xWe know you're tired. So are we.
After the March city election and the June primaries, this is our third endorsement issue of the year. But we're holding off on despair. So should you.
Given the propensity to keep incumbents in place, the upcoming statewide general election is likely to plot the course for the next eight years in New Mexico—at least when it comes to governor—so it's pretty important that you weigh in.
Sometimes it's easy for us to make the call in a particular race because one candidate has (or does not have) vastly more relevant experience or clearer ideas for how to run a government office. But other races are toss-ups. How disappointed are we with current leadership, and is it worth sending the incumbent a signal that all is not well? How much should we risk on a political unknown? Who should pay the price for our general frustration with the status quo?
We're happy to report that the vast majority of candidates in three political parties and even two registered as independents agreed to sit down to talk about their experiences and dreams. That's a change from two years ago, when too many clung so hard to party lines and resentments that they refused to even meet with us.
Not every race on every Santa Fe-area ballot is included in this rundown, partly because many candidates aren't facing competition. From the county sheriff to the state House, lots of races are determined here during the party primaries. (Also, four Court of Appeals seats and a Supreme Court race are not contemplated in these pages.)
Still, the decision about who will become the state's governor is the biggest reason to bother filling in bubbles. Voters who decline to state a party are the fastest-growing group in New Mexico, making up 22 percent of registered voters in this election. So whether the fourth floor goes to the D or the R is in their hands—your hands.
In the spirit of good fun, and recognizing that Halloween endorsements bring up all kinds of terror, we offer the illustrated gubernatorial ghouls.
What follows is a list of SFR's endorsements in the order they appear on the ballot. Whether you find our recommendations a treat or somewhat tricky, the scariest thing would be to stay on the sidelines.
Julie Ann Grimm
Editor and Publisher
While the late-hour entry of Gary Johnson into the Senate race made for better TV and gave us the chance to take a mental vacation from the two-party hell we're entrenched in, we can't in good conscience recommend him. Johnson would be a unique voice. But would his outrageous nature ultimately be a disservice to constituents? Example: Heinrich didn't scream once during televised debates or while he was in our office to talk about the race this fall. Not so much for Johnson, whose F-bombs and spazzy tangents are cute, but ultimately short on meaning.
The other non-incumbent choice in the race is Mick Rich, a first-time politician on the far right who can muster little stronger than "I love New Mexico" in response to policy questions he ought to have researched by now.
Heinrich offers coherent explanations for his approach and his goals, and with four years as a US Representative before moving to the Senate in 2013, he doesn't face a newcomer's learning curve. He's proved valuable to New Mexico as a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and an advocate for public lands.
He's a bit stiff on TV, but in person, we don't have trouble believing that he'd rather have a view of the Sangres than the Hill. Still, he wants to work for the state's interests in Washington. Although he's no Pollyanna about the challenges of opposing the Trump administration and Republican control or even narrow margins in Congress, Heinrich isn't obsessed with what he's against. Rather, he believes in the potential of incremental, collaborative reform. He's willing to keep working on it.
Ben Ray Luján
The word most commonly uttered about Ben Ray Luján is "safe." We'd rather the word was "go-getter" or "smartypants" or even "ballsy." Luján's already been in this seat for more than 10 years.
Two men have lined up to oust him, but neither represents a serious challenge: Steve McFall, on the Republican ticket because it's "God's path," and Chris Manning, a Libertarian making the rounds with a good rendition of third-party talking points—but no real local heft.
Luján has all the chops to be a heavy-hitter and to still resonate with Northern New Mexico voters—not just his accent, but the work he's proud of on health care access, blunting the scourge of opioid addiction and lab cleanup. If there's a Democrat elected speaker of the House, he could even be on the shortlist thanks to his fundraising work as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Give us a better word to use for the next term, Congressman Luján. Your seat is safe. It's time for you to stretch out and see what you can do.
Governor and Lt. Governor
Michelle Lujan Grisham and Howie Morales
If there's just one issue that makes up our mind in the governor's race, it's the way the candidates come down on legalizing recreational marijuana in New Mexico. We know this change is overdue, and it's simple: Steve Pearce is against the idea while Lujan Grisham is for it. She's got experience as the one-time administrator of the state's medical marijuana program and a few clear caveats about what she wants to see in a bill that could open the door for an estimated $200 million a year added to the economy. Revenue from extractive industries such as oil and gas fluctuates, but this source is green for miles. There are no good reasons for the continued prohibition on adult use of the plant.
But there are many more reasons why Lujan Grisham is the better choice in the race. Her grasp of how New Mexico could better leverage Medicaid to the benefit of our most vulnerable residents, plus the connectivity and collaboration it takes to attack most of our big problems on education, the environment and the economy outpace Pearce's agenda to build an oil refinery and his apparent assumptions about poverty and its causes and fixes.
The lieutenant governor is a running mate, so Howie Morales is along for the ride.
We're skeptical of Lujan Grisham, of course, and we encouraged caution about steamrolling her through the primary election. Yet her energy feels genuine. Pearce, who built his wealth on—and still has clear personal connections to—the oil and gas industry, feels distant. His image-making as a moderate shouldn't fool voters who can see that his advocacy for privatizing education, against reproductive freedom and against a minimum wage hike lands him in the most conservative caucus in Congress. He's already proven a reliable ally for Trump. We expect some single-issue voters will choose him, too.
Though no politician is as solid as we would like on the issue of media access, we appreciate that Lujan Grisham's willingness to sit down and talk was evident during her years in state and county government and has endured during the campaign. Pearce has—at least when we've come knocking—been mostly unavailable.
Pundits are calling the race close from the land grants of the north through the rangeland of the south. But we're not on the fence at all.
Secretary of State
Maggie Toulouse Oliver
Administering elections in a state where laws mandate paper ballots, where rural polling places are few and far between, and where campaign finance laws are an unnavigable bog is not a particularly enviable position. Previous secretaries of state have gone to jail, resigned amid corruption scandals and faced prosecution after leaving office. The job pays just $85,000, and also includes the joy of keeping business and nonprofit registrations in order.
But Maggie Toulouse Oliver wants to keep doing it. And she's the one candidate who has been in the race from the start. Ginger Grider, the Libertarian running against her, has been a no-show in the campaign, dropped in by the party as a replacement candidate. And we're not even sure where to begin on Gavin Clarkson.
First, he wanted to head to Washington, placing third in a four-way race in the Republican primary for the US House seat that Steve Pearce is vacating. Then, he landed in this race after the party's original candidate dropped out. His campaign rancor has been tiresome, and our in-person meeting felt like Mansplaining and Avoiding 101.
We're not sure Toulouse Oliver's ham-fisted attempt to bring back straight-party ticketing was a hill to die on right before this election, and the courts shot her down unceremoniously. But we love her ideas about cracking open primaries for all voters, voting by mail and same-day voter registration.
The main reason to vote for Colón isn't because he's a true-and-through Democratic Party guy. (He totally is.) The reason to vote for him is because the other person in the race has already demonstrated a great willingness to use the important position in attempts at political expediency.
Both incumbent Wayne Johnson and Colón are climbers. Johnson was a Bernalillo County commissioner who finished fourth in the 2017 Albuquerque mayor's race that saw then-state Auditor Tim Keller take office. Colón, who's run for other offices and served as state Democratic Party chairman, was third in that race. Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Johnson to fill the seat Keller left, and Colón lined up to challenge him.
We didn't endorse Colón in the Democratic primary, but against Johnson, he's the clear choice.
Johnson has made some swipes at foes from the auditor's seat, and he showed poor form if not a downright ethical breach in refusing to step down from the county commission when he became a statewide official. We hope, however, that Colón keeps his lines of allegiance to the public clear and avoids the whiffs of cronyism that have sometimes held him back.
Former state representative and incumbent Treasurer Tim Eichenberg has a funny theory about why it wouldn't have been cool for the Office of the State Treasurer to share the same floor—and bathrooms—in a building with the Department of Health's Medical Cannabis Program. He's worried that marijuana will seep into the skin of non-users.
Absurd and maybe even offensive as that is, we kind of expect good money managers to be just that square. He wants to stick around to make sure he's got the office rolling with the treasury module of the SHARE accounting system that's been running redundant with the old system while his team works out the kinks. Eichenberg seems excited about surrounding himself with colleagues who are experts in banking and investment.
His Republican opponent, Arthur Castillo, on the other hand, didn't have as much to say about his own credentials, supporters and plans. Rather, he lobbed rocks at the current staff. Did he bother to get their resumes? Nope. He casually suggested one of the top investment officers, "that lady," did not have a college degree, then backpedaled when we followed up. Not a good sign. Let's stick with what we've got.
The popularity rate for Hector Balderas, he tells us, is very high—even though, he tells us, he doesn't get enough credit for his progressive leadership. We've met with the two lawyers lined up to replace him, and we don't think they stand a chance of being more popular or better at the job. But we want to send a clear signal.
Our endorsement interview with Balderas went a little like a peer mediation, and we didn't really achieve peace. The biggest difference we have is about his penchant for secrecy. When it comes to law enforcement officers, we believe factual information such as at-fault car accidents and misconduct findings, along with cases when police officers are cleared of such allegations, should be part of the public accountability process. Instead of writing an opinion on the matter, Balderas has stalled since the former mayor of Santa Fe sought one in August 2017. Even if this request is "complex," turnaround time for open records enforcement should not take months to years, as it does on average.
His argument is that he's pushed back against Trump and for consumers against corporations, cracked down on crimes against children and inherited tough cases like the US Supreme Court water litigation. We don't argue with that. But we suspect that while this will be Balderas' final term as AG, it won't be his last run for public office. If he wants to lead, he ought to start now.
Commissioner of Public Lands
Stephanie Garcia Richard
If nothing ever changes, reads one side of the coin—flip it over—nothing ever changes. Flip it over. Flip it over again.
The best argument Pat Lyons has for why he should be the next land commissioner is because he's already done the job. Yet the job he's been doing for the state as a member of the Public Regulation Commission for the last eight years has not resulted in a drastic shift of vision. In the alternative, Garcia Richard wants to use the power of the State Land Office to strictly regulate oil and gas development and to ramp up alternative energy production, plus maximize outdoor recreation. When other members of the PRC were ready to push an agenda to broaden residential solar for New Mexicans, Lyons voted against the measure, and progressives say he's predictably conservative and industry-friendly in that pattern.
Garcia Richard, a teacher by trade, is a fighter. She battled to win her seat in the Legislature and she cares enough about the pool of money heading to the state's beneficiaries to give up that spot and try for the statewide office that oversees 9 million acres of surface and 13 million acres of subsurface estate. She overcame two other Democrats in the primary to get to this point.
Lyons, though, says he fears oil and gas executives will run her over. But she ain't scared. And neither are we. The same oil and gas executives have lined the pockets of too many of our decision-makers—Lyons included. Two of the state's major newspapers have endorsed Lyons. We say you gotta change to change. We're banking on the idea that Garcia Richard can move our state lands off the dime, and that she'll find and retain the right experts to pull it off.
PS: We never could find Michael Lucero.
NM House 43
We thought Christine Chandler was a winner when we met before the primary, and we're even more convinced now. While back then she was hedging on an issue that's certain to come before lawmakers this session, she spent the intervening months talking to people across the district. Turns out, even rural voters favor allowing cultivation and consumption of recreational marijuana. We wrote then about her "active listening," and this is just one example of how that's playing out. An attorney and a well-respected member of the Los Alamos County Council, she will carry her thoughtful and measured approach to the Roundhouse. She's already spent four sessions there working as an analyst for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
This House district is one that's leaned Republican, and we were interested to hear from the GOP candidate also on the ballot—but Lisa Shin didn't want to make the trip all the way to Santa Fe. She doesn't have a record of public service to speak of, except for advocacy against a Los Alamos parks bond proposal and as a delegate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland who made a speech in favor of Donald Trump. She made a mock newspaper as a direct mail advertisement that was so close to the appearance of the masthead of the Los Alamos Daily Post that the paper's editor had to issue a disclaimer. Talk about fake news.
NM House 46
Joe Skeen made it all the way to Congress for New Mexico on a write-in candidacy in 1980, and we think there's been enough drama this race to give write-in choice Heather Nordquist the nod over Democratic Party choice Andrea Romero—even if it is a long shot. We endorsed Romero over incumbent Carl Trujillo in the primary, but then another issue emerged with Romero's contract work for quasi-government agencies. She was already under fire for the way she spent cash as director of the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Lab Communities, not as much for what happened, but rather for equivocating and reluctance to admit she'd made a mistake. She's also been reluctant to give interviews to our reporters. Tsk.
Nordquist's family is from the valley. She works as a scientist at LANL and has been involved in local advocacy for road and water access. She's a Democrat, too, and was a Trujillo supporter who decided to campaign for the seat after he lost the primary. She's distant from some of his policies, though, the most problematic of which for us was his opposition to abortion access.
With about 20,000 registered voters in the district and a predicted turnout of about 11,000, she probably needs 6,000 people to remember her name and write it on the line. We think you should.
NM House 50
When we posed the question about which candidates bear the punishment for the two-party system, we were thinking of this race. Incumbent Rep. Matthew McQueen has not done anything that merits running him out of the Roundhouse on a rail. The attorney who lives in Galisteo fits right in with the rest of the region's state delegation: heavy on lawyers with offices in downtown Santa Fe, and at ease talking about all the well-worn Democratic warm and fuzzies.
Jarratt Applewhite, on the other hand, is a different sort. While he's no stranger to committees and policy, having served on the school board and in a number of other local policy and planning efforts, he's branded himself as more of a rural type. One of his campaign talking points involves a giant map of the district, a clear gerrymander if ever we've seen one. Residents in the Rio Communities, for example, can't drive to the rest of the district without leaving it. Rather than keeping intact what the law requires, "communities of interest," the judiciary let these boundaries look like a bad science project. Applewhite says he's focused on reshaping the Estancia Valley, and people who live there seem enthusiastic about him. He would be the only registered independent to serve in the Roundhouse. And while choosing not to caucus with either party will leave him as an outsider, that's a concept we cotton to. There should be at least one.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story implied legislators chose redistricting maps when in fact a judge chose. We've corrected the error.
Santa Fe County Commission District 3
Mike Anaya might be the only person on the general election ballot who took a week of vacation without a cell phone signal in the month before final voting. The fourth-generation Stanley rancher drew an elk tag in the Pecos. That's a big-time get, so Anaya loaded up his horse and took off. We're not sure if it was wise or foolish, but we respect the choice.
Anaya has been county commissioner before, and he enjoyed the job enough to try again. He held the seat for the two consecutive terms allowed by law, then his brother Robert served two terms. He sometimes fell on the conservative side of a 3-2 split, and didn't always seem to fully grasp the depth of certain decisions. (For example, he says today he regrets voting for the county to purchase the Santa Fe Canyon Ranch).
Back then, however, Mike Anaya was a Democrat. This time, sick of the "bickering and the back and forth," he's running as an Independent. Still, we're not overjoyed with what feels like a family dynasty on the seat. Longtime county employee Rudy Garcia, who won a three-way Democratic primary, would probably also be a good commissioner, albeit with different values as a son of the Airport Road corridor before that was a thing. Yet it turns out Garcia has a long DWI record, and we think that repeated lack of personal accountability does not send the right message.
(Note: All the ballot question are wordy and cumbersome. We've boiled them down for understanding. Don't be alarmed by all the extra language on the ballot.)
Should a gross receipts tax for transit be reauthorized?
The North Central Regional Transit District is a mouthful, and so marketing folks and the rest of us have long been calling their vehicles "the Blue Bus." This one-eighth percent tax on goods and services has been in place since 2008 for the district that serves rural and Native communities and provides critical connections between small urban dots such as Taos and Española. Part of it goes to fund the New Mexico Rail Runner Express and the city of Santa Fe bus service special event shuttles. We heart transit.
Santa Fe City Charter: Should city elections be held the same day as general elections?
It's not just because we are sick of endorsements by October of an election year; it's because it is incongrous for city elections to take place in March instead of in the same month (on opposite years) as the rest of the state elections in November. Voter participation is already embarrassingly low. Let's make it easy for everyone to keep track. This would start in 2019, and would also have the effect of shortening the terms of office of some city councilors by two months. Womp womp, but they still favored it. So should you.
Amendment 1: Should the state give the Legislature authority to provide for appellate jurisdiction by statute?
Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill that put this question on the ballot. It would allow the Legislature to change the way court cases are assigned to judges on appeal. If this amendment passes, it's up to lawmakers to carefully study and write policy. Rather than loading up an already busy District Court, it opens the door for appeals to go straight to the Court of Appeals to be heard by a three-judge panel. PS: The whole system is underfunded. We need to work on that, too.
Amendment 2: Should the state convene an independent ethics commission?
One of Santa Fe's famed cowboy-hat-wearing state senators is today still serving out a prison sentence for public corruption. He resigned his post before his fellow lawmakers officially sanctioned him for the crimes in a process that was shielded from the public. Only through extraordinary investigative journalism followed by prosecution from the attorney general was Phil Griego held accountable for criminal action while in office. We have concerns about the details that are still to come on how lawmakers appoint a independent commission to review alleged ethics violations, but it's high time we improve our collective response to bad behavior and empower citizens to take action.
Bonds A, B, C, D
Property owners wouldn't notice a change from the 2016 and 2017 tax rates, finance experts say, but the state would get $166 million to use for capital projects (A. Aging and Long-Term Services; B. Libraries; C. School buses; D. Education).
D is especially important to Santa Fe Community College. The school has already earmarked $7 million of a recent bond for its planned automotive training center, and this statewide bond issue includes another $5 million for the project. There's also funding for the New Mexico School for the Deaf, Santa Fe Indian School and the Institute for American Indian Arts.
VOTE NOW or LATER
Vote at the Santa Fe County Clerk's Office (102 Grant Ave.) 8 am-5 pm Wednesday-Friday Oct. 31-Nov. 2, and 10 am-6 pm Saturday Nov. 3.
In-person voting is also available in at six sites in Santa Fe County noon-8 pm Wednesday-Friday Oct. 31-Nov. 2, and 10 am-6 pm Saturday Nov. 3:
- Santa Fe County Fair Building, 3229 Rodeo Road
- Christian Life Church, 121 Siringo Road
- Max Coll Corridor Community Center, 16 Avenida Torreon, Eldorado
- Edgewood Elementary School, 285 Dinkle Road, Edgewood
- Pojoaque County Satellite Offices, Pojoaque Pueblo Plaza, 5 W Gutierrez, Ste. 9
- Abedon Lopez Community Center, 155-A Camino De Quintana, Santa Cruz
On Nov. 6, vote 7 am-7 pm at one of 30 convenience centers in the county, including the first four early voting sites on the list above. Visit SFReporter.com/elections for a complete list.