Editorial: Our picks for Nov. 6
Happy election season, everyone!
This year, political races are dominated by the contest for the governor’s office. The ballot is long. However, it’s filled with contests for judges, including the state Supreme Court, and unglamorous but important offices.
Our picks in the election follow, with the exception of an endorsement for Taos County Sheriff; we’ll publish that next week. We urge you to do your own homework by reading our news stories and reading the websites of each political candidate. And don’t forget to vote on the constitutional amendments, bonds and tax reauthorization.
Federal and state offices
Our incumbent U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich is in a three-way race against Taos resident and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Republican Mick Rich. The Democrat has a solid Washington record of supporting expanded health care, caring about the environment, pushing for immigration reform and working against gun violence. Heinrich says he wants to work with senators and officials of both parties. Heinrich’s relationship with Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke – and his ability to ride a horse into the state’s roadless areas with the Republican — may have saved one of our wilderness areas from the Trump administration’s depredations. Heinrich deserves another term in the U.S. Senate.
Northern New Mexico’s U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is skilled at helping his constituents and has been elected five times to represent us in Washington. The Democrat maintains efficiently run offices in New Mexico and Washington with workers who are willing to help all New Mexicans. High-quality, low-cost health insurance is a priority for Luján. He told the League of Women Voters, “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.” Stricter gun control, renewable energy and more humane treatment of immigrants are all on his agenda. Luján has worked to increase funding for our local acequias. As a member of a family of small farmers, he understands the importance of rural areas to our state. We recommend that voters return him to Washington.
Two of New Mexico’s representatives in Congress are running for governor. Both are honorable people who care about the state’s health care, economy and educational system. Both pledge to run a more effective state government than what we have now. Candidate Steve Pearce is running on a moderate ticket, but according to The Santa Fe New Mexican, has voted for President Donald Trump’s agenda about 90 percent of the time.
We prefer the Democrat, Michelle Lujan Grisham, because of the humanitarian solutions she offers to our state’s problems. She is in favor of increasing the state’s minimum wage. She wants to use a small part of the state’s permanent fund to bolster education. She pledges to increase clean energy use in the state and to work to eliminate polluting methane emissions from our gas and oil fields. Expanded Medicaid, better behavioral health and prekindergarten education are all on her agenda.
An issue on which Lujan Grisham disagrees with her opponent is gun control. She is for it and advocates for universal background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons.
Before going to Washington, she served as a Bernalillo County commissioner and as a Cabinet secretary for both the Departments of Health and Aging. Her experience in the executive branch makes her familiar with the inner workings of state government, and she has plenty of experience lobbying the Legislature to get bills passed. Her experience in the governor’s office has made her familiar with the workings of our state’s executive branch and legislature.
She is the best choice for governor. State Sen. Howie Morales is her running mate as lieutenant governor.
Incumbent Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver runs an efficient office whose most important job is to oversee elections. She works to assure the polls are secure and welcoming to all New Mexicans. Transparent campaign financing is a priority for her. Toulouse Oliver wants our state to have open primaries, in which people from all parties have a meaningful vote. This would give Republicans, Libertarians and independent voters in Northern New Mexico a chance to choose candidates who will run in the November general elections.
Her job is not glamorous, but it takes someone who is dedicated and well-organized. We think Toulouse Oliver has those qualities and deserves another term.
The race for state auditor is between the Republican incumbent Wayne Johnson, who is a former Bernalillo County commissioner and an attorney. The job of auditor is to examine the finances of state and local governments. In recent years, it has been sought after by politicians who have their eyes on higher office.
This is unfortunate. Audits should be managed by a career civil servant whose job is to make governmental entities function honestly and smoothly. Such an important function should not be overseen by people who are passing through.
But in spite of any aspirations to go to Washington or live in the governor’s mansion, the Democrat Brian Colón is the best choice for this office. He holds an undergraduate degree in finance from New Mexico State University and a law degree from the University of New Mexico. His platform includes working to decrease corruption, waste and fraud across the state. He is concerned that independent accounting firms that audit state agencies are free to make contributions in the races for governor and auditor. Political observers say Colón is hardworking and efficient. Voters should give him a term as state auditor.
The definition of state treasurer’s job is simple: serve as New Mexico’s banker. But the details are anything but simple: investing funds, disbursing money, reconciling accounts, projecting liquidity. Incumbent Tim Eichenberg is a former state senator with a background in contracting and real estate. He has a broad knowledge of both business and government. We recommend another term for Eichenberg.
New Mexico’s attorney general is the state’s legal counsel. When requested to do so by state officials, legislators and district attorneys, he provides legal opinions. He represents the state in court cases.
Hector Balderas is the incumbent. He runs an office that has largely kept out of the news, meaning it is efficient and scandal-free. His campaign priorities include stemming opioid use, improving the lot of children served by state social agencies and working with governmental entities to fight violent crime. It is no secret that Balderas aspires to a higher office, perhaps governor or senator. In the meantime, he is doing a respectable job as attorney general and should continue in that role.
In the race for commissioner of public lands, the candidates represent quite distinctive backgrounds and positions. Cattleman Patrick Lyons, who held the office for two terms between 2003 and 2010, is running on the Republican ticket. Educator Stephanie Garcia Richard is a state representative running as a Democrat.
The contrasts are rural versus urban, Aggie versus Ivy League. Garcia Richard backers include teachers and environmentalists. Lyons is favored by ranchers and oil and gas producers.
The land commissioner manages 13 million acres of mineral rights and 9 million acres of land, with lease money helping to support public schools, universities, penitentiaries and some hospitals. As a teacher, Garcia Richard understands how important these dollars are to our classrooms and is adamant about using state land money to improve our educational system. We urge a vote for her.
New Mexico’s Supreme Court is the state’s highest court. The duties of its five justices include supervising the state’s attorneys and lesser courts, hearing election challenges, as well as reviewing rulings made by the Court of Appeals. It is the court of last resort.
Earlier this year, former District Court Judge Gary Clingman of Hobbs was appointed to the high court by Susana Martinez. He is opposed by Court of Appeals judge Michael Vigil. Vigil has served on the Court of Appeals for 15 years, working as a civil and criminal lawyer before that. He told the League of Women Voters that he has decided over 3,000 cases. We recommend a vote for him.
New Mexico’s Court of Appeals has several seats under contention. The 10 judges who sit on the court hear appeals from lower courts across the state.
Stephen French, the incumbent in Position 1, has significant institutional knowledge. He has decided a broader variety of cases than his opponent. One of his goals is modernizing the court system. He says he will work for justice for all who come before his court and try to provide for a quick resolution of legal disputes.
Taoseña Jacqueline Medina is running for Position 2 on the Court of Appeals. She grew up in Ranchitos, attended Enos García Elementary and in 1982 graduated from Taos High School. One of her first jobs was at Mante’s Chow Cart. She is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and the UNM law school. A practicing attorney with extensive appeals court experience, she served until recently as an assistant attorney general. Hard work, intelligence and dedication to public service are Medina’s hallmarks. Vote for her to join the Court of Appeals. In fact, every self-respecting Taoseño and Taoseña ought to go to the polls especially to vote for her.
Briana Zamora has served as a district court judge since 2012. She says she has presided over thousands of cases and more than 100 jury trials. A graduate of New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico law school, she served as a metropolitan criminal court judge, worked as an assistant public defender and assistant attorney general, as well as in private practice. We urge a vote for Zamora for Position 3.
Incumbent Daniel Gallegos in January was appointed to the Position 4 on Court of Appeals by Gov. Susana Martinez. His experience on the bench is more extensive than that of his opponent Megan Duffy (who will be a strong contender in the future). With a law degree from the University of Notre Dame, much of Gallegos’ judicial experience was with the U.S. Navy. He is an Iraq War veteran. Gallegos’ judicial experience should earn him his seat on the Court of Appeals.
The ballot asks if Miles Hanisee should be retained. This judge is familiar to many Taoseños as his family moved here in 1986. Hanisee was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2011. The state’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission gave him high marks for good demeanor, fairness, impartiality, and writing accurate opinions. He received lower marks for handling his workload, establishing priorities and being a hard worker. We urge retention.
Bonds and amendments
The ballot contains a question about reauthorizing a gross receipts tax that funds the North Central Regional Transit District, better known in Taos as the Blue Bus. The tax, passed by voters a decade ago, is 2 ½ cents on every $20, and unless this reauthorization passes, will sunset in 2024.
This measure keeps taxes the same; there’s no increase. The tax funds buses in Taos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties, with service to nine northern pueblos. League of Women Voters statistics say 1.3 million trips were made on the buses in fiscal year 2017. A portion of tax proceeds also goes to city buses in Santa Fe and Los Alamos and to the Rail Runner train. We urge a vote to reauthorize the transit district, removing the sunset provision due to take effect in 2024.
Constitutional Amendment 1 would streamline the state’s court system. It is a measure with bipartisan backing that would allow some decisions made by lower courts to go directly to the Court of Appeals, without a new trial in district court. This should save time and money for litigants in many cases, and reduce caseloads in District Court. Vote yes.
Constitutional Amendment 2 would create an independent ethics commission to investigate and adjudicate violations of reporting requirements, ethics laws and standards of conduct. The commission could investigate the governor’s office, legislators, political candidates, appointees, lobbyists and government contractors. New Mexico has needed such a commission since it became a state. Vote yes.
Three items on the ballot would authorize property tax levies to fund bonds providing money to senior centers, colleges, tribal schools, for library materials and school buses.
Bond A, for up to $10.77 million would pay for construction and improvements at senior centers across the state. This includes $195,000 for Amalia, $910,000 for Picuris Pueblo, and $688,000 for Questa centers. Vote yes.
Bond B, for up to $12.87 million is for public school, tribal and municipal libraries. The money would be used to buy books, electronic equipment and broadband internet. Libraries, especially up-to-date ones, are vital to Taos and surrounding communities. Vote yes.
Bond C, for up to $6.137 million would provide money to purchase and equip school buses across the state, making air conditioning a “standard necessity.” Although air conditioning is more of a necessity in Deming than in Taos, state-of-the art buses are crucial for New Mexico children’s safety. Vote yes.
Bond D, for up to $136.2 million is for capital improvements at colleges, tribal schools and institutions, such as the Santa Fe Indian School and the state School for the Deaf. It includes $4.3 million for a career pathways center at Taos-UNM’s Klauer campus. Vote yes.