Cast your ballot —carefully. A lot’s at stake in the 2020 election, and it’s not just a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Despite the current president’s persistently low approval rating nationwide, many Corrales Republicans chagrined by Trump’s antics and attitude will vote for him nonetheless for reasons that include a concern that the nation is moving toward socialism. And some Corrales Democrats will vote for Biden hoping that it is. The latter see an urgent need for universal health care, economic fairness and regulations on activities and industries substantially contributing to climate change and accompanying hardships.
Those are not the only top-tier issues that may be —partially— addressed in results from the 2020 elections, so candidates’ positions on gun control/Second Amendment rights, women's reproductive choices and other hot-button topics will be closely examined.
The League of Women Voters’ election guide is an excellent resource. Nationally, pundits, columnists and news analysts have warned that our very form of government is at stake. columnist Thomas Friedman, for example, advised, “I can’t say this any more clearly: our democracy is in terrible danger —more danger than it has been since 1861, more danger than after Pearl Harbor, more danger than during the Cuban missile crisis or Watergate.”
On October 2, columnist George Will called for cancellation of the next presidential debates. “The national interest —actually, national security— demands that the other two scheduled mortifications, fraudulently advertised as debates, should be canceled.” No one knows how Trump testing positive for COVID-19 will influence voting which began by mail October 6, nor whether he actually will refuse to accept election results if he loses.
Published in this issue are Corrales Comment’s candidate profiles for local races, based on taped phone interviews. Over the past 37 years, this newspaper has presented those profiles in the edition just before election day. But this year, due to intense interest in early and absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, this material is offered in early October.
In Corrales, early in-person voting is done at the old Community Center, behind the Corrales Senior Center, east of Wells Fargo Bank, Mondays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting October 17 and available through October 31. Mail-in early voting started October 6.
For absentee voting, the cut-off date is October 20, Village Clerk Aaron Gjullin pointed out. He anticipates that all in-person voting on election day will be at the Corrales Recreation Center, southwest of the post office.
In the first presidential debate September 29, candidate Trump repeatedly warned viewers that a vote for his rival would lead inexorably to socialism and threaten America’s greatness. For his part, Biden carefully avoided any tinge of socialism, although clearly it has been the biggest controversy within the Democratic Party since “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders energized millions of potential voters in the run-up to the June primaries.
An e-mail blitz from the Republican Party of New Mexico October 5 attempted to rally supporters, warning, “Socialism has infiltrated the Democratic Party and is being pushed by far-left politicians across the country…, Vote red at the ballot box to defeat socialism and save our country!”
This election will fill all of New Mexico’s congressional positions as well as all seats in the N.M. Legislature and two members of the N.M. Regulation Commission. Below are profiles for Republican and Democratic candidates running for seats in the N.M. Legislature and Sandoval County government. All candidates were interviewed except for the Libertarian seeking the N.M. House District 44 seat, who declined.
Presented here are those seeking to replace the Corrales Democrat, John Sapien, who is not seeking re-election in N.M. Senate District 9: Placitas Republican John Clark and Corrales Democrat Brenda McKenna; N.M. House District 23: Corrales Democrat Daymon Ely and Albuquerque Republican Ellis McMath; N.M. House District 44: Corrales Republican Jane Powdrell-Culbert and Rio Rancho Democrat Gary Tripp; District Attorney in the 13th Judicial District: Rio Rancho Democrat Barbara Romo and Los Lunas Republican Josh Jimenez; Sandoval County Commissioner District 2: Rio Rancho Republican Jay Block and Rio Rancho Democrat Leah Ahkee Baczkiewicz; Sandoval County Clerk: Democrat Anne Brady Romero and Republican Lawrence Griego; and Sandoval County Treasurer: Republican Benay Ward and Democrat Jennifer Taylor.
Corrales voters may be giving more attention to hotly contested races for seats in Congress, such as the battle to replace retiring U.S. Senator Tom Udall and that being vacated by now Congressman Ben Ray Lujan who is instead running for Udall’s seat in the senate. But ample —perhaps more than ample— exposure has been given to those candidates Corrales voters will see on their ballot: former television weatherman Republican Mark Ronchetti and Ben Ray Lujan vying for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated; and New Mexico’s Third Congressional District race with Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez and Republican Alexis Johnson.
Lots of other entries appear on the ballot, including seats on the N.M. Supreme Court and N.M. Court of Appeals and the N.M. Public Regulation Commission. Candidates for those positions were not interviewed by Corrales Comment. Candidate profiles are presented here in the order in which they were available for interview by phone.
N.M. Senate District 9
Placitas Republican John Clark faces Corrales Democrat Brenda McKenna to replace current Senator John Sapien, who is not seeking reelection. In recent years, Sapien won narrowly in a district considered pretty evenly split.
A Nambé Pueblo member and Corrales resident since 2018, Brenda McKenna is currently a field representative for Congresswoman Deb Haaland.
If she wins the District 9 seat, one of her priorities will be assuring a tuition-free college education for New Mexicans. She also favors universal pre-kindergarten schooling for all three- and four-year-olds. Among other policies, McKenna wants a faster transition to clean, renewable energy. “We need to incentivize the use of electric vehicles through an EV tax credit that increases the lower your household income is.”
She pointed out that “New Mexico ranks second in the nation for solar potential and 12th for wind. The recent Energy Transition Act will lead our state to close to 9,000 clean energy jobs by 2030 and over $4 billion in investment, and slow down climate change. Let’s make sure some of those jobs are in our senate district.” The candidate lived abroad for much of her youth since her father served in the Navy and Air Force during the Korean and Viet Nam conflicts. After high school in Pojoaque, she earned a degree in psychology at Syracuse University and later a master’s degree in organizational development from Central Washington University in 2001.
She has had a long-standing interest in government and public policy, working as a part-time lobbyist in Santa Fe from 2013 to 2018. Among the causes she championed: a ban on coyote-killing contests. “I know how things work in the Roundhouse.” She is also an advisor to Wildlife Conservation Advocacy Southwest. McKenna has served as public relations director for the central New Mexico chapter of the League of Women Voters.
The decision to run for the state senate was “a natural progression for me. I’m a long-time Democratic Party volunteer, and was a precinct chair for years when I was in Bernalillo. Folks had asked me before to run for office, and this year I finally said, ‘okay, I’ll be serious about this because they obviously see something in me and they think I’m good for the job.’” Plus, she added, “We need more women in the senate and more Native Americans.”
In the party primary in June, McKenna took nearly 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race, winning over two other Corraleños, Ben Rodefer and Kevin Lucero. She is aware that her contest this time is likely to be close. “We know that the general election is a brand-new race, and it will be a challenge. We accepted that a long time ago. We’re determined to keep this seat under Democratic leadership.” If elected, she expects to have to “shore up our recovery from the pandemic, especially assisting small businesses.’
She said she would work to protect funding for education, which will be tough given precipitous drops in oil and gas revenues. She supports gun control measures such as the “Red Flag” law passed by the N.M. Legislature which would allow a law enforcement officer to temporarily remove a firearm from someone considered a danger to him or herself or others.
“I’ve lost six family members or friends to gun violence,” McKenna said. “Domestic violence and firearm violence are sensitive issues for me. It’s something I care a great deal about. And when we go out, to fear being shot by a stray bullet. “The ‘Red Flag’ law is now on the books and it’s a very good start, but it may need some refinement. At least it shows that New Mexico is serious about curbing gun violence.”
The Democrat said she would work to diversify New Mexico’s economy so that it does not remain so dependent on oil and gas revenues. That would include encouraging renewable energy as well as legalizing recreational cannabis use. “That would be one source of tax revenue that would be helpful to us, as well as revenue from wind technology.” But she’s cautious about proposing a moratorium on fracking for oil and gas “because that’s an important source of revenue and that’s the industry that many New Mexicans work in. Having a plan for renewable energy grounded in science and the technology to do it is the way forward, but we just need to be politically willing to do it.
“I’m really excited about wind technology. I like the leases that SunZia recently signed with the State Land Commissioner. New Mexico has some of the best wind assets in the country, so we need to utilize them.” The State should facilitate expanding broadband internet service, she suggested, especially on tribal lands. “I’d really like to help remedy that.”
McKenna hopes she can attract support from independents as well as Republicans in her bid for the Senate District 9 seat. “I’m the leader that the district needs,” she said. “I will not be outworked and I will be accountable.” The candidate promised to hold town hall style meetings before and after each session of the legislature “to explain what I voted for and why.”
Describing himself as a conservative businessman, the Placitas resident says he’s “running for public office to thwart partisan politics and to prevent government over-reach and control of our businesses, schools, liberties and inalienable rights.”
After a career with Hunter Douglas window coverings especially around Atlanta, he moved to New Mexico in 1994 to start a related business, JC Blinds, “and to live a dream in a place I believe has the most breathtaking sunsets and best weather in the nation.”
The candidate said he lived in Corrales for six months; “it’s a nice bedroom community that I know it is very safe. But you can’t say that about Albuquerque. We have a rampant crime problem that needs to be addressed. I’d never want to see any kind of legislation that would make it easier for people to sue police officers. That would make it more difficult for police officers to do their job correctly. I would never vote for legislation that would do away with conditional immunity.”
Cutting crime will lead to more economic development, Clark contends. “If we have lower crime, we’ll be able to attract more and more business to New Mexico.” That, in turn, would allow younger New Mexicans to find good jobs here rather than relocate out of state, he said. Clark earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Northern Colorado, during which time he was a legislative intern for Colorado State Senator Al Meiklehohn.
“I will certainly not raise taxes. I’ve already signed a pledge not to raise taxes, so my constituencies can rely on me not to raise taxes. I will vote against any legislation to raise taxes.” He said state officials need to commit to protecting the environment, although he said he supports development of all energy resources, wind, solar, coal, oil and gas… we need it all.
“We’re pretty dependent on oil and gas; they drive out state’s economy, and employ a lot of people. Clark said he wants to see New Mexico rank big nationally for good factors, not negative ones. “I don’t want our state to be last any more. I want us to be first in something. We could be number one in the country in retirement if we offered incentives for people to retire here.”
That would mean eliminating tax on Social Security income, he said, “and we would have to do away with income tax, at least for people over 65 years of age. “Those are just some ideas; I don’t know how they would fly in the legislature because I’m just a business guy. But you know what? We need incentives to get people to move here. As we get more people to move here, that will also create jobs.” Clark said he is “pro-life” and pro-oil and gas. “I don’t think the science is in on any negative effects from fracking whether it’s detrimental to the environment. I’m willing to listen to both sides, but right now I’m pro-oil because I’m pro-New Mexico.”
The candidate is opposed to legalizing recreational use of marijuana, although he supports use of medical cannabis. “I think that system runs incredibly well in this state. I think medical marijuana is fine, but I don’t want to see legalized recreational marijuana. We already have problems and don’t want to see more problems because we make it easier for people to smoke weed.” Clark rejects proposals for gun control, citing his own permit for concealed carry of firearms. “I am pro-Second Amendment, and the right of everybody in this country to bear arms.” He said he is not particularly familiar with the “Red Flag” law adopted by the State Legislature although “I don’t support any infringements on our fundamental constitutional rights.”
The candidate said people tell him they are “deeply concerned about the direction our beautiful state is headed. New Mexicans say they want to step up and fight against this anti-American movement, but feel defenseless, voiceless, and don’t know how or where to begin. I accept the volunteer duty of standing in the gap for New Mexicans, to become a stong, effective voice in the senate.”
Clark pointed to his long business experience as a strong reason to vote for him. “My business experience tells a lot. If you want to find out how I would perform in this seat in the senate, you can look at the reviews for the way I’ve run my business for the last 27 years. That would be indicative for how I would run that seat. “Regardless of whether people vote for me or not, they are going to be my constituents because I plan on winning. I’m going to treat them just like I treat my customers.”
N.M. House District 23
Incumbent State Representative Daymong Ely, a Corrales Democrat, faces Albuquerque Republican Ellis McMath.
After his daughter, Brenda Boatman, ran unsuccessfully against Daymon Ely for the House District 23 seat in 2018, Ellis McMath wants a chance to unseat him. And basically, he’d like to undo just about everything his opponent has done in the legislature. McMath is a retired air traffic controller, having started that career in the Navy. He grew up in Albuquerque’s west side Paradise Hills community and went on to Eastern New Mexico State University in Roswell.
He spent 22 years with the Federal Aviation Administration, but soon signed up as a reserve officer with the Albuquerque Police Department. He is also an instructor for concealed-carry firearms. His Democratic opponent was a key backer of the legislature’s “Red Flag” law which allows guns to be temporarily confiscated from a person procedurally determined to be a danger to himself or herself or others. McMath is steadfastly opposed to that.
“The ‘Red Flag’ bill, in effect July 2020, is just the beginning of an unlawful gun grab by Daymon liberals,” he argues. “My opponent is the one who got it pushed through.”
McMath said he supports “permitless carry of concealed handguns for those not prohibited by federal law to own a gun. Criminals fear armed citizens more than the police.”
He contends the new law is unconstitutional and “puts law enforcement officers at risk.” If elected, he would work to repeal the “Red Flag” law. “Thirty of the 33 sheriffs in New Mexico say that is not a good law. It puts law enforcement at risk because they are given a court order to go unannounced into someone’s house who has not committed a crime to take their guns away from them. You can imagine how people might react to that.”
Asked to indicate other contrasts between his candidacy and that of his opponent, McMath explained, “Employees should have the right to decide for themselves whether to join or pay dues to unions. States with right-to-work laws increase employment more than union states and have a higher median income.”
“Education freedom will equal wiser kids. We should allow open competition between education providers. Money should follow our children, not institutions. Vouchers or tax credits should be issued allowing parents to choose public, charter, private or home school options.”
“Abortion law reform. Abortion has become a human trafficking issue. Albuquerque is known as the late-term abortion capital of the USA. Young teenagers are transported into Albuquerque without their parents’ knowledge. This is a human right issue.” If elected McMath would work for legislation to restrict late-term abortions and prohibit such procedures without parental notification.
He would like to see New Mexico’s gross receipts tax eliminated, as well as state tax on Social Security income. “I’ve been told that the gross receipts tax we have here is a real job-killer. The way we do it amounts to a triple tax, so that’s a reason why businesses choose to locate in neighboring states like Texas and Arizona. “Another thing I’m upset about, and a lot of people are upset about is that Ely has pushed for a law that would not allow right-to-work. That kind of legislation is a reason why New Mexico is lagging in economic development.”
He sees a need to reform the state’s licensing procedures to make it easier for people to enter the work force. As it is now, he contends, the licensing process for such professions as landscaping are designed to suppress competition, favoring those who already have the state-required permits. “Licensing was supposed to raise the quality of services, but these licensing laws protect those who already have licenses from competition.
“Daymon Ely is all about supporting unions. That’s a difference between him and me.” The candidate said he does not favor legalizing recreational use of marijuana at this time. “I’m currently opposed but trying to keep an open mind. We need to study the data from other states like Colorado and California to see what impact that might have here on our work force, our health and criminal justice.” McMath says he would be a voice for conservative values in the N.M. House, holding down state government spending and repealing laws that restrict freedom. “When government takes more money, citizens’ freedoms suffer.”
If he wins another term as representative for House District 23, Corrales Democrat Daymon Ely says it will be his last. When he first won the seat in 2016, he said he did not intend to stay in it long.
“It’s not because I don’t like the job. I do, very much. But I like my wife even more,” he said last month. Since he was elected, Ely has become a major force driving progressive issues, including ones that infuriate conservatives. New Mexico’s “Red Flag” law, for example, probably would not have passed without his advocacy for it. “That’s a bill that’s going to work when people start to realize what we’re doing.”
He has also been a strong proponent for legalizing recreational use of cannabis. “We spend lots of money locking people up for marijuana. Those same people, if they crossed the state line into Colorado, wouldn’t even be arrested. I have been the sponsor every year for de-criminalizing marijuana. I think we’re getting there. I think this will be the session when it happens.”
An attorney in private practice, Ely proudly points out his specialty is suing other lawyers. “For the past 25 years, the majority of my work has been litigating against lawyers.” While serving as a Sandoval County commissioner from 2000 to 2004, he was the County’s lead negotiator for a deal that produced the largest industrial revenue bond in U.S. history for a $16 billion expansion of Intel’s operations here. In the legislature, he considers his major accomplishments to include creation of a state government ethics commission that was “40 years in the making” and criminal justice reform.
The Democrat was born in Philadelphia, but his family moved to Arizona shortly thereafter. He was a history major when he graduated from Arizona State University in 1979. He earned a law degree there in 1982, the same year he moved to the Albuquerque area.
Ely did labor law and contract work for a law firm and then set out on his own in 1989. Creating pre-conditions for good paying jobs has been a major interest since he was dismayed that his son had to leave the state for employment. In the state legislature, he sponsored a bill authorizing $400 million in loans for local businesses hit by the pandemic.
One of the main campaign issues for his opponent, Ely said, is retaining the state’s law making abortion illegal. “He is against us de-criminalizing abortion, and I’m for it.” In the next session of the legislature, Ely expects to help pass a bill that gives legislators more control over the governor’s emergency powers during crises such as the spreading coronavirus. Among his accomplishments in the House, he pointed to streamlining the Public Employees Bargaining Act. “That was a big deal because it will give employees and public employers the ability to reconcile differences.”
The candidate said he has devoted a lot of time to criminal justice reform. “I’m not a criminal lawyer, but on a bipartisan basis, we are working hard to develop a system that, for the 94 percent of people who enter the criminal justice system who are going to be back on the street, we want programs that help them not go back to prison and have productive lives. “Believe it or not, the Koch brothers are good on this issue, because they see locking people up forever is a waste of taxpayer money.”
Another recurring interest is internet broadband accessibility, he said “What I’m working on right now is trying to develop better broadband access for the whole state —not fiber optic, because that’s too expensive and too time-consuming. What I hope we can do is help a New Mexico business put up floating dirigibles at a fraction of the cost, which, if it works, gives everybody internet. That would be a game-changer for New Mexico.”
Ely acknowledges that Republicans dislike his strong advocacy for unions. “I really have been, because ultimately, it levels the playing field. I recognize that unions have not had the greatest reputation over time, but there really isn’t any substitute for levelling the playing field.”
Ely wants to explore subsidizing wind and solar power projects in the short term so that later, taxes on those projects on state-owned lands can replace revenue to the State from oil and gas. “That way we would not be so reliant on oil and gas to replenish the State’s permanent fund.
“I am not in favor of having a complete tax overhaul right away, because the danger is unintended consequences, so you have to do it in little bites.” He described his opponent as a lock-step conservative Republican, while “I would say I am between a moderate and progressive Democrat.”
House District 44
Corrales Republican Jane Powdrell-Culbert is seeking a tenth term representing N.M House District 44. She faces Rio Rancho Democrat Gary Tripp and Rio Rancho Libertarian Jeremy Myers. The Libertarian declined to be interviewed for a candidate profile, saying “I’d prefer not to do that.”
A former principal at Rio Rancho High School, Gary Tripp is running for the House District 44 seat with objectives that include improving education, bringing corruption under control and setting term limits for legislators. “In contrast to Jane, I’m a candidate that would like to represent the people, but to serve a limited time. I’ve always believed in term limits. Control in government becomes unbalanced when one stays too long.”
If elected, he said, “I will propose to other legislators that we have term limits in government.” He suggested that might mean a limit of eight years in any body of government.
Tripp said he would like to assure that interests of New Mexico’s business community get consistent attention in the legislature. “We need to stay highly engaged with our business partners. I’d like to see a weekly, or at least bimonthly communications link with small businesses in District 44 to discuss ideas that would help them grow.
“I think it’s happening now, but I could make it happen consistently and often.”He speaks highly of his opponent, adding that when he was principal, he invited Powdrell-Culbert to be the first guest speaker at an annual dinner 15 years ago. Tripp, raised in Las Vegas, has 38 years as an educator in New Mexico, starting at Moriarty High. He earned a degree in education from Highlands University in 1984 and his master’s in administration in 1987. After his 17-year stint in Moriarty, he became Rio Rancho High’s assistant principal shortly after it opened, followed by appointment as principal a year later.
In 2004, Tripp was hired as executive director of the N.M Activities Association. After nine years there, he returned to education, serving as principal at Zia Pueblo’s elementary and middle school from 2012 to 2015.
In 2015, he was appointed chief of staff for the Rio Rancho School System’s superintendent. That led to his current position with Cooperative Educational Services, assisting teachers gain administrative licensure. He resigned from that position December 31, 2019 to run for office. “I’m running because I have things to offer. I’ve always been a relationship-builder, and I’m a work horse. Being a person of humble beginnings, coming up from poverty, that’s something I can offer.
He noted that about 42 percent of the State budget is devoted to education, so he would like to see legislators devote 52 percent of their time on assuring education is improved. “We need to have a strategic plan and stick to it,” rather than shift every time a new governor is elected. “I’m not a fan of fracking or of oil and gas,” the candidate pointed out. “I think we can diversify our economy with renewable energy sources.”
He would emphasize promotion of financial literacy for children in kindergarten through high school. “I think we would have less people in poverty in the future.” The candidate said he has been giving a lot of attention to the issue of marijuana use since launching his campaign. “I would vote for legalizing recreational marijuana. Talking to firemen and police officers, the number one issue they face routinely is alcohol use, not marijuana use. It’s a big problem with drinking and driving and domestic violence.” “Vote for me because I’m just like you, and I will get up and work for you every day.”
Seeking voter approval for a sixth term as Representative for House District 44, Jane Powdrell-Culbert wants to finish infrastructure projects she’s worked on for a long time, such as the Highway 550 corridor through Bernalillo and improvements for Loma Larga and Corrales Road.
But she’d also like to change the kinds of assistance provided to law enforcement. “How can we better protect the law enforcement community as well as our own communities?” she asked, referring to the national turmoil over accusations of police brutality against African-Americans. “Everybody’s scared now. That’s real prevalent.” For youth today, relationships with police are far different than they were 50 years ago, she explained. “What we had back then is not working now. We’re dealing with a whole different set of attitudes toward law enforcement.”
Powdrell-Culbert suggests the State might consider requiring that psychological evaluations be given after an officer has worked in tense settings for five to seven years. She said it’s common for an agency to administer such a test when an officer is hired, but it might be necessary for a re-evaluation years later when he or she may have become jaded by chronic exposure to stressful confrontations. Albuquerque-born, she was one of the nation’s first black women to be hired as a stewardess for a major airline. But that career was short-lived when she encountered racial tension in Chicago where she had gone for training.
By the mid-1970s she was the wife of a Washington Redskins defensive end, living in Reston, Virginia. By 1978 she was divorced and back in Albuquerque working for Lee Galles in public relations and advertising. Shortly thereafter, she worked in public relations for the Albuquerque Police Department.
It was in that role that she became a public figure. When Garrey Carruthers won the governorship, he appointed her as executive director for the N.M. Commission on the Status of Women. She resigned from that position in late 1989 when her new husband, Army Reserve officer Clarence Culbert, Jr., was assigned to duty in the Washington, DC area. She was hired by the National Rifle Association to travel nationwide advocating gun safety from 1993 to 1996. By 1998, the couple was back in New Mexico where Colonel Culbert went to work for Intel; they moved into a home on Corrales’ Richard Road. In 2000, she ran for the House District 44 seat and won.
The candidate has made a point of bipartisanship and finding common interests. “Over the years, we’ve had feuds between Corrales and Rio Rancho, Rio Rancho and Bernalillo and Corrales and Bernalillo, but my focus has always been on what we all have in common. I want to work on things that affect the entire region.” She said she works really well with the Democratic Representative for District 23, Daymon Ely, since they both seek bipartisan solutions.
“I’m good at what I do and I love doing it,” the candidate said. explaining why she’s running again. This time she has both a Democratic and a Libertarian who want her seat. “I had more experience coming into the legislature than either of these guys has. My two opponents can’t even come close to my experience.”
While funding for education continues to be a priority for her, “over my five terms, pay for teachers has really increased a lot, and our facilities are generally up to date. Now in order for us as a state to move ahead, we need to get better parental and guardian involvement.” That could help remedy the situation that now requires teachers to spend 60 to 70 percent of their time on discipline, she contended. Powdrell-Culbert does not support legalizing recreational marijuana, which she considers a “gateway drug,” and she would repeal the new “Red Flag” law for guns.
13th Judicial District
The current long-time DA for counties that include Sandoval, Democrat Lemuel Martinez, is not seeking re-election. Democrat Barbara Romo is running to replace him, opposed by Republican Josh Jimenez.
As Chief Deputy District Attorney for the 13th Judicial District that includes Corrales, Barbara Romo points to her 24 years as a prosecutor that yielded a number of high profile convictions. She had been an Assistant DA since February 2011 before she was appointed chief deputy in 2014. She earned her law degree in Nebraska in 1995; her first job was working in the DA’s office for Sierra County. In 2001 she worked as a prosecutor in Santa Fe where she handled crimes against children. Romo left to join a non-profit, the Victims’ Right Project, for two years representing crime victims.
If elected, one of her main goals would be to secure better funding for prosecutions in the three counties that comprise the district, which has seen spill-over crime from the greater metropolitan area. She expects to be successful because she already has relationships with legislators. She intends to be a hands-on DA. “My management style is to be in the courtroom a lot. I believe in leading by example.” She has prosecuted more than 100 jury trials, one of which involved the killing of a Rio Rancho policeman. While she was lead prosecutor in that case, “I have the supervisory experience necessary as well.”
Romo said she will address the ongoing issue of turnover within the DA’s office. Retention can be improved by determining salaries based on merit and experience and by implementing quality-of-life programs that allow employees to take more time for their families. “We’ve lost a lot of talented people who move on to greener pastures. I want to make the 23th Judicial District the greener pasture that everybody wants to come to.”
She intends to fill several positions that have remained vacant due to budget constraints. The office should have two investigators, but one of those positions remains unfilled, she said. “I truly believe I am the best person for this job or I wouldn’t be running. I’m ready to lead the district from day one. I’ve got a proven record of success. “This is something I feel strongly about, and I know I can make a difference.”
As a Deputy District Attorney in the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque from February 2018 to October 2019, Josh Jimenez secured convictions for murders, voluntary manslaughter and property crimes. He’s now working in a private law practice.
But he also has experience in the 13th Judicial District, in which he hopes to be elected DA. He worked in the current DA’s Belen office from October 2016 to February 2018. That involved supervising 10 attorneys and 11 support staff. “I assigned all criminal cases and approved proposed plea agreements,” the candidate explained. The candidate earned his law degree from the University of Idaho in 2010, three years after his bachelor’s degree in economics at Brigham Young University in Provo. He was a Mormon missionary in California from 2002 to 2004.
He said he decided to run after realizing the inefficiencies in the 13th District after learning how the DA’s office in Albuquerque is run. “I found myself thinking about the surprising inefficiencies and what could be done to modify the way things are done in the 13th Judicial District,” Jimenez said. “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Some functions just aren’t being done well the way his opponent manages the DA’s office, he contends. “I don’t know whether this is happening because she was told to do things that way or because that’s the way she wants it. When I was there, it was such a nightmare trying to get discovery information collected. “We would request police officers’ video recordings, but sometimes it wouldn’t be turned over in time. In one case, it wasn’t turned over until after the case went to trial.”
Jimenez said he has a lot of experience working on drug court cases in Valencia County. “To the extent possible, we tried to avoid incarceration. It really bothers me that drug court has been under-utilized. While I was there, I did see a noticeable drop in cases being referred to drug court.” Similarly, he would like to see more use of pre-prosecution diversion without taking cases to trial. “I don’t know that we’re maximizing that potential. It’s something we can do for first-time offenders.”
At the same time, he’s critical of what he called a tendency to “catch-and-release” those apprehended. “We do have people who are a danger to the community, so we need to file cases and get those people in front of a judge.” Jimenez said protecting children would be a priority if he wins the DA position. “We need to think outside the box to cut crime in this area.” He said that would include improving methods of identifying children at risk. He asks villagers to “vote for me for better prosecutions and safer communities.”
Sandoval County Commission
Incumbent Republican Jay Block of Rio Rancho faces Rio Rancho Democrat Leah Ahkee Baczkiewicz in the race for the District 2 seat on the Sandoval County Commission.
Elected after he retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel at Kirtland Air Force Base in 2016, the incumbent Sandoval County District 2 commissioner seeks another term. He now works as a nuclear weapons consultant and in private industry where he has helped his firm triple in size since 2016.
“As an officer in a very technical field for over 20 years, I had to look at lots of data and metrics, and think through issues to solve problems to accomplish the mission. I was able to do that successfully by working with others to get the job done. This is what I have done on the commission, working with Democrats and Republicans to get things done for the county, and I will continue to do that in a second term.”
A New Hampshire native, he joined the Air Force Reserves just out of high school. He later earned a degree from North Dakota State University in 1995, followed by a master’s degree in 2001. In his military career, he served as a nuclear policy officer in the Pentagon and volunteered for a combat tour in Afghanistan 2005-2006 during which he organized humanitarian missions in the Kabul area.
As a commissioner, Block has made a special effort to give a quarterly briefing to the mayor and Village Council regarding issues before the commission. Most recently he followed up after the meeting with a joint news conference with the mayor and the Fire Department to show off a $56,000 trailer to use in the Bosque Preserve to incinerate forest litter to counter wildfire threats. He has also helped deliver “Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) funding for two businesses here, the Ex Novo brewery and Ideum.
The candidate has pushed to establish a new veterans’ cemetery in Sandoval County. He has also delivered funds for the Corrales Arts Center and Corrales MainStreet’s pathway project in the commercial district. Block was chosen by Common Cause New Mexico for its local government award in 2018 for his efforts for ethics and transparency. He said his priorities for a new term will be public safety, economic development, roads such as continued improvements for upper Meadowlark, and a new animal shelter.
Leah Ahkee Baczkiewicz
The Democrat challenging the incumbent for the District 2 seat on the County Commission is home health care therapist Leah Ankee Baczkiewicz who disagrees with him on multiple issues. She is currently vice-chairperson for the county Democratic Party, and serves on the party’s state central committee. She is a 2018 graduate of a program training women to run for office.
Ahkee Baczkiewicz was raised in Cuba within the Navajo heritage. Her mother is from Ojo Encino, west of Cuba, and her father is from Shiprock. “I decided to run for a seat on the Sandoval County Commission primarily because I don’t feel that I, and many others, are adequately represented by the current commissioner for District 2.
“He has supported resolutions that do not align with our values.” One of the biggest contrasts between her views and those of her opponent is concern for the environment, especially regarding water resources and response to climate change. “I believe we are going through a climate crisis in the Southwest. We need to save our water resources.”
“Our ecosystem is primarily a desert where water is scarce; our warming planet is putting this precious resource in jeopardy.” A key response, she said, is to “work with State government to encourage renewable energy sources to move away from oil and gas extraction. “I live in Rio Rancho, and there is a lot of land west of here where the commission was catering to oil and gas exploration. Of course, that would possibly bring fracking.” Another disagreement involves support for unions. She opposes what she refers to as “right to work… for less” provisions before the commission. “I definitely believe workers should have the right to organize for better wages and safe work spaces. I have a history of having a union fight for us when I worked in the Roswell school district.”
She described as “volatile” the commission’s designating Sandoval County a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” “I would not agree with that,” she pointed out. “I believe we need regulations on firearms. I am not against guns, so that’s not the issue.” The candidate supports the State’s new “Red Flag” law allowing police officers to temporarily remove a gun from the home of someone deemed a danger to themselves or others. She entered the occupational therapy profession through a program at Eastern New Mexico University in Roswell where she was working toward a degree in education. “I got diverted,” she explained. “I’ve been doing this for 23 years now.”
Sandoval County Clerk
Anne Brady Romero, the Democratic candidate to replace the current Sandoval County Clerk, is now Chief Deputy Clerk. Her opponent in the November 3 election is Republican Lawrence Griego, who has more than 14 years’ experience in county government.
Anne Brady Romero
Having worked in the Sandoval County Clerk’s office for more than a decade, the candidate is now Chief Deputy County Clerk and considers herself ready for the top job. She has been second in command for more than seven years. Among innovations she has overseen have been the recording of documents on line and improvements in the County’s Bureau of Elections.
“One of the things I’d like to implement if I’m elected is a new Native American Advisory Committee made up of the Pueblo governors or their designees.” Among the topics they might consider is use of mobile voting units that would visit Pueblos and other rural areas. “I would like to implement that so we can go out and register people to vote. “And if we do get the voting unit, I would like to use it in Rio Rancho and other communities for voter registration and information and collecting ballots.”
Another priority for Brady Romero is to make sure that all voting sites comply with provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. “Hopefully, when I am County Clerk, that will happen.” She pointed out that, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Pueblo officials are “very hesitant to allow people into their pueblos, which I completely understand, since I am a cancer survivor who went through all that last year during which I was able to work the entire time.”
The candidate said she is confident that voting for this year’s elections will not be vulnerable to attack. “That is all controlled by the N.M. Secretary of State, and she has done a terrific job preparing for the elections. I don’t think there’s going to be any problem.
“But rather than standing around waiting to vote on election day, you can request an absentee ballot which will be mailed to you. You can then research your candidates and then fill out the ballot and take it to any polling place or early voting site. The Secretary of State assures us there will be secure ballot drop box where both a Republican and Democrat will be stationed.
“If you’re not comfortable putting your ballot in the mail, you have that option which is phenomenal. That’s what I’m going to do. I’ve already requested my absentee ballot.” But anticipating heavy voting for the 2020 election, officials have agreed to halt vote counting at 11 p.m. November 3 and resume the following morning since “mistakes are made when people are tired.” Brady Romero said she’s the best choice for County Clerk “because I know the job. I have the experience and dedication for it. I promise transparency and honesty.”
The man who wants to become Sandoval County Clerk, Lawrence Griego, grew up in Alameda but says he has deep roots in Corrales. He explained he is a direct descendant of Corrales’ founder, Juan Gonzales Bas. He is now in the County Assessor’s Office where he has served for nearly 15 years. His father had worked there for more than 20 years.
His family has owned property in Corrales, Rio Rancho and Cuba for decades. “I’m running for Sandoval County Clerk to protect election integrity,” the candidate said. “Voter fraud comes in many forms and as your chief election officer, I will make sure our votes are protected against election abuse.” He said if elected, he will “inform all county residents of the importance of voting and voter fraud prevention.” Griego said he would clean up the voter rolls to weed out “deceased people, people that have moved, duplicates, dogs, cats, etcetera.” For other functions in the Clerk’s office, he said he will streamline record-keeping and assure records are accessible. He said the office does not currently have them available on line.
In the Assessor’s office, he uses the same software package, Tyler Eagle, as that implemented in the Clerk’s office. After graduating from the Menaul School in Albuquerque, he worked for a printer toner cartridge firm, but when that firm merged with a copier business, he was laid off. Seeking a new opportunity, he was hired into the Sandoval County Assessor’s office, initially on a temporary basis.
Over the years, he gained certifications and then a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from National American University in 2013. After completing a course with New Mexico State University, he became an instructor for a professional development program for public sector employees. Griego says if he is elected County Clerk, he will clean up its voter rolls and “stop the dangerous practice of ballot harvesting” which he described as a suspect method by which people gather up completed ballots and deliver them to ballot boxes.
He said he was not aware that this had actually happened in Sandoval County. The candidate supports the proposal that every voter in the county be sent an application to request an absentee ballot. “The absentee ballot application process is safer than universal vote-by-mail because the voter is still required to complete and submit an application before a live ballot is mailed.” Griego urged voters to cast their ballot for him to have confidence in secure and protected elections.
Sandoval County Treasurer
The deputy County Treasurer, Democrat Jennie Taylor, wants to move up to the top position, while a Republican working in the County Assessor’s office, Benay Ward, wants it as well.
Sandoval County Deputy Treasurer Jenny Taylor intends to coax more returns from the County’s $24.3 million investments and see what can be done to bring in what is owed from the 18,855 properties in the county that are in arrears for property taxes.
Taylor said, “The total dollar amount that is delinquent is $11,434,511.54” as of 2019. Even so, she explained, the Treasurer’s office “now has the highest collection rate we’ve ever had.” She went to work in the Treasurer’s office as administrative assistant in November 2017 and rose to become Chief Deputy Treasurer in February 2019. After graduating from high school in West Denver in 1993, she attended Colorado Christian University and then the Metro State College of Denver.
In New Mexico, before joining the Treasurer’s office, Taylor was an office manager, operations manager and private investigator for an Albuquerque legal services company, Ancillary Legal Support and Investigations, from 2008 to 2017.
She has lived in Sandoval County nearly 20 years.
If elected in November, Taylor intends to manage the office so that the property tax rolls are cleaned up and financial transactions are better protected. A way to do that, she said, is to make sure payments from the treasury are legitimate. “We now send out thousands of check every month, so I want to make sure there’s less chance of fraud.” Taylor urged voters to choose her because “I have the experience, knowledge and integrity that the job requires.”
The challenger for Sandoval County Treasurer, Republican Benay Ward, contrasts her candidacy with that of her opponent by pointing out she has a master’s degree in business administration and nearly 17 years experience in county government. But most of it was in San Juan County where she was quality control supervisor for the assessor’s office there. She and her husband moved to Rio Rancho two and a half years ago.
From 2017 to 2019, Ward was office manager for the N.M. Engineers and Surveyors Board. She is currently unemployed. “With my experience and dedication, I will bring to this position a common sense approach for the common good. I will take action with the highest standard of professionalism and in a timely and effective manner.”
In a campaign statement, Ward defended the necessity of property taxes. “Property taxes are the backbone that keeps local governmental entities functioning. Without this revenue, things like schools, colleges, police departments, fire departments, the judicial system, jails and community programs would not receive sufficient funding. “Taxes are understandable, but inequities and injustices are not.” If elected, Ward intends to fill vacant positions so that the office runs more smoothly.
“It needs to be fully staffed so we can improve customer service.” She understands criticisms that she does not have experience in Sandoval County. “I sometimes hear that it’s a put-off that I didn’t work in this county, but San Juan County, like Sandoval, is a Class A county with the same requirements.” Her bachelor’s degree (2010) and master’s in business administration (2016) were earned through N.M. Highlands University.