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valerie-espinoza-vannah

On the Road (Again) with Valerie Espinoza: Extended Version

The Santa Fe County Clerk and PRC hopeful offers a window into what makes her politics tick

June 1, 2012, 1:00 pm
By Tess Cutler

This week's paper features part of our interview with Santa Fe County Clerk and PRC candidate Valerie Espinoza. Read the rest after the jump.

Nine minutes before 7:00 pm, Valerie Espinoza, the Santa Fe County Clerk, calls me. “Hey, wanna take a little road trip? I'm with my granddaughter.” It’s one of those phone calls. Twenty minutes later, I'm buckling into the passenger seat of her lipstick-red Ford F-150. Espinoza doesn't fit the cliché for a county clerk. I don't know what I expected (maybe a starchy pantsuit), but a denim dress and red wedges weren't it.

"Don't mind the mess," she apologizes. The truck's stacked with posters, turquoise flip-flops, T-shirts, and office supplies. "That's Vannah," Espinoza says, gesturing toward the back seat, where her 9-year-old granddaughter sits, adorned all in white and wearing a gold wreath and pink ribbon. Vannah just won first place in her dance recital.

"I don't usually dress like this," Vannah says, looking like Ancient Greece.

The three of us embark, northbound, to a graduation fiesta in Española. "It's the season for graduation parties," Espinoza says. She's been running around, treading in her espadrilles all day, from dance recital to clerk’s office to graduation celebration. Actually, she's been running nonstop for the past eight years, and now she's running again, vying for another four. Point is, she's the last one to leave the office: "The janitors wait for me."

It isn't about big-time campaigns with silver-rimmed tour buses and a bulldog team; it's about a red pickup, some scotch tape and a couple of cardboard signs. Espinoza is talking about the reforms she instigated during her two terms at the clerk’s office, about November's ballot and three bills that will reform PRC's regulations, about working under former Secretary of State Shirley Hooper and about Zozobra (which Vannah refers to as the burning of "that giant thingamabob"). On the highway, we pass campaign posters tacked to fences.

"Somebody took down your poster," Vannah says. We all turn around. "Where?" Espinoza asks. People have been taking down her signs. Not so long ago, "there was one sticking out of the trash," Vannah notes. In Tesuque Pueblo, Espinoza, in her high-heeled wedges, was tacking up a sign. A passerby stopped and asked if she needed help, but Espinoza, ever self-sufficient, replied, "I'm just putting up this sign." The lady laughed.

Espinoza was raised in Española by her grandmother. Though she now lives in Santa Fe, she calls Española home. As we reach town, the sun is setting.

"I'd bring you to my home," Espinoza says.

"Isn't that where...?" Vannah pipes up.

"I broke my tailbone in an inner tube?" Espinoza finishes. Straight ahead, between the mountain and the stream of purple sun, Valerie Espinoza broke her tailbone in an inner tube—home.

After a few twists and turns, five or six traffic lights and a quick stop at Española's government-appointed polling place, we arrive at Knights of Columbus, the city's community center. When we park, Espinoza positions some posters on the back of her pickup and, before we enter, Vannah voices one ultimatum: "Tell them why I'm dressed like this." Outside is a typical community building, but inside, strings of lights are draped around ledges and banquet tables are aligned. A band is playing and food is being served by the plateful, all to commemorate the college graduation of a fellow local. People approach Valerie with arms thrown wide: "I was good friends with her father," "I knew her when she was this high," "I knew her grandmother so very well." Espinoza approaches a table of some people she knows. "Vote Val all the way," she smiles, and a lady with a baby bundled in blankets says, "Yes, I have my pin," as the newborn yawns on her chest. Meanwhile, a guy compliments Vannah on her outfit.

"Did you come from a play?" he asks.

"No, a dance recital!" she defends.

It's quiet on the drive home. Vannah’s asleep in the back and the radio is tuned to the quietest notch. As we drive away, Espinoza keeps talking about Española. For 20 years, she worked in Los Alamos, in fields ranging from computing data to research and development.

“I spent 20 years of my life working on top of that hill,” Espinoza says. "I knew I was going back someday.”

At one point, she had an offer to relocate to Washington, DC, but being so far away didn't feel right. Española is part of her district as clerk; without it, Espinoza says, she wouldn't have been able to run for office.

“I’m from here; I know the needs,” she says. She puts her left blinker on, signaling into the courthouse’s parking lot—back where we started nearly three hours prior and approximately 30 miles away from the place she broke her tailbone on an inner tube.


 

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