It would be something close to a political utopia if every Santa Fean felt that he or she had an important voice in the June 3 primary election in New Mexico. But this election is what’s known as a closed-party primary. That means if you’re not a registered Democrat in Santa Fe County, you’re out of luck. And it also means that for most races, this is the one shot you would have had at making your opinion apparent.
Although the handful of Republicans in Santa Fe can cast a ballot in one contested race, the hard truth is that Democrats rule the roost here. In many races, such as the county commissioner for District 1 and the District Court Division 6 judge spot, no Republicans will appear on the November general election ballot.
We’re not fans of the closed-party primary system because we believe it discourages participation by a growing number of people who don’t identify with either party in an antiquated system.
The other challenge with primary elections like this one is the perception that these races don’t matter. Even among registered party members, there’s not a whole lot of giving a damn going on.
Dammit. Give one. A recent city council race in Española resulted in a perfect tie, and that councilor took office based on the flip of a coin. Every single vote does matter.
During the last month, we interviewed 21 of the 25 candidates in contested races for this election. The other four declined our invitations.
Governor Alan M Webber
New Mexico’s incumbent governor has not been unseated since Gary Johnson took Bruce King out in 1994, and even the national Democratic Party has said the prognosis for Democrats in this round against popular Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is not good. Yet five candidates have put it on the line for a chance to at least try.
It’s a toss up here. Do you vote for the person who has the best ideas among this crowd, or for the person who people say has the best chance against the incumbent? What if it’s the same person? We believe Alan Webber could be the one.
While Gary King, 59, has statewide recognition as attorney general and from his time in the state Legislature, he doesn’t pack the kind of pizzaz or list of accomplishments that would make us label his candidacy with better adjectives. He thinks it’s his turn to be governor. That’s not a good sign. At 41, Howie Morales is young and exciting, and his credentials as legislator and former teacher and his Silver City upbringing make him down-to-earth, but he’s not talking about much that’s new either.
Before we get to the good parts about Webber, let’s be upfront. Webber, 65, has an affiliation with the owner of the small newspaper chain that includes SFR. He’s a friend of Willamette Week publisher Richard Meeker. But we’re not going to hold that against him. We hope you don’t either. He knows better than to meddle in our endorsement. (Webber, who amassed his own wealth as founder of Fast Company magazine, has contributed about $450,000 to his own nearly $1 million war chest. Meeker kicked in $1,000 early in the campaign.)
So you may have figured out by now that Webber is not from around here. He’s not a dyed-in-the-wool politician, although he does have political experiences in places such as the Portland mayor’s office and the Jimmy Carter presidential administration. He moved here about 11 years ago. Choosing New Mexico as home is nearly as strong of a stance as staying here when you grow up here. He says he means to stay forever. Being an outsider, however, means Webber has more access than a local boy (or girl) to deep pockets in major metropolitan areas. He’ll need money to win the race, but we encourage him to keep this on the up and up.
What we like about Webber are his solid ideas and his energy. He advocates a radical departure from business as usual with plans such as legalizing marijuana, so the state can regulate and tax it and use the money for education. He also says he’ll increase income tax on the wealthiest 1 percent.
When Webber showed up for his endorsement interview, he slid a three-ring binder across the table. “This is my job application,” he said. Maybe it was a gimmick at the urging of his political consultant Neri Holguin, who has represented progressive candidates all over the state. It’s mostly stuff that’s already available on his campaign website. But inside its color-coded tabs are all the things the next governor of New Mexico should do: get more money and better planning into public education, build the film industry and commercialize technology from the national labs.
While contender Lawrence Rael, 56, has the administrative chops to get the job done and would likely make a fine governor, and Linda Lopez, 50, has shown she’s willing to go Thunderdome on Martinez, Webber is still our pick. Whether his message resonates with voters outside of Santa Fe’s liberal leaning electorate will define his success on the statewide ballot.
Treasurer John Wertheim
Tim Eichenberg and John Wertheim give such sharply different descriptions of the role of the state treasurer that you’d think they’re running for two different offices. Wertheim, 46, calls the office “a vehicle for progressive economic policy.” Eichenberg, 62, says “it’s to be nonpartisan.”
The principal role of the state treasurer is straightforward cash management, providing banking assistance to state agencies. The treasurer is entrusted as the portfolio manager for multibillion-dollar pools of New Mexico’s cash, such as the $5 billion general fund, bond money and the Local Government Investment Pool, a money market fund that supports local public entities.
The winning candidate will run against Republicn nominee Rick Lopez to replace James Lewis, who can’t run again due to term limits. Lewis has held the post since 2006, when Gov. Bill Richardson appointed him following a scandal that landed the former state treasurer in prison.
Although our support is ultimately with Wertheim, we urge him to be especially transparent about his relationship with interest groups such as labor unions, particularly given that his argument in this race is that he can advocate for progressive economic policies. The treasurer’s lesser-known capacity is the only elected state official to serve as a member of all state financial and investment board and commissions.
Wertheim, a former state Democratic Party chairman, points to the state constitution that calls for a plural executive branch. There’s a reason New Mexico’s treasurer is elected, instead of appointed by the governor: checks and balances against gubernatorial appointees on important boards and commissions like the New Mexico Finance Authority—which finances infrastructure projects for local governments. Four years ago, for instance, the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority’s board unanimously agreed to give eminent domain authority to a Texas company for its transmission project. Only one board member questioned the decision that might have impacted landowners along the line’s route.
Hence we base our endorsement on the expectation that Wertheim will loudly advocate for New Mexicans—not special interests—on these normally hush-hush boards. We’re sold on Wertheim because we know where he stands on political issues.
Eichenberg, on the other hand, portrays the job as that of a managerial pencil-pusher who remains apolitical and demurs to the expertise staff in investment matters. Even on that count, Wertheim’s experience as a corporate finance analyst for the oldest investment bank in the US, Alex Brown & Sons, along with his knowledge gained from litigating securities fraud cases, trumps Eichenberg’s public-sector experience in the Legislature and as the Bernalillo County treasurer and as the current chairman of the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority.
The decision is undoubtedly tough, and we’re admittedly not happy with Wertheim’s negative campaigning. But ultimately we’ll support the expert who portrays himself as a politician over the politician who portrays himself as an expert.
US House of Representatives, District 3 Ben R Luján
This endorsement was one of the easiest choices on our long list. Since upstart challenger Robert Blanch, an attorney who lives in Albuquerque, didn’t return our phone calls about an interview, Rep. Ben Ray Luján earns our support for his second term simply for showing up when he said he would.
But that’s not to say he wouldn’t have earned it anyway. Luján, 42, who beat five others in the 2008 election to fill the seat vacated by Tom Udall and defended the seat in two subsequent contests against Republicans, has demonstrated that he’s a hardworking and energetic member of the state’s congressional delegation. His votes have been on the right side of issues that matter to New Mexico, including that he backed the Affordable Care Act and opposed provisions of a food regulation act that would have been a hit to farmers here. He uses his experience from the state Public Regulation Commission to inform his role on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he says he wants to work next with Sen. Tom Udall to establish national renewable energy portfolio standards. Luján opposes expansion of oil and gas development near sacred sites, such as Chaco Canyon, and says he’s working with the Bureau of Land Management on reassigning existing leases that are too near the fragile cultural site.
We agree with him when he says there’s a lack of civility in Congress. He calls the petty bickering and filibusters “a disgrace” and “an embarrassment.”
Luján traverses his Northern New Mexico district, one of the largest in the nation, to visit with constituents and attend community gatherings, yet he also comes home to work on the family land in Nambé and to spend time with his mother and siblings. He says he’s proud of his work in Washington, but he’s especially proud of how his New Mexico office staff work on issues for state residents who ask for his help. And he says he got that work ethic from his dad, the late speaker of the state House, Ben Luján.
Santa Fe County Commission, District 1 Daniel “Danny” Mayfield
One candidate attempting to unseat County Commissioner Danny Mayfield failed to articulate incisive policy ideas that District 1 voters deserve. We couldn’t catch the other candidate. Mayfield wins our nod almost by default.
And since the winner of the three-way Democratic primary race moves onto the general election unopposed, a win in June would allow Mayfiled to leverage experience into policymaking in a second term. County commissioners are limited to two consecutive four-year terms.
Henry Roybal, 44, a Los Alamos National Laboratory designer, says he’s taking on Mayfield because unnamed constituents urged him to run. (Note: Every candidate says that.) He rightly wants to pave dirt roads and fill potholes, too, hitting on the top priority expressed by residents in countywide surveys.
Vehicles kick up dust driving on miles and miles of rough roads in District 1, which stretches from the northern part of the City of Santa Fe north to Chimayó and includes five pueblos. Roybal didn’t have a coherent answer to whether he would vote to raise gross receipts or property taxes to pay for upgrades—just at a time when the road repairs are eating up a larger share of the county’s general fund.
We doubt he’s done enough homework to be able to navigate complicated county budgets, bond issuances and land deals. His face went veritably blank when we asked him how he envisions the county making up for a phase-out of millions in the state’s hold harmless payments to municipalities like Santa Fe County.
We never got a chance to press Kenneth Borrego, a general contractor and owner of the Española-based Classic Motor Co., on his platform after his slow response to our interview requests. We admire his focus on economic development, but not his stated solution to the Santa Fe New Mexican on how to spur it: eliminating development impact fees. Borrego, 53, admitted to the newspaper that, as a general contractor, he’d benefit from the removal of the relatively small revenue stream the county earns from those fees, but claimed he’s looking out for the wider community.
Mayfield is well-versed in the county budget, environmental waste issues and water rights. He’s supported transparency measures, like posting county contracts online. And he’s not afraid to cast a dissenting vote on projects he considers wasteful or to ask tough questions. We nevertheless urge Mayfield to question his own contrarian instincts—some wonder if he prods for the sake of prodding. The 47-year-old career public employee should also take to heart his opponents’ criticism that he’s not responsive enough to constituents. This election is a chance for voters to hold Mayfield accountable to his promise he’ll be a “full-time” county commissioner. We’d all be better off if constituents reach out to him and demand that he focus a second term on new policy outcomes over mere policy criticisms.
Santa Fe County Probate Judge Shannon Broderick Bulman
If you’ve never had a family member die and leave you in charge of his or her affairs, you probably haven’t even heard of the probate judge. The three candidates for Santa Fe County post, however, know more about executors of estates than you’ll ever need to know. In a classic small-town race, two former classmates at the University of New Mexico law school, Shannon Bulman and Kathy Basham, are vying for the job along with a county clerk employee who has worked under the current judge for seven years. To make things even more fun, Basham is married to outgoing Probate Mark Basham.
You don’t need a law degree to do the job, which is why Frank Fischer decided to throw his 10-gallon hat into the ring. Fischer’s earnest nature is admirable. He’s truly motivated by the gratitude of those whom he has helped in his role as probate clerk, and his achievement in the position on the heels of an injury that moved him away from his original line of hands-on work. The 60-year-old says he’ll stay in the job as long as that’s what his boss, the county clerk, wants. The next probate will be lucky to have him.
We think Bulman, 51, is the best person for the job. Her speciality in elder care and estate planning in private practice is good preparation, along with the fact that she helped write a book titled Life Planning In New Mexico. She also promises to hold longer office hours than Judge Basham has, about 1.5 hours each of two days per week. Fischer makes the same promise, noting that the judge doesn’t even always hang out in the office during the posted hours. Kathy Basham says she’s not sure why her opponents want to hold longer hours because there’s barely enough work to keep her husband there as it is. Basham, 49, also couldn’t answer a question about whether her approach to the job would be the same as his or different. Bulman, on the other hand, says she’s also looking forward to spending time educating the community about wills. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Santa Fe County Assessor Gus B Martinez
When it comes to choosing the next person who will be in charge of assigning value to property in Santa Fe County, Gus Martinez has the right last name. If he’s elected to the post, he’ll be the third Martinez in a row, although he’s not related to either current Assessor Domingo Martinez or his predecessor Benito Martinez. We like Gus not because of the name, but because after working for 17 years in the assessor’s office, he’s the most qualified for the job. Martinez, 40, is head of the appraisal division, which means he already oversees more than half the employees under the elected assessor’s control.
While Phillip Pacheco, 44, also has a long history as a county employee and head of the mapping division, he seems less informed about the way the valuation system works. Martinez can tell you so much about it that your eyes start to glaze over. With his background in the new mass-appraisal system, he’ll hit the ground running and build on recent technology upgrades. The third candidate, Sef Valdez, declined our offer to meet and talk about the race.
First Judicial District Judge Matthew Justin Wilson
Normally, this paper would advise against supporting a Democrat with backing from the Republican governor. But just to show how big we are and because we believe this is the right call, we’re endorsing Judge Matthew Wilson for the only contested district judgeship on the ballot—and one of the hardest decisions in this primary. In a rare circumstance where all of the three candidates are qualified, this race comes down to who wants the job on the table. Wilson, 45, was named to the post after he worked for three years as the court’s hearing officer for child custody and domestic violence. While it’s common for judges in the district to move out of this “family court” division and into sexier roles in civil or criminal dockets, Wilson says he has no ambition to do that that. He’s not a political animal, he explains, and this campaign has taken a toll on a guy who’s mostly interested in making sure kids get a fair shake.
David Thomson has judicial credentials out the wazoo, even serving in the court for eight months on a Bill Richardson appointment before losing an election. Thomson also has chops from working in the office of the New Mexico Attorney General and litigating in private practice on important cases such as the most recent redistricting battle between Martinez and a handful of Democratic legislators. He’s correct in explaining that judicial elections affect constituents in three counties (Rio Arriba, Los Alamos and Santa Fe), and there’s no doubt he could do the judge job well again, but he’s also got his sights on moving to another docket if the opportunity comes up. Meanwhile, Yvonne Quintana has an interesting background as the only candidate in the race who has never made one of the shortlists to get appointed to such a job by a governor. It’s not for lack of trying. She says the bipartisan commissions that do those interviews are still too political. Quintana, whose private practice is mostly family court work, has also been sued for a strange personal situation involving her marriage to a dying man who adopted her children. While that litigation settled out of court and she says it was frivolous, she’s not our first or second choice.
Choose carefully in this race. It’s a one-shot deal. After an appointed judge goes through a single election cycle, he or she is not up for re-election against new challengers, but only for retention. At the bottom of the ballot, you’ll also see a slate of judges in this position. Watch later this year for recommendations from the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission on how they are doing.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this endorsement gave the wrong number of years during which Wilson served as hearing officer.
Santa Fe County Magistrate Judge Donita O Sena
We’re thrilled that a sincere motive to better the community spurred both Marcus Romero and Donita Sena to run for a seat on the magistrate court, where judges hear misdemeanor traffic, DWI, small claims disputes and other minor offenses.
Romero, a former cop, says a family member with substance-abuse issues recently passed away, and he wants to help families navigate their way out of the addiction cycle that’s all too familiar in Santa Fe. Sena, a magistrate court administrator for six years, wants to continue the good work she’s already accomplished in helping offenders to change their lives.
There’s good reason behind Sena’s confidence. She’s able to articulate solutions to problems plaguing the criminal justice system. Her impressive résumé makes it that much easier to stamp our endorsement on her candidacy.
The lifelong Santa Fe resident earned a master’s degree in social work and clinical practice from New Mexico Highlands University, giving her an outlook based on personal accountability. Indeed, she designed and implemented the magistrate court’s DWI program that focuses on closely monitoring offenders who learn new behavior patterns.
Sena, 51, promises to be a passionate advocate for the court, saying she’d fight for funding for both treatment and domestic violence programs that she wants to “flourish.”
By contrast, Romero would look to nonprofits and churches to provide treatment services that the financially strapped court has been unable to fully offer. Romero, 54, has a warm personality. We like his work history as cop working narcotics, patrol, training and on security detail for two governors, but we think his experience is less relevant for the seat than Sena’s background as a school board member, her work with nonprofits and her education.
It’s tempting to send a cop to the bench. But Sena is not naïve enough to think everyone wants to change bad behavior—a justified skepticism gained from her experience working directly with offenders as a probation officer for the court. “As a judge I would not be soft on crime,” she says. We believe she can be an important asset in reducing it.
US Senator David Kale Clements
Allen Weh’s media handlers couldn’t find a time for him to call us, but David Clements made a personal visit. He’s a feisty free-market libertarian who doesn’t fit the Republican mold. I mean, the day he came to visit us, he didn’t even think about wearing a tie. The 34-year-old has been tenacious in getting this far in the campaign, challenging a guy who’s just about as establishment GOP as it gets. (Weh, 71, is a former serviceman and chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party who now owns CSI Aviation Services.)
His basic platform is that the federal government has taken its authority too far and that local leaders in states, cities and counties should have more autonomy. He’s for the Keystone pipeline and against what he calls “Obamacare” because it’s a bad combination of capitalism and socialism. He says the Environmental Protection Agency has over-regulated extractive industries and that even farmers spend way too much time dealing with bureaucracy than farming.
While some of that is far afield, what Clements says about the feds infringing on our collective constitutional rights is another matter. He is against it. Sounds good to us.
The winner of this primary race will face the insanely popular Sen. Tom Udall in the general election. Clements is aware that just getting to face off against this titan in November would be a coup.
“The solutions are there,” he says. “You just have to send people that aren’t enamored with either big government or big business.”