The people who make elections happen
by Tescia Schell
Unless you voted early, on Tuesday, June 5, you’ll waltz into your polling station and vote like the dutiful, enfranchised citizen you are (unless, of course, you’re not a registered Democrat or Republican, in which case you’ll have to wait until November). But did you notice the cluster of helpful people behind the tables?
“Somebody has to man the polling places,” says Denise Lamb, the director of Santa Fe County’s Bureau of Elections. Every election, up to 500 poll workers help county residents navigate the process of casting their votes. Poll workers can be presiding judges, judges of election or clerks of election.
“The presiding judge makes all of the important calls on election day, and their level of skill can be critical in making or breaking an election,” Lamb says. “If someone makes a mistake—if they go feral on Election Day and decide to make up the rules as they go along—that can create a disaster.” Thankfully, there’s no record of a presiding judge going feral. The Bureau of Elections often employs the same presiding judges year after year because of their experience, but a mentoring program also helps new poll workers learn the ropes.
Would-be poll workers desiring a bit less responsibility can serve as judges of election or clerks of election. The two positions are pretty much interchangeable: One holds the roster for voters to sign, while the other person holds the checklist (and looks super-official).
Their days go something like this:
- Open and power up the machines (This sounds like the beginning of a checklist for a mad scientist!)
- Print the zero tape
- Certify the ballots
- Do preliminary bookkeeping on the roster and checklist covers
- Set up the supplies
- Fill in payroll sheets
In addition to fulfilling their civic duties, poll workers also earn a small stipend. Presiding judges earn $160, and the other two positions earn $135 for their work on election day.
“It’s just exciting!” poll worker Elizabeth Metoyer, a pretty woman with teal and purple hair, enthuses. “You see so many people—politicians, everyday people, people from all over—and they’re happy.”