The cast of characters for Santa Fe voters in the June 5 primary election is hard to keep track of.
The ballot includes two Anayas who aren't related. There are two Jerrys—one sporting tons of tattoos and one who lost his job as a city cop during the Robbie Romero case. Five other candidates are also former police officers. Three scientists jumped into the running for various positions. Six current or former legislators are seeking election to other statewide jobs. And that's just a sample.
Voters can grab chances to break glass ceilings for women who are still greatly outnumbered, and they also have a shot at increasing ethnic diversity so that our officials look more like our population. In addition, ballots offer choices to give virtually unknown politicians a shot at leadership or to affirm proven records of service.
Isn't democracy something?
Early voting is underway, and Election Day is around the corner, so SFR offered in-person interviews to all the candidates we could find. Except for the one dude who said, "I'll pass," the conversations helped elucidate the positions and personalities of the people seeking office.
Like many recent elections in Santa Fe County, the contests for local voters are all situated for now within the Democratic Party. And only voters who registered as big D Dems are eligible to cast ballots. But in many races—like Santa Fe County Sheriff, state House District 46 and magistrate judges—no one from another political party qualified to appear on the General Election ballot in November. So this is it.
In other races, the winning Democrat faces another round of campaigning: the nominee for governor will go against a well-heeled Republican congressman who's already advertising; the would-be land commissioner who emerges from a field of three will take on two more opponents since both a Republican and a Libertarian are in the race.
What follows are our recommendations, based on our understanding of the facts and factions today. But we don't know everything, and some of the decisions were tough calls based on thin margins. Don't let us down, voters. Do your own homework, too. (Julie Ann Grimm)
Are you already gasping? We're not recommending a free pass for the dynamic female congresswoman from Albuquerque or the fast-talking former TV exec and son of a governor, but instead pointing to the good qualities of a state senator from down south.
Joseph (just call him Joe) Cervantes has served in New Mexico's citizen Legislature for 17 years, and his push for the governor's seat appears to come from a place of using that experience to lead the state. A recent statewide poll indicates he could be a major underdog and not the likely winner, yet we think on the whole he'd be the best governor.
His track record in the more conservative chamber of the Roundhouse as representative for part of Doña Ana County shows strong advocacy and knowledge of issues that will matter in the next four years like water supply and capital projects.
While at first we were psyched about Jeff Apodaca's candidacy, his whack plan for 225,000 new jobs quickly became a tired refrain during the campaign. Plus, his motor-mouthed approach leaves little confidence that listening, compromise and team-building would be strong enough under his administration. He favors hyperbole and likes to say he's the "only one" who's talking about an issue.
There's no doubt that Michelle Lujan Grisham is an exciting candidate. Stepping aside from a seat she's held in Congress for two terms, Lujan Grisham made it clear early on that she had her sights set on becoming governor. She's whip-smart, her energy is contagious and her ability to garner massive support from the party could be promising in the general election battle against conservative Republican Congressman Steve Pearce. She is poised and articulate in a manner unsurpassed by her foes in the race.
But those close party ties also come with industry ties, including campaign cash from pharmaceutical and insurance companies. And that enthusiasm sometimes comes out manic or mean. Plus, her career centers around government jobs. Cervantes, meanwhile, has earned paychecks apart from the public sector and he's been firmly rooted in New Mexico. His experience as an architect and attorney comes with chops in the farm fields and orchards. That combo seems like a good fit for the governor's office.
The New Mexico Constitution really makes this seat complicated for voters to grock. The Lt. runs in the primary independent of the governor, but when he or she gets the party nod, the tickets then blend together. So all three people in this race bend over backwards to explain how they'll support whichever Dem gov gets to the top. In the last eight years we've seen what happens when they don't agree.
We hope voters also consider the political geography calculation. It will be important to show regional diversity in the general election. For that reason and others, we recommend Rick Miera for the job. Miera's background in behavioral health care provides a backdrop for focusing on solutions that could put more resources to this topic, and his 24 years as an Albuquerque-area state representative give him insight into the state's management.
We were really impressed, however, with Billy Garrett. Though he's near Billy the Kid country, he's not related to Sheriff Pat Garrett. Instead, he's a longtime Doña Ana County Commissioner with an administrative background who has some thoughtful ideas about using the office to support the governor's agenda.
Bill McCamley wants to be known for something others would hide from: He's a total pain in the ass. He thinks this a good quality for the state auditor, and we don't disagree. McCamley has a track record of rabble-rousing in the state Legislature and an educational background that seems to translate well to the position that looks at the financial affairs of government agencies.
Also on the ballot is Brian Colón (pronounced like "cologne"—and, by the way, he's liberal with it), who turned his attention to the seat after he came in third in the Albuquerque mayoral contest last year. Voters might also remember him from his 2010 run for the fourth floor as lieutenant governor with Diane Denish. A lawyer with the same Albuquerque law firm where state Attorney General Hector Balderas worked, he's also a former state Democratic Party chairman.
We like McCamley better for the job because he's got more recent, direct experience with the subject matter of various state and local finances. He's proven a tenacious legislator who backs his efforts with research and we look forward to watching him dig in.
In the November general election, the winner of the race faces Republican incumbent Wayne Johnson, appointed to the job after Tim Keller became mayor of Albuquerque
Stephanie Garcia Richard
The office of the state land commissioner has been occupied memorably by guys wearing bolo ties and guys wearing cowboy hats. But the candidate we like the best has a lot more going for her than just that she's not one of the guys (or that she would be the state's first female land commissioner). Stephanie Garcia Richard wants to approach the management of the state's trust lands with a perspective that hasn't been present in the office: a teacher's.
Classrooms are the beneficiaries of the money generated by the land, and, she argues, from the condition of New Mexico schools, oil and gas developers aren't paying their fair share. Plus, Garcia Richard has sat on the House budget committee and is familiar with the work she'll need to do as the land commissioner.
A close second to Garcia Richard is Garrett VeneKlasen, a Santa Fean who would likely do a great job in the office and who has an exciting vision. We love his enthusiasm for leveraging outdoor recreation to earn more and be more valuable for users.
But Garcia Richard is a seasoned elected official who fought hard to earn and keep her seat in a historically red legislative district. She'll need those chops to face two men who have previously held the seat: Libertarian Aubrey Dunn and Republican Pat Lyons.
Santa Fe County Sheriff
Voters in Santa Fe County tend to keep the top law enforcement officer's position in-house. It's common for the sheriff to serve the allowed two terms and then practically pass the reins to the second in command, but that's not the case this time around. Four candidates who've all left the department are now vying to return as its leader.
Adan Mendoza is a standout in the crowd. He worked as a supervisor in many of the department's divisions and rose to the rank of major before he retired two years ago. He appears to have a pragmatic approach to fulfilling public safety duties and has a handle on what we hear from residents about their needs: faster responses to emergencies (especially in the southern part of the county), better cooperation with other agencies (especially in the northern part), and working to better involve the county in diversion programs for people who are addicted to drugs and commit crimes (all over the place).
We like his idea of developing a way for residents to make reports online rather than tying up officers with mundane acts of vandalism, general suspicions or other minor issues, and we think he can communicate effectively to his budget bosses at the County Commission and to his real boss: the people who live here.
Santa Fe County Commissioner – District 3
We do love the cowboy hats on formal head shots for two out of three Dems seeking the Santa Fe County Commission seat for the southern portion of the county. But a lack of headwear is not why we chose to endorse the guy whose official portrait omitted a hat. Rudy Garcia has worked at Santa Fe County for 27 years. He'd go into the governing job without the steep learning curve that others might face. He grew up on Airport Road before annexation, so he's also got a blend of urban and rural familiarity that is promising.
We admire Filandro Anaya's desire to get on the commission to represent people who he says feel forgotten by the county, but his answers to questions about the county's overall concerns such as the jail and coming-soon mental health center felt under-studied. The third man in the race, Donald Reece, declined to meet to talk about any of it.
Santa Fe County Magistrate Court
This race might get the unofficial award for being the most oddball. Rather than go for an empty seat in the other court division, former bail bondsman Jerry Gonzales decided to take on the guy who's been presiding judge at the court for nine years and sat on the bench for 12. Then, Judge David Segura chose to run a low-budget campaign, raising just $800 and spending none of it at the last report, while Gonzales raked in $13,000 and is working hard to earn the new job with voters.
While we really, really wanted to recommend Gonzales (and not just because we're pretty sure he would be the only person on the bench with neck tattoos), he seems to have an ax to grind about bail reform that he claims led to the closure of his business. He doesn't make the case that Segura is doing a bad job and needs to be replaced. Segura is knowledgeable about the court and has a solid reputation, as far as we can tell.
Neither of the candidates for this open seat on Santa Fe's Magistrate Court bench are particularly well-known, but one of them has a whole bucket full of credentials for the job and the other one's reputation includes admission of faking records. So, it's easy to choose John Rysanek as our recommendation for the job.
As the head of the local district attorney's intake section, he's got experience with the elements of criminal cases as he prepares them for presentation to grand juries. A 2011 UNM Law graduate, he estimates he's now been involved in over 4,000 cases.
The other name on the ballot is Sam Sena's. Like any flawed human (read: all of us), the former State Police officer deserves forgiveness for his bad choice to falsify department training records, but the incident makes us unwilling to take a risk on his choices that could affect the rest of a defendant's life.
1st Judicial District Court
There's nothing wrong with the judge whom the governor appointed to fill a vacancy on the District Court. We're hard-pressed to say one bad thing about Greg Shaffer, a former state and county attorney who has been doing the job since November. However, in this four-way race to elect a judge, the slate of candidates offers another choice whom we think would be great for our community.
Maria Sanchez-Gagne narrowly lost a bid to become the Democratic nominee for the 1st Judicial District attorney post in 2016. Of the three counties in the district, she got more votes in Santa Fe County than her opponent, losing by a hair in Rio Arriba to the overall winner, Marco Serna. That support is one thing that tells us Sanchez-Gagne, a longtime prosecutor, is a good bet for the seat.
What's more, she's not shy about pointing out a glaring problem in our District Court, it looks a whole lot like Shaffer—male and Anglo. She's bilingual and has 22 years of both civil and criminal law. We're with her.
The two candidates for the division of the court that is housed at the Tierra Amarilla courthouse in Rio Arriba County have competed over and again. Matthew Eric Jackson and Jason Lidyard both applied for a different court vacancy and didn't land the appointment. Then, both applied to this vacancy, and a panel of judges and others from the legal field recommended Lidyard for the post and not Jackson. Young and clear-eyed, Lidyard has been in the job now for just a couple of months. We like his style.
Jackson has private practice and government experience, but Lidyard has worked on both sides of the courtroom in many more trials, and has spent more time in the community in Rio Arriba County during his seven-year tenure at the district attorney's office.
While it might seem like we are going all prosecutor-heavy in these recommendations, it's important to point out that Lidyard has a passion for the district's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, and has taken a proactive step as a judge: Conditions of release for all defendants in opiate cases include a visit to an NA or AA meeting and a requirement that they obtain Narcan, a drug that can prevent overdose. That can't hurt.
New Mexico House
The House seat that includes all of Los Alamos County and parts of Rio Arriba and Santa Fe is up for grabs because Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard is giving it up to run for state Land Commissioner. Two Los Alamos County Commissioners are facing off for the Democratic nomination, the winner of which will compete against Lisa Shin, a Republican. The district has been historically Republican-leaning, largely due to a well-loved powerhouse who held the seat for years and was a moderate. But Christine Chandler argues that it's become more liberal over time. She's probably right about this, and bunch of other things.
Chandler seems to be the kind of strong, thoughtful leader the district is used to in Garcia Richard. Her opponent Peter Sheehey shares many of the same policy positions, but not in the same articulate way that Chandler puts forward. Her active listening skills are much more developed, and her approach as an attorney and her experience working as an analyst for the Senate Judiciary Committee for four of the last five sessions should come in handy.
The incumbent legislator and the challenger in this race have both taken political hits as the campaign draws to a close, and their various responses have led to more mudslinging than any other local primary contest. There's no doubt Rep. Carl Trujillo has ardent supporters, particularly among those affected by the Aamodt lawsuit in the Pojoaque Valley who he helped get a more fair shake as governments settled the decades old litigation.
It's hard, however, to not get sucked in to what has become vicious rhetoric from supporters. When a lobbyist accused Trujilllo of sexual misconduct, both the candidate and some of his backers displayed a streak of misogyny that's unacceptable. We're not saying there's evidence of his guilt or innocence in the matter, but his she's–lying-because-Facebook! retort was not befitting an elected official.
Romero isn't a perfect candidate, either. She got dinged in the public eye for some shady purchases on a quasi-government job and now says she handled it poorly. She seems to spout party rhetoric yet really thinks she's saying something. At the same time, her values for reproductive freedom (contrary to his) and her perspective as what would be one of the youngest members in the Roundhouse are promising.