Our top candidate picks and advice about the rest of the ballot

Some journalists believe newspapers should stop making endorsements to avoid some perception of bias later down the road or for other reasons.

But we know you. We know there are dinners to make and hikes to take and errands to run and things to be done. You're not paying attention to every candidate and issue. We are. Some of you have already phoned trying to get a sneak look at the slate. At last, here are our picks, in the order they will appear on the ballot. You're welcome.

More than 102,000 people in Santa Fe County are registered to vote among the nearly 1.3 million who are eligible to cast ballots in the state. If you don't vote, you can't bitch. (Well, you can, but we don't want to hear it.) Plus, deep down you really want to wear that little sticker on your sweater. SFR has a long tradition of endorsements based on the research and opinions of our top-secret editorial board. Don't be scared. And don't be tricked. Democracy is a treat.


US Senate

Our pick: Sen. Tom Udall might be part of the entrenched power in Washington that we all love to hate, but he represents Northern New Mexico values pretty well.

What it's about: The US Senate is one place where, at least in theory, the voice of New Mexico gets equal weight as that of more populated states. That's not a small thing for our large, rural province that has a major federal presence. Republican challenger Allen Weh is probably right that the US government is too unwieldy, but he refused to give us an interview during the primary and kept up the radio silence during this election season. It's not very promising that someone who wants to speak for us in Washington can't speak to us at home. Udall has backed efforts to curtail the influence of money in politics and cares about water and conservation issues. Plus, he supports a federal minimum wage increase that Weh staunchly opposes.

Why agree with us? Udall has proven his track record. Weh? Meh.

US Congress

Our pick: Ben Ray Luján has caught onto the smooth talk of Washington and the campaign trail, however, we also see resonating substance in his rhetoric and his record.

What it's about: Bless his heart, Jefferson Byrd already tried and failed to unseat Luján. His participation in the cage fight we call democracy is admirable. While this Republican's ideas lean toward the libertarian bent, we're afraid Capitol Hill would chew him up and spit him out. Plus, his opinion about climate change and how it's not our fault isn't agreeable to our electorate, and we think it was really weird that he staged a walkout at a planned League of Women Voters event. Luján, on the other hand, has always made himself available to us and has a reputation for responding to constituents when they ask for help. The Democrat seems to do his homework on the issues, he supports a path to citizenship for immigrants and understands the importance of reform in energy and transportation policy.

Why agree with us? Three-term Luján is no longer wet behind the ears. Maybe he's got a chance to leverage more influence now.

Governor & Lieutenant Governor

Our pick: Gary King's dad was a well-liked governor, his mother was an advocate for kids, and his cousin was a good legislator. We expect King to use his public-service genes and his mental map of the Roundhouse to the advantage of all New Mexicans. Debra Haaland is a promising leader and a smart choice in a running mate.

What's it about: We didn't endorse King in the primary, and some of his actions as attorney general have been less than laudable. But it's easy to pick him now for governor. Incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez­—who as of last check had $2.7 million in her campaign bank account compared to King's $124,000—has made no secret that she's not a fan of our newspaper. That's OK. We understand that when you question this administration, you pay a price. We still wanted to conduct an interview on camera to help voters get information and to influence our endorsement. Given the chance, we would have asked how she can brag about New Mexico's economy and public education when her leadership has bottomed us out and/or failed to pull us up in these areas by nearly every indicator available. We'd also love a candid answer about why the governor who has uttered the word "transparency" perhaps more than any other governor in state history is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to fight lawsuits over her refusal to make public documents public. And how 'bout those Arizona behavioral health providers who now say they need more money? Democrat King might not be a dynamo. But he's gotta do better than that.

Why agree with us? Four more years is a long time.

Secretary of State

Our pick: Maggie Toulouse Oliver is full of energy and great ideas about making elections more accessible to everyone. As Bernalillo County clerk she's used budget savings for voter outreach and other innovations.

What it's about: Incumbent Dianna Duran was the first Republican elected to this office since 1928. Her stances on county autonomy over ballot questions (she's against it) and voter ID (she's for it) alone lead us to lean heavily toward the Democratic challenger, who disagrees with her on each of those points. Plus, Duran, a former state legislator, also hired hyper-partisan Rod Adair as her elections bureau director for a few years and now as her campaign manager. Adair declined our invitation for the candidate to appear in short video interview. He didn't want her to "have to endure that," he said. Endure explaining your perspective to an audience who otherwise might not hear it? What a shame. Toulouse Oliver implemented election day "voting centers" in her county that we'd like to see go statewide. Given our crazy schedules and technology to keep up with who's voted and who hasn't, being able to pick your voting location on election day seems like a worthy plan.

Why agree with us? Maggie is not allied with Gov. Martinez. She's busting her tail in what pundits say is a close race.

State Auditor

Our pick: We're lucky to have Tim Keller serving in the state Senate for another two years if he isn't elected auditor, but with his background and education in business and his familiarity with state government, he should fill this spot.

What it's about: The pair of candidates are new to the job of auditor, as the winner will replace outgoing auditor Hector Balderas, running for state attorney general this time around.

Robert Aragon, cousin of ousted and imprisoned former Sen. Manny Aragon, served as a state legislator two decades ago, then ran for Congress as a Democrat and has now switched to the GOP. We would have liked to have heard his ideas about keeping it clean in this statewide office, but this appointee on the New Mexico Board of Finance didn't participate in the League of Women Voters guidebook, and he declined our invitation to chat, too. It's also not a good sign that he took money for his campaign treasury from embezzlers he defended as an attorney. Keller, one of the youngest candidates in this election, and who's already been elected to his seat twice, rose to majority whip among Senate Democrats and seems largely respected on both sides of the aisle. He's got some promising ideas about the procurement system and wants to take a hard look at education reforms and their costs and benefits.

Why agree with us? Keller, 36, is bucking the brain drain. He earned his MBA from Harvard and came home to New Mexico.


Our pick: Rick Lopez gets our lean in this toss-up of seemingly qualified candidates.

What it's about: The state treasurer was just another boring pencil pusher until scandal rocked the office and landed several officials in prison. But now, the banker of the state and its chief investment officer is a bit more public. Republican Rick Lopez is an Eldorado resident, and even though his website describes his "pro-family values" that we're not sure have much to do with the treasurer's office, we believe his résumé of top state administrative posts proves he can handle this job. Democrat Tim Eichenberg also has a recent role in state government as senator representing an Albuquerque-area district and is a former director of the Property Tax Division, as well as serving a long-ago stint as Bernalillo County treasurer. The winner faces challenges including balancing the state's unbalanced checkbook.

Why agree with us? Lopez has the chops to buckle down on an underappreciated job.

Attorney General

Our pick: Hector Balderas has demonstrated his tenacity as state auditor.

What it's about: As the top law enforcement officer in the state, the attorney general is empowered to prosecute criminals and keep a check and balance on the gargantuan system of state government. Former Las Cruces deputy district attorney Susan Riedel is a strong candidate with good qualifications, and after one especially well-played forum, we were ready to give her this nod. But her affiliation with Gov. Martinez is too scary. It's too tempting for the AG and the governor to team up on a bad agenda. Balderas, who had already served as a state legislator, came out swinging as auditor, even if some of his most high profile out-of-the-box audits such as the Downs deal and the New Mexico Finance Authority didn't produce the dramatic results he hinted at. We also wish he would have taken a stronger stance on opening the behavioral health audit for public scrutiny. If he gets into this office, he'll have that mess to sort through, too. Yet, as a Northern New Mexico son from Mora County who wants to stay close to home, his heart and his head seem like they're in the right place.

Why agree with us? Hector says he will be a strong voice for open records. Can we get an amen?

Commissioner of Public Lands

Our pick: Ray Powell has a track record in this rather obscure and impactful position in state government.

What it's about: The New Mexico land commissioner oversees more than 9 million acres of public land and 13 million acres of subsurface mineral rights and is tasked with stewardship that yields profit to pay for education, hospitals and other state beneficiaries. Powell, a Democrat who was also land commissioner from 1993 to 2002, has shepherded the state through a record-breaking period of revenue spurred by oil and gas development. He's also reversed some heartbreaking decisions by the Republican who held the office after he termed out, including a land swap deal that would have impeded access to White Peak. He couldn't turn back the clock on a land trade that the previous administration made to acquire the land that included the former Dixon apple orchard. The family that got hosed when floods destroyed the orchard went after a handcuffed Powell, we think, in misplaced anger. Well-financed Republican challenger Aubrey Dunn balked when we asked him to appear with Powell on camera. Yet, we've heard enough from him about Powell's supposed "extreme environmentalism" and Dunn's plans to prevent "federal land grabs" like national monument distinctions to disagree.

Why agree with us? A veterinarian who also worked for Dr. Jane Goodall, Ray Powell is in many ways the Mr. Rogers of state government.

New Mexico Court of the Appeals

Our pick: Miles Hanisee has already served for years on the Court of Appeals, and he's articulate and level-headed.

What it's about: Judges aren't allowed to opine during campaigns, and prospective judges avoid it scrupulously, but what they can talk about is whether they see the judicial system as a part of the political circus that sometimes envelops the other two branches of government. Both candidates used public campaign financing, which keeps these races squeaky clean. While experienced appellate attorney and Democrat Kerry Keirnan would probably do a good job, Hanisee has already been doing a good job. An energetic 46-year-old, Hanisee could serve the court for a long time. A member of the GOP, one of Hanisee's favorite opinions is where his panel ruled in favor of property tax exemption for conservation land along the Pecos River. What's better, Hanisee is an advocate for removing the party line from the bench.

Why agree with us? The very tall Hanisee pays careful attention to his written opinions. We're partial to that whole print thing.

New Mexico House District 43

Our pick: Stephanie Garcia Richard is aggressive and smart, and shows the kind of spark that the House is often missing.

What it's about: Democrat Garcia Richard fought for the seat that was long held by Republican Jeanette Wallace, losing to her in 2010 before Wallace died the next year. Garcia Richard then ran against an appointed replacement to secure the spot in 2012. Another funky-shaped district, hers includes all of Los Alamos County and parts of three others, including the western edge of Santa Fe County. This seat is one that the GOP has openly targeted in its effort to claim majority control over the state House of Representatives. Republican Geoff Rogers might get hurt by a political action committee who published a mailer about Garcia Richard that contained an outright lie about her voting record and that caught press attention. Her service on the Legislature's Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Committee is also useful since she's the closest lawmaker to the lab.

Why agree with us? Even though this district is known for its lab-employed Los Alamos constituents, Garcia Richard says she likes to rub elbows with rural folks.

New Mexico House District 50

Our pick: Matthew McQueen is an attorney who will make a good addition to the lower chamber.

What it's about: First, it's downright annoying that Vickie Perea said she was too busy to spend a half hour with us to talk about this race. A Republican, Perea ran a close race in 2012 for a Senate seat, but lost with 47 percent of votes. (Before that, she ran for secretary of state and other offices.) Next, it's downright political when the governor names someone from her political party to a district that more than leans the other way. Notwithstanding those two reasons, we probably would have picked Galisteo resident Matthew McQueen anyway. A conservation advocate, he seems like a genuine fellow who will work hard in the Roundhouse. This seat was long held by Democrat Rhonda King, of the King Dynasty (see governor). Then, it passed to Stephen Easely, who died in office.

Why agree with us? Restore this district to its Democratic tradition.

Election Intel:

Early voting

Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office
102 Grant Ave. 8 am to 5 pm, through Friday, Oct. 31, and 10 am to 6 pm, Saturday, Nov. 1 

Alternate Sites
Noon to 8 pm through Friday, Oct. 31, and 10 am to 6 pm, Saturday, Nov. 1

Santa Fe County Fair Building
3229 Rodeo Road

Eldorado Senior Center
16 Avenida Torreon

Old Edgewood Fire Station
25 E Frontage Road

Pojoaque County Satellite Office
5 W Gutierrez, Ste. 9, Pojoaque Pueblo Plaza

Election Day

Tuesday, Nov. 4
polling places are open from 7 am to 7 pm.

Not sure where you vote?
Call the county clerk at 986-6280 or check online at voterview.state.nm.us

Voters need stamina to get through the dense language on the back of the ballot. We can help.


Judicial Retention

We rely on the Supreme Court's Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which this year has recommended retention for all the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges up for retention as well as almost all the District Court judges. All you have to remember is to vote "Do Not Retain" for Judge Sheri Raphaelson, whom the commission rated poorly. Get more info at nmjpec.com

Constitutional Amendments

One would allow school elections to be held at the same time as non-partisan elections, such as municipal elections. (Yes! This could increase voter turnout on important issues such as community-college bonds.)

Two would change the board of regents of Northern New Mexico College by filling one regent position with a student. (Yes! Students should get a voice at this table as they do at other state four-year schools.)

Three would allow the Legislature to set the date for filing declarations of candidacy for judicial retention elections. (Yes! This is cleanup language that puts dates in statute instead of the Constitution.)

Four would allow certain counties to become urban counties and to clarify the majority vote needed to adopt a county charter. (No. At present, this only affects Bernalillo County, and would allow it avoid the state Legislature on some decisions, acting more like a city.)

Five would preserve the land grant permanent funds by removing the restrictions on the type of investment that may be made and increasing the threshold amount for additional distributions. (Yes! Let the market help this fund grow and allow more investment in foreign companies.)

Advisory Question

Although it's a non-binding poll, Santa Fe County wants your opinion on decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The city of Santa Fe has already made this rule change. But voting yes for the advisory question can send a message to the state Legislature that New Mexicans want to see greater marijuana reform across the state.


General obligation bonds are repaid through property taxes. The State Board of Finance says that if all these bonds are approved, residents with a property worth $100,000 will see tax increases of about $9.91 per year for the next 10 years.

A. $17 million for senior citizens facilities including about $1.3 million for 13 projects in Santa Fe County

B. $11 million for library acquisitions including $461,000 for Santa Fe County, $50,000 of which would go to the Santa Fe Community College. librarybondsforlibraries.nmla.org

C. $141 million for higher education institutions including $5 million for Highlands University and $2 million each for Northern New Mexico College and Santa Fe Community College. higheredbondc.com

Our pick

Vote yes. Books, colleges and the elderly are worth paying the small price. Plus, there are ripple effects to these investments such as job creation.

note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Raphaelson  would not appear on local ballots.

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