Cover Stories

Vote! SFR’s Endorsements for the June 4, 2024 Primary Election

Plus: Tips for the polls

Two salient threads ran through the Santa Fe County primary election season. First off, term-limits have value: The two available Santa Fe County Commission seats, along with the open seat for state Senate District 24—made available by state Sen. Nancy Rodriguez’s retirement—drew several first-time political hopefuls, whose enthusiasm for serving their community helped create robust discussions in this season’s forums and interviews.

In many of the races, concerns for the increasingly visible issues of homelessness; lack of affordable housing; and public safety emerged as top issues, alongside the ongoing quest to safeguard the area’s natural resources.

Several experienced elected officials also entered this year’s races, in some cases seeking new seats and in two particularly tense contests—for county clerk and First Judicial District attorney—to retake their old jobs. These rivalries served as a faint echo of the presidential contest already underway, the reverberations from which we assume will only increase as summer unfolds and the Nov. 5 general election draws closer.

New Mexico’s closed primary system means only major party voters can participate in their party’s races, and most of the local contests are solely among Democrats. As no Republican or Libertarians are running in the races endorsed in this week’s issue, all will likely be decided by the primary, making voters’ participation all the more key.

SFR tackles its endorsements by interviewing each candidate; attending and watching public forums; reviewing candidate materials and questionnaires; and conducting our Pop Quiz series. We do not endorse in uncontested races, nor do we endorse in races in which candidates fail to respond to our inquiries. For the June 4 election, we did not receive any response from Republican candidates Wendy Ann Lossing and Kenneth Donald Brennan in House District 50, which includes Edgewood, Eldorado, Lamy and Galisteo. The winner of that race will challenge incumbent Democrat Matthew McQueen; we will revisit that race in the fall, along with the contested partisan federal races for the state’s congressional delegation.

All of SFR’s election coverage can be found online at sfreporter.com/elections.


State Senate District 24

Linda Trujillo

Three Democrats, each with proven commitment to their communities, hope to succeed state Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, who has represented Senate District 24 for 28 years. Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, legislative analyst Veronica Krupnick and former state representative Linda Trujillo offered voters a civil race with general agreement about the issues in the district, which encompasses much of Santa Fe’s central and southside areas.

Hansen has particular experience representing residents in portions of those areas that overlap with her county commission seat, such as in the Agua Fría area, where her accessibility to constituents and environmental focus have earned her steadfast loyalty.

Krupnick, a 28-year-old Native American first-time candidate, brings first-hand knowledge of the foster child system and a fierce commitment to addressing the systemic failures of the Children, Youth and Families Department to protect the children in its care. We hope to see Krupnick in a future race as her experience at both the Legislature and with local and national child welfare groups makes her a much needed voice in the public sphere.

Trujillo, however, brings the legislative experience needed to fill some very large shoes as Rodriguez retires. A licensed attorney and former two-term Santa Fe Public Schools board member, Trujillo served two terms as a state representative in the House, resulting in a long list of legislative accomplishments. Among them: helping on the House side to create the state’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department; creating same-day voter registration; and suporting access for seniors to higher education. If elected, Trujillo’s top committee pick is Senate Finance, currently vice-chaired by Rodriguez, because, she says, that’s “where change happens…The thing that I’ve learned over the course of time, being at the executive level, being in the Legislature, is that policy follows money,” Trujillo tells SFR. “Money doesn’t follow a policy…You can create all the policy you want, but if it’s not funded, it’s not going to be implemented.”

As for the issue of public safety, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has prioritized at the state level with a pending special legislative session this summer, Trujillo, a former Head Start teacher, says if elected to take office next year, she’s committed to addressing the root causes of crime, and invokes Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, describing increasing crime as a response to the lack of adequate housing, food security, health care and high-wage jobs. “We haven’t invested enough to get to the root causes because I think we’re still recovering from the devastating impact of destruction of mental health care in New Mexico under the prior administration,” she says. In a field of strong candidates, Trujillo brings the institutional knowledge, commitment and pragmatism to continue serving the district well.

First Judicial District Attorney

Mary Carmack-Altwies

During one of the season’s candidate events—this one held by the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce—DA Mary Carmack-Altwies delivered her brief statements from a table at the front of the room, only to be followed by challenger and predecessor Marco Serna responding from down the hallway, masked, dry-heaving in between sentences. Now, in fairness, Serna had a 24-hour stomach bug, but the tableau of the opponents taking shots at one another with the possibility of someone vomiting captured the public tone of this race pretty well.

Carmack-Altwies faced several curveballs during her first term, including the tragic fatal shooting of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October of 2021. This placed Santa Fe’s criminal justice system into the international spotlight—often in unflattering terms. That being said, Carmack-Altwies has consistently articulated justice for Hutchins as her sole focus. She admits the Rust case somewhat “sucked the oxygen” out of her first term, but is proud of the conviction special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis secured in March against former Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.

Carmack-Altwies also bore criticism for her office’s decision to allow defendants in the Plaza obelisk destruction in 2020 to participate in a restorative justice program. While those who view the concept of restorative justice askance are unlikely to come around as a result of the DA’s foray in this instance, we appreciate Carmack-Altwies’ resolve to follow through on the commitments she made on the campaign trail, which included diverting non-violent offenders without criminal histories out of the criminal justice systems. The obelisk destruction was one of the first instances in which Carmack-Altwies could apply that approach, and she did it in the face of immense public pressure to dole out harsher punishment.

Finally, the DA’s new approach to dealing with DWIs has garnered critics, including opponent Serna who says it’s a main reason he decided to run for his old office. To cut down on cases being thrown out for lack of evidence against the ticking clock of discovery, Carmack-Altwies now dismisses all DWI cases and refiles them when they are ready. This has resulted in some cases not being refiled but, she argues, has streamlined a formerly inchoate process and led to a rising conviction rate. She has also created a new complex crimes unit to address resource-heavy cases, and plans to take the successes of that program so far and lobby the Legislature for funds to expand the model to address child-abuse cases. She also has plans to focus on shoplifting, guns and readying for the possibility of new procedural deadlines via case management orders from the state Supreme Court.

In other words, Carmack-Altwies still has work to do and remains fiercely committed to the job. Her opponent Serna served one unimpressive term as DA before running an unsuccessful race for Congress. He has raised some legitimate questions about the changes Carmack-Altwies implemented in prosecuting DWIs. Voters should allow her another term to offer proof of concept.

Santa Fe County Magistrate Judge Division 2

Morgan Wood

Magistrate judges do not need law degrees in Santa Fe County. Nor does a law degree guarantee a smooth-tenure: Witness the relatively swift downfall of former Santa Fe County Mag Court Judge Dev Atma Khalsa, who was arrested for DWI within three months of his election in November 2022, and barred from the courthouse prior to his subsequent resignation—all with a law degree. So, no, a law degree doesn’t carry a guarantee of lawfulness by its possessor. Nonetheless, certified knowledge of the law seems like it could come in handy for a judge, required or not.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed incumbent Morgan Wood to fill the vacancy left by Khalsa’s departure. Prior to her appointment Wood served as both a prosecutor in the Children’s Court in the First Judicial District and as a public defender, and has close to 20 years of criminal law experience in the state.

In our interview with Wood, we found her particularly persuasive in discussing how her role as a public defender has helped inform her knowledge of how to work successfully with people in magistrate court, which primarily involves traffic offenses, DWIs, felony preliminary hearings and some landlord/contract/tort cases. In working with clients as a public defender, she often had to explain to people—some with no experience in court—how the processes work. As a judge facing defendants who may not have representation, she often finds herself in the same position of walking them through the process.

Wood also is a founding member of the court’s transformative justice initiative, and has served on the magistrate and First Judicial District Court’s drug and treatment court teams. Her familiarity with the court and her commitment to being there, combined with her knowledge and expertise, makes her the best candidate for the job she already has. If re-elected, she he hopes to continue expanding buy-in for some of the court’s diversion programs.

Challenger Melissa Mascareñas worked in the First Judicial District as a court monitor, as a paralegal for the state Supreme Court and as a paralegal and records manager for the state environment department. She ran for the seat before, against Khalsa, and also applied for the appointment upon Khalsa’s resignation. Mascareñas has been critical of the appointment process for the magistrate court seat, and emphatic on the importance of keeping Magistrate court a so-called “people’s court.”

We believe a law degree is a nice asset for someone adjudicating the law, particularly given the increased emphasis coming from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and others on the rules of pretrial detention. Wood, though a reluctant politician, spoke with clarity and detail about those rules and the important role they play in public safety.

Santa Fe County Clerk

Katharine Clark

In the years since the 2020 presidential election, the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the US capitol building and the rise of election denialism, threats to election workers have increased in frequency and intensity. According to a survey of local elected officials released earlier this month by the national nonprofit law and policy organization The Brennan Center for Justice, reports of threats, harassment and abuse remain high, with 38% of local election officials reporting such experiences. In addition, safety concerns have reached or passed levels from the last federal election year, with 54% of election workers concerned about the safety of their colleagues and staff.

New Mexico has had its fair share of threats to elections and democracy. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver went to court multiple times in 2022 to force the Otero County Commission to certify its 2022 primary election results and to the FBI to report threats to her own safety.

In Santa Fe County, Clerk Katharine Clark took office the week of Jan. 6, 2021, and in the ensuing years has had to close her office due to death threats. In her endorsement interview, Clark talked about the “ethical quandary” all election officials have faced in wanting to encourage voters to participate and assure them of their safety, while “meanwhile, we’ve got the FBI telling us ‘don’t take the same route home if you notice anything suspicious.’”

In the face of these challenges, Clark has been steadfast in her mission to modernize the office, with mass digitization of several of the clerk’s services; creation of the santafe.vote website; and an increase in outreach efforts, such as the award-winning #Democracy101 high school outreach program. Former Clerk Geraldine Salazar, who previously endorsed Clark, now says she’s running at the behest of others, and accuses Clark of taking undue credit for her accomplishments and says customer service in the office has declined. We have not found either allegation to be true.

If reelected, Clark promises another ambitious term, with an emphasis on building career paths for clerk’s office employees through certifications and higher pay; lobbying the Legislature for the resources to continue improving election efficacy; and expansion of civic engagement. In this time of civic unease—and heading into what promises to be a tumultuous general election—Santa Fe County should retain Clark for her knowledge and commitment.

Santa Fe County Commission District 2

Lisa Cacari Stone

At the end of April, the Santa Fe County Board of Commissioners passed a five-year Health Action Plan identifying growing challenges in the region, including a lack of affordable housing; health care disparities for LGBTQ youth and systemic issues relating to poverty, racial inequities and an aging population. District 2 candidate Lisa Cacari Stone, one of three Democrats running to replace term-limited Anna Hansen, brings significant knowledge and experience to work on these issues.

She works as a professor and the executive director and principal investigator of the Transdisciplinary Research, Equity and Engagement Center for Advancing Behavioral Health at the University of New Mexico and holds a PhD in social policy. While these are hardly requisite qualifications for a county commissioner, the district, which covers the majority of the western portion of Santa Fe County, including Agua Fría, would be well served by a commissioner with such breadth of knowledge.

While all three candidates in this race, which includes former County Assessor Benito Martinez and lawyer Scott Fuqua, a former district attorney candidate, identify affordable housing, water resources and public safety as key issues in their district, Cacari Stone, a first-time political candidate, brings a nuanced understanding of the interconnectedness of housing scarcity, growth and poverty play. She also proposes detailed policy-driven ways to address some of the issues, including creating an integrated governmental approach to affordable housing and homelessness that would incentivize developers to reinvest in community affordable housing. She plans to prioritize updating the county’s emergency management plan, alongside ensuring clean water for communities reckoning with potential PFAS contamination. She also made commitments to transparency if elected to a body that has faced criticism—including a formal complaint from this paper—over its use of closed-door sessions. “Anything you do behind closed doors raises people’s eyebrows,” she says. “If we continue to allow decision-making without input, then we will continue to foster income inequalities; we will continue to foster the growth of unchecked political authority.”

Santa Fe County Commission District 4

Adam Fulton Johnson

Three first-time political candidates are running as Democrats to replace termed-out Anna Hamilton in District 4, which incorporates much of Santa Fe’s east side all the way to Glorieta. Old Santa Fe Association Executive Director Adam Fulton Johnson, business owner Mika Old and business owner/animal sanctuary operator Stephen Chiulli have provided one of the season’s feistiest races, with Johnson’s campaign taking the brunt of it. To our count, he’s been accused by his opponents of running a NIMBY organization, of associating with socialists (he received the endorsement of the Santa Fe Democratic Socialists of America, whom Old accused during a public forum of vandalizing her signs) and, our personal favorite, of being an academic.

Indeed, Johnson runs an organization with a focus on historic preservation. In his two-year tenure, he says he’s pushed the organization toward a focus on affordable housing, including support of the legally imperiled 3% excise tax. He also highlights the need for better communication over development, and highlights the betrayal experienced by Southside residents over the sale of South Meadows land previously promised as open space. “As an aspiring county commissioner, I would absolutely abhor any sort of decision making like that, especially on the south side,” he says, “or anywhere in the county where open spaces are not equitably distributed.”

Johnson brings the policy chops for the county’s land-use issues—he served as a community representative on the citizen’s advisory committee for Santa Fe’s Land Development Code Update—and just as importantly says he wants to make the land-use process less contentious, with a focus on sustainability.

“We need to work together because we have huge water future sustainability issues,” he says. “We need to protect ourselves from the climate crisis and do our part in mitigating and reducing our carbon load. And that can’t be driven by divisive politics.”

It’s also true Johnson received endorsement from the Santa Fe Democratic Socialists of America. We don’t know why that would be a problem, nor are we aware of any substantive evidence they had anything to do with campaign-sign vandalism (the group has denied such allegations). Johnson also received endorsements from several county commissioners—including Hamilton—and city councilors.

Finally, it’s true: He’s an academic with a Ph.D in history. His dissertation examines the “shifting relationships between Anglo anthropologists and Indigenous informants in the Southwestern US between 1880 and 1930. We welcome Johnson’s interest in how the past can inform the present and the future and his interest in rigorous study therein.


TIPS FOR THE POLLS

In advance of the June 4 primary, SFR gathered advice from Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark for voters before they cast their ballots.

Review your sample ballot

New Mexico holds a closed partisan primary, meaning only voters who are registered with a political party are eligible to vote in that party’s primary. By visiting nmvote.org or santafe.vote, voters can find out to which—if any—party they are registered and review their sample ballots. Both Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and County Clerk Clark recommend doing so. Clark points out “there’s a lot of down ballot races that really don’t have a lot of money to spend on getting their name out there, but you may not know who those races are,” she says. Those who are not registered under a major party—Democrat, Republican or Libertarian—can use same-day registration to switch to one and vote in the respective election.

Explore the League of Women Voters voter info website

The nonprofit LWV launched its online voter guide May 2, where voters can learn about candidates’ backgrounds and positions on election issues. “That’s a really great place to do research,” Clark says. vote411.org/new-mexico

Drop—don’t mail—absentee ballots

The deadine to request an absentee ballot—May 21-—has passed, as has the recommended deadline to mail in your ballot. Instead, head to a drop box. Santa Fe County has the most drop boxes per capita—with 75% of them being drive-up boxes—Clark adds. “We want folks to consider dropping their ballot now, that way you get to us before that 7 pm drop deadline on Election Day,” she says. A full list of drop box sites can be found online: santafecountynm.gov/clerk/elections/drop-boxes

You can still vote early

Early voting continues through June 1 and Clark encourages those who are able to head to the polls before Election Day. She says she doesn’t want people to “leave it to the last minute” in case something comes up. “An appointment, car trouble, anything like that,” she explains. “Just get it out of the way.” Find locations at: santafecountynm.gov/clerk/elections/pollinglocations

Avoid lines

Santafe.vote also provides current wait times for polling sites, open 7 am to 7 pm on election day. “I highly recommend it if you are in a hurry,” Clark says. She also recommends avoiding more “social voting locations” like Christian Life Church or the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds and instead visiting less-frequented locations such as the Santa Fe Community College and the Nancy Rodriguez Community Center.

Yes, you can pick none of the above

Clark says " a really common question” this election season has been whether voters can cast uncommitted votes for president in their party’s primary race. The answer is yes. By statute, New Mexico ballots include an “uncommitted delegate” option.

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