The primary election June 7 will pit two Republicans and two Democrats against each other in a battle for the District 3 seat on the Torrance County Commission.
Incumbent LeRoy Candelaria is seeking another term, and is being challenged by fellow Republican Edwina “George” Hewett.
On the other side of the aisle, political newcomer Javier Sanchez will face fellow Democrat Ivan Riley. Sanchez authors a monthly Spanish-language history feature for The Independent.
Candelaria is currently chairman of the Torrance County Commission.
The Independent interviewed the candidates Tuesday. Each was asked if they have been convicted of a crime, with all four answering, “No.”
LeRoy Candelaria has served two terms on the county commission, not consecutively.
He said he is seeking re-election because he wants to continue his efforts. Asked about his accomplishments in office, he points to the wind farms “which has helped a lot to bring money into the school systems, and into the county”; adding deputies to the sheriff’s roster; and “help[ing] the road department do a better job with new equipment.”
“I want to continue, to see if we can improve—keep it proactive,” Candelaria said.
Asked what the biggest challenges facing the county are, Candelaria said losing small businesses. “We have some corporate stores that have come in, but that’s not like a family-owned business that’s local,” he said.
Another concern is students leaving the school systems because “parents have to go find jobs and move out of our area to make a living, and that hurts.”
He said he can help address those issues because he’s “pretty connected with people in the Legislature who can help us,” pointing to his experience with the Mid-Region Council of Governments and other boards he sits on.
Candelaria has come under fire as chairman for moving public comment to the end of commission meetings. He said he made the change because “it had been nothing but negative stuff.” He added that people are still allowed to comment at the meetings. “Nobody’s been curtailed from their free speech.”
Another hot-button topic for the county has been the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority. “My position has always been that the Authority has worked well for this county,” Candelaria said. “I seen it before when we didn’t have transportation and trash was flying all over the area. Now it’s clean and it’s my opinion it’s a reasonable charge.”
He said keeping the county clean helps economic development.
Candelaria said both the sheriff’s department and the road department need more funding. “Of course they need more money,” he said. “I wish we had every road in the county up to standards. We don’t, but we’re striving for it.”
Asked about the strengths of the county, he said, “One of the most important things is we’re solvent and we haven’t been in a money crisis.”
Things he would work on if re-elected include planning for a general obligation bond election in August, and improved services for senior citizens.
“I think people need to try and be more unified in what we’re doing. … We know we’re not going to keep everybody happy, but I strive to do my best. If people choose to put me back, that’s fine, if they don’t choose to that’s their choice.”
Edwina “George” Hewett
Edwina Hewett is a regular fixture at county commission meetings, and has volunteered in various capacities with the county, including a stint on the planning and zoning commission.
“I’m running for county commission because I think we need a change and I think we need to start focusing on solutions instead of ‘why not’ and ‘we can’t,’” Hewett said. “There’s a lot of room for positive action. I think we can find solutions.”
Hewett said she thinks “the budget could be used better to service the citizens” and that “the atmosphere that exists between the public and government” can be changed through more openness and more accountability.
Basic services, like roads, are at the top of her list of priorities if elected, she said.
Asked about the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority, Hewett said she would seek to disband it. “I think the existing system is not correctly set up, and I don’t believe that it serves the people it should be serving correctly,” she said. “There is no representation for people out here—especially my district. … Concerns that are being brought before that board don’t seem to be heard.”
The Authority should be disbanded, then re-formed, but with members only from within Torrance County, Hewett said. She thinks the county should pursue its RFP, or request for proposals, to see what private enterprise would charge for the service.
“In my district, District 3, I think the biggest deterrent we have to economic development is our poor roads,” she said. Planning and zoning ordinances are “being pushed toward an urban environment,” she said, adding, “There’s more economic development opportunities in Torrance County than just the I-40 corridor.”
Hewett said she started going to county commission meetings because people she knew would ask her what was going on in the county. She said one day she noticed that her camera would shoot video, and she started posting videos of county commission meetings on youtube.com.
Communication from the county must improve “across the board,” she said. “Those agendas need to be in public libraries, at the senior centers—they need to be available, well in advance of the meeting.” Commissioners should spend more time with their constituents, she said.
“Roads have always been a big issue here, and never been resolved,” Hewett said. “Transparency is a big issue, too, it leaves too much room for distrust. Unless trust is built the reputation of the county’s not going to improve.”
She finished, “I hope everybody will go vote for your candidate of choice, because your vote is your voice. If it’s somebody else, I’m proud you went and voted.”
Javier Sanchez is a Democrat, and the youngest of the four candidates at age 30. He’s married with four young children. Employed by Torrance County, he has a Master’s degree in Regional Planning and a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, both from the University of New Mexico.
“The whole idea behind my running is I’d really like to see a far more positive environment at the county,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to see local government and it’s constituency to partner together.”
Torrance County’s issues boil down to economic development, regional infrastructure and public trust and transparency, Sanchez said, adding that “economic development is at the root of the challenges the county faces.”
Sanchez said some of the economic challenges faced by residents in the county are reminiscent of the Dust Bowl and Depression era, proposing that the county could be a job creator by looking for grants that allow for salaries and equipment.
“I think if that we want to achieve a situation where Torrance County is not dependent on Albuquerque or the greater urban area, where the county is more self-sufficient like you saw in previous times, I think an expansion of the county’s role is required.”
He said Torrance County “needs to sustain and revitalize service-based jobs” and said he would like to see a county-wide marketing plan to promote the area to potential investors.
Sanchez said the county could also promote economic development by looking at a rural infrastructure tax credit with a lower threshold of investment to qualify for a credit, which would help smaller businesses.
Regional infrastructure is needed, Sanchez said, mentioning roads, solid waste, water and public safety. “It’s going to take really diverse ways of funding to make it work,” he said.
Public trust in the county is low, he said, adding that “a few simple steps” could be taken. To ensure everyone has an opportunity for input, Sanchez said he would add “public comment after every agenda item, instead of at the end or at the beginning of the meeting. That way folks have the opportunity to talk on every topic.”
On the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority, Sanchez said the county should “review the overall relationship.”
He said he doesn’t think “an ever-increasing subsidy” of the cost of the service is a good idea, and he doesn’t think getting rid of the Authority is a good idea.
“I just want to underline that if I were to be a commissioner, I would bring a new sense of energy and dynamism to that position,” Sanchez said, adding, “Hard work, honesty and fair play ought to be the hallmark of local government, and I’ll bring that to that board.”
Ivan Riley described himself as a lifelong resident of Torrance County. Now retired, he worked for 30 years for the Central New Mexico Electric Cooperative, or CNMEC. He is a Democrat and a graduate of Estancia High School.
Asked why he is running for the position, he answered, “I think our roads has went down to nothing,” adding, “I don’t think the finances have been held very well. It’s time to step up and do something. It’s not about ‘I,’ it’s about ‘we,’ the commission and the people of Torrance County.”
Asked for specifics, Riley pointed to construction of the courthouse, adding, “I can’t say, I’ll get sued, but I know what went on there. All I can say is we need better control of the finances. We just need a change over there. That’s the county seat—it needs to look and act like the county seat, for the residents of Torrance County.”
Asked what the biggest issue facing the county is, Riley answered, “There are several of them, but there’s n leadership in Torrance County. … The county manager is running the road department. The county commissin should be running the road department.”
If elected, Riley said he would “put the county manager on the agenda” at the first meeting to give her “dos and dont’s.”
He continued, “No more of her telling the road department when to do a road. If I get elected I will get my pickup and go out there, then get the road foreman to go fix it. It’s gonna be a good response time.”
Riley said the county manager has too much authority. “She needs to take care of the office work, take care of the finances and stuff.”
Asked about the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority, Riley said, “We need our trash, and we need our dump site.” He said some people get double billed. “We do need our solid waste, we do need our dump stations. We don’t trash the county up.” He said he has no issue with what EVSWA charges.
Asked about economic development, Riley said the county could seek grants, mentioning one “very big grant.” He added, “If I’m elected we’ll get it and it will go to the Torrance County fairgrounds.”
Riley finished up by saying that “just about everybody in District 3 knows me,” adding, “I know all about infrastructure, and I know how to get it done. I get along with people and know the people, know where to go to get it fixed.”