Rancor rules. Infighting dominates… at the top of the tickets offered in the party primaries for which Election Day is Tuesday, June 7. But down-ballot it’s mostly pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake. Playing nice is likely to cease once victors emerge and Democrat-Republican battle cries resound over the air, through the internet and into mailboxes. Early and absentee voting is under way; absentee ballots must be returned no later than 7 p.m. June 7. If you plan to vote in person on Election Day, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Libertarians will have it easy if they follow through and vote in their party’s primary: aside from the contest for governor, no Libertarian candidates will be competing in this summer’s primary on the ballot facing Corrales voters. But if they choose to do so, Libertarians can opt to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary under new rules that allow a temporary, same-day switch in party affiliation. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXXI No.6 May 7, 2022 “Independents Can Vote in June 7 Primary Elections.”)
Three Libertarians are running for governor, one from Albuquerque (Tim Walsh), one from Navajo (Karen Bedonie) and a write-in from Portales (Ginger Grider).
But that’s not where the action is. The most hard-fought contests are among Republicans wanting to campaign against Democratic incumbent Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has no challenger in her party’s primary.
Of the five Republicans vying for their party’s nomination to take on Governor Lujan Grisham this fall, the most fierce campaigns pit TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti and Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences.
Other Republicans running for governor are Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, Greg Zanetti and Ethel Maharg.
Another six Republicans are on the ballot seeking to become lieutenant governor: Travis Sanchez, Ant Thornton, Peggy Muller Aragon, Isabella Solis, Anastacia Golden Marper and Patrick Lyon.
But all’s not quiet on the Democratic front. If the Ronchetti-Dow dust-up seems bizarrely confrontational, it is matched by the duel between current Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez and current N.M. Auditor Brian Colón, each of whom wants to be the Democrat who replaces the current Attorney General, Hector Balderas, who assumed that position from his previous post as N.M. Auditor.
Just two Corrales residents are on the June 7 ballot; both are Republicans but one is running for another term in the N.M. House of Representatives, Jane Powdrell-Culbert, and the other wants to be Sandoval County Assessor. The Corrales candidate for Assessor is Richard Shanks, and he faces another Republican candidate with strong Corrales ties in that race, Lawrence Griego.
Candidate profiles published in this issue are for those contested races for N.M. House District 44, Sandoval County Sheriff and Sandoval County Assessor. They are presented here in the order in which they were available for Comment interviews. When a candidate has no opponent in the primary, interviews were not conducted. That is the case for Sandoval County Commission District 1 Republican candidate Jeanette Nower of Rio Rancho and Democratic candidate Katherine Bruch of Placitas, as well as the Democratic race for N.M. House District 44, Democratic incumbent Sheriff Jesse James Casaus and Democratic incumbent Assessor Linda Gallegos.
State Representative District 44
On the Republican ballot, the incumbent, Jane Powdrell-Culbert of Corrales faces Susana Vasquez of Rio Rancho. On the Democratic Party ballot, Kathleen Cates of Rio Rancho has no opponent.
The candidate has served in the N.M. Legislature for the past 19 years representing Corrales, part of Rio Rancho, and part of the Town of Bernalillo as well. Only once before has she had a challenger in the primary.
Powdrell-Culbert works as a consultant for training and business development, although she has paused that during the pandemic. In the Roundhouse, she considers herself a pro-business legislator. In mid-May, her candidacy was endorsed by the Albuquerque Journal which praised her as “one of the most pro-business lawmakers in the legislature for two decades.”
She has served on the same two House committees the whole time: Economic Development and Transportation and Infrastructure. “Being on those two committees all these years has afforded me the opportunity to see projects finished.”
She pointed to her work funding the Interstate 25-Highway 550 interchange and the widening of 550 to accommodate growth in Rio Rancho and Bernalillo.
“I’m still serving because I think I do it well,” she said. “And I enjoy having an impact on peoples’ lives.”
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 husband, Army Reserve officer Clarence Culbert, Jr., was assigned to duty in the Washington DC area. She was hired by the National Rifle Association, traveling nationwide advocating gun safety 1993-96.
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.
From her first session to the most recent one, Powdrell-Culbert’s focus has been on appropriations for infrastructure.
Over the years, Powdrell-Culbert has brought in state funding for a variety of projects for communities in her district. Among them are construction of Don Julio Road in Corrales’ Far Northwest Sector connecting it to Highway 528 at Northern Boulevard; arroyo flood control; the Bernalillo water treatment plant; a water de-salinization plant; police cars; computers for schools; new roofing for area schools; completion of Corrales’ Loma Larga, the Corrales fire sub-station and broadband access area-wide.
“I’ve had something to do with improvements to every road in Corrales. I’m an infrastructure person.”
She opposed legalization of recreational marijuana and anticipates working on ammendments to state laws governing cannabis sales. “I have a lot of concerns about it, including the water that cannabis growing will take,” Powdrell-Colbert said. “We already don’t have a handle on drunk driving.”
“Outside of doing my part in grassroots efforts to help get the right people elected to office, I have no political experience,” first-time candidate Susan Vasquez said. “Some people might be afraid to say that, but I think it’s a good thing. I’m not a politician, I’m a business owner.”
The Rio Rancho resident owns Pet Foods Gone Wild, which she described as all-natural food that produces more healthy pets. The store is also in Rio Rancho.
Vasquez thinks her business experience is what state government needs. “I know what hiring and managing employees, investing and contracts look like. It’s clear that we need that type of experience in Santa Fe right now.”
The Republican candidate was born and raised in Chicago, and attended Wright College which offers two-year associate degrees. She studied biological sciences and criminal justice.
She went into corporate sales before moving to New Mexico in 2010 for better weather. A year later, she started her pet food store after discovering it was difficult to find food for her own dog that had dietary problems.
Vasquez said she is running for a seat in the N.M. Legislature because she is concerned about how state government has functioned in recent years. “Change is definitely needed in our state. That is true for just about every change you could possibly think of.”
She feels her business sense “could help make a difference. Our economy is really down, our education is really down, the morale of our first responders is down.”
While she loves being in New Mexico and the warm welcome she and her business have received, “It don’t like the politics here. I don’t like where the politics is taking us.”
In the coming primary she faces an incumbent in her own party. She said she’s unhappy with politics in general, not the incumbent. “I am not a politician by any means. I know that my opponent is a Republican, but I do believe that changes are needed.”
She is less concerned about her opponent’s voting record —although she feels it may be a bit too moderate— and more that 20 years is too long representing District 44. She considers herself more conservative than her opponent in the primary.
If she wins the primary and then the general election in November, Vasquez would focus on economic development and crime-fighting issues. She thinks more and better incentives should be established to attract new businesses to open in the state.
One of those, she suggested, might be a corporate tax break for such a business’ first six months.
The candidate concluded by stating “I believe in change. In order to move forward, change needs to happen. It doesn’t seem like things are moving in the right direction so far.”
House District 44
Kathleen Cates, a Rio Rancho resident, has no opponent in the June 7 primary.
Sandoval County Commission
Katherine Bruch, of Placitas, has no opponent in the primary, since Paul Madrid, of Bernalillo, has withdrawn from the race.
Jeanette Nowers, of Placitas, has no opponent in the primary.
Sandoval County Sheriff
The current Sheriff, Placitas Democrat Jesse James Casaus, has no challenger in the primary. On the Republican side, two candidates with ample experience want the job. They are Pat Mooney of Placitas and Keith Elder of Rio Rancho.
A former Deputy Secretary of the N.M. Department of Public Safety, Pat Mooney, of Placitas, is running for sheriff. He has also worked for the U.S. Customs Services and the N.M. State Police, in addition to a 28-year career with the N.M. Air National Guard.
He tallies more than 34 years in law enforcement, starting just out of high school when he joined the Washington, DC, police as a cadet. At the time, his father worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
The candidate earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from American University in 1978, and a master’s in public administration in 1984.
He joined the Air Force in 1979. After a tour of duty in Germany, he was assigned to Kirtland Air Force Base as an instructor pilot. He left active duty in 1987 and was hired by U.S. Customs in Albuquerque after which he was recruited to the N.M. Department of Public Safety Special Investigations Division in 2003.
He took early retirement from that in 2014, and was asked to head up air operations for the N.M. State Police. The candidate was also named Deputy Cabinet Secretary for the Department of Public Safety. That put him in charge of law enforcement academies, the crime lab, information technology and records.
He said he remains a fully certified N.M. police officer, and is currently commissioned in Jemez Springs.
Mooney has lived in the Albuquerque area since 1984, the last four in Placitas.
While serving in the N.M. Air National Guard as inspector general, he was posted to Iraq in 2005 where he investigated conditions at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib Prison. “Because I was an inspector general and also in law enforcement, I was asked to do that as part of the Joint Interrogation Debriefing Center. Basically I was there to maintain standards for how we were doing interrogations.”
He retired from the N.M. Air National Guard as a lieutenant colonel in 2008.
Mooney said he’s running for sheriff now “to make a difference. I have a lot to offer still. And I think I can bring that department up to the next level.”Among the top issues for voters is spill-over of crime in the metro area to parts of Sandoval County, especially from gangs, drugs and violence.
He said law enforcement needs to change the narrative. “We’re not bad guys, we’re good guys. We need to have people believe in the police.”
Mooney said neither the other Republican running to become sheriff nor the Democratic incumbent has a professional background that could compare to his.
He said the Republican Party “needs to have someone who can go toe-to-toe with the incumbent this fall.”
After he ran for Sandoval County Sheriff in 2018 and lost to Democrat Jesse James Casaus, Keith Elder resigned from the Sheriff’s Department in 2019 and joined the N.M. Department of Public Safety to lead the Bureau of Advanced Training.
He retired from government work in 2020 and since then conducts courses on concealed carry of firearms, primarily for firearms instructors.
Elder is also called in to investigate police “use of force” cases. “I’m assisting with those investigations on a contract basis,” he said. “We respond to a scene where force was used, to make sure that the force used was proportionate and timely. We make sure there is a complete and thorough investigation.
“When people are taken into custody and force is used, or an allegation is made that force was used, we will go out and assist the relevant department’s investigators.”
He said the frequency of such consultations averages about one week a month.
When he ran for sheriff last time, Elder was a lieutenant under Republican Sheriff Doug Wood, a promotion he earned nine years earlier. After serving as patrol deputy, he was named a detective heading up investigations, and then the department’s recruiting and training programs as well as community relations, school resource officers, animal control, professional standards and its public information efforts.
Even back in those days, he was an instructor for the “constitutional use of force,” and served as an adjunct instructor for the N.M. Law Enforcement Academy.
Elder was born in Tennessee into an Air Force family that relocated often. His father retired in Huntsville, Alabama in 1971; the candidate graduated from high school there in 1975 and went on to earn an associate’s degree in math and chemistry at John Calhoun Community College in 1978.
Offered an oil field welding job in Texas in 1981, he took it but jobs dried up, so he joined the N.M. State Police in 1984. He was a patrol officer working mainly in northeastern New Mexico. In 1991, he was assigned to security for then Governor Bruce King. Elder was based out of Socorro 1998-2004, and then was assigned to the internal affairs office in Albuquerque in 2004 where he served until retirement in December 2005, with 22 years in State Police.
He has lived in Rio Rancho since 2004.
Elder joined the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department in January 2007. Among his duties was directing a re-write of the department’s “use of force” policies and procedures; he said the Sheriff’s Department’s guidelines on use of force were hampered by “a lot of inconsistencies.”
In comparing his candidacy to that of his opponent in the primary, Elder pointed out, “I have well over 35 years of experience, including command level experience. That has given me unique insights into the Sheriff’s Office here.” Mooney has no experience in the Sheriff’s Department, he emphasized.
Elder feels his commitments outside law enforcement add to his ability to serve the county’s residents. He has served on the Sandoval County Fair board of directors as well as with the National Alliance for Mental Illness and Special Olympics. While in the Sheriff’s Office, he was in charge of its animal control services as well. “Since I left, Sandoval County has created a small, short-term animal shelter. I’d like to see that expanded.”
Elder is concerned about adequate enforcement of driving while intoxicated from using marijuana. “In the near-term we will need to rely on science to make a determination of what would be a presumptive level of intoxication for cannabis.”
He summed up by saying “If voters want a candidate with leadership experience and experience in the Sheriff’s Department, then I’m their candidate.”
The incumbent Sandoval County Sheriff, Jesse James Casaus, has no challenger in the June 7 primary.
Sandoval County Assessor
Although born in Brooklyn, New York, Richard Shanks has lived in Corrales since the late 1970s. “My parents wanted to get the kids out of New York,” he explained. “I was raised in Corrales.”
The family moved first to Rio Rancho where he attended elementary school and went on to Taylor Middle School and Cibola High where he graduated in 1984.
He worked with his father and uncle in construction for many years, and then got a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of New Mexico in 2002 while in his mid-thirties. For the following 17 years, Shanks taught elementary and middle school kids for Rio Rancho Public Schools.
Since then, he has worked in the Sandoval County Assessor’s Office, hired by his cousin, Linda Gallegos,who was elected Assessor in 2018 as a Democrat. If he wins the Republican primary, he will face his cousin in this fall’s general election. (She also was born in Brooklyn and moved to Rio Rancho in 1975.)
“I left the education field when I was offered the Chief Deputy Assessor position. I was interested in a new challenge. With my background in construction and my interest in math, a lot of the components fit so I figured it was worth a shot.”
He said the fact that he had a different party affiliation had no bearing. “What it came down to was a need for the position to be filled. And with us being in different parties, that demonstrates that it is not a party-driven position.
Elsewhere, he said, “It seems like that’s all that matters now.”
Shanks does not anticipate a contentious campaign if he runs against the incumbent this fall. “There’s really no bad blood there. It’s really just slightly different philosophies. It’s more just inter-office workings that might require subtle changes.”
As Deputy Chief Assessor, Shanks oversees daily operations, working with the Chief Appraiser, and reviews appraisals. “A big part of the job is that I orchestrate any protests from property taxpayers who feel their values are too high. Nobody ever protests that they’re too low,” he said, laughing.
Shanks said if he wins, he would like to be “more assertive” in trying to convince the commission to hire more staff, “because in order for us to be current and correct on values for everyone in the county, we have to have staff that can support it. We’re the fastest growing county.”
On the other hand, he said, one of the challenges is to make sure that land valued as agriculture is really being used for that purpose, Shanks said. “Another challenge that we think will come up in Corrales —and honestly we don’t have the answers yet— is cannabis growing. Right now, it’s a very grey area as to whether it would really be agricultural land use.
“It will be an interesting next couple of years, that’s for sure.”
With 15 years employed in the Sandoval County Assessor’s Office, Lawrence Griego has more experience there than the man he’s running against in the Republican primary, and more than the Democrat he’ll face in the general election this fall if he wins June 7.
“I’m running against both of my bosses,” he said, referring to his primary opponent, Richard Shanks, and the Democrat who is now Assessor, Linda Gallegos.
Griego is now an Appraisal Supervisor in that office.
Although he lives in Rio Rancho, his family has strong ties to Corrales. “I was born in Alameda, but my dad is from Corrales, so I have really deep roots here,” he explained. “We still own property here and our family goes back to the original founding family, Juan Gonzales Bas.”
His mother’s family from the Cuba and La Jara areas.
His father worked in the Sandoval County Assessor’s Office for 21 years before transferring to the N.M. Property Tax Division.
After graduating from Menaul High School in 1993, much later Griego earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from National American University while working in the Assessor’s Office where he started as a part-time temp.
He earned State certification as an appraiser through the International Association of Assessing Officers, and later national certification through the same organization. “That’s a distinction I’m very proud of, because there is just a handful in the state that has that.”
After a close but unsuccessful run for election as Sandoval County Clerk in 2020, he was chosen as chairman of the Sandoval County Republican Party, a position he resigned about two months ago.
Griego explained his bid for election as the County Clerk by saying “I was very concerned about the integrity of our elections. I wanted to serve our community to address those issues.
“There has been progress in bringing awareness to election integrity issues at recent Sandoval County Commission meetings and the commission had provided an avenue to further address concerns over mail-in voting, ballot drop boxes, voter ID, and the electronic voting machines.
“Ideally, to protect the vote I believe we should use paper ballots, same-day in-person voting and voter ID.”
The candidate said he’s running now to head the Assessor’s Office “to serve my community. I enjoy what I do and I want to help property owners understand the process in regards to state statues and appraisal practices for tax purposes.”
He considers the office already under-staffed and fires in the Jemez area this spring will substantially add to the workload. Updated valuations are needed for burned properties.
Griego said he would try to persuade state legislators to enact protections for property value protections for people who own vacant non-residential land. “There is no cap on that, like there is for residential property, and that means there can be big fluctuations in that value. I would like to change that.”
Sandoval County Probate Judge
Three Democrats are running in the June primary to become Probate Judge. They are Charles Aguilar, Ed Lovato and Ronnie Sisneros.
Sandoval County Magistrate Judge
In Division 1, Ann Marie Maxwell-Chavez has no opponent. In Division 2, Democratic candidates are Kenneth Eichwald and Benito Aragon. In Division 3, Delilah Montaño Baca has no opponent.