With primary elections due June 5, Torrance County’s District 1 has a crowded field of four Republicans and one Democrat seeking the position.
District 1 encompasses the northern part of the county, including part of the City of Moriarty and points west. It is the smallest of the county’s three districts by far, in the densely populated part of the county.
The incumbent in the race is Republican Jim Frost, who is seeking his fourth term in the position.
Frost, along with challengers and fellow Republicans Kevin McCall and Jeremy Tremko, spoke with The Independent Tuesday. Another Republican, Dorothy Encinias, was not available for an interview until Wednesday.
The lone Democrat in the race, Andrew Homer, did not respond to a request for an interview.
Jim Frost is the incumbent, finishing his third 4-year term in office and seeking a fourth. Asked why he wants to be re-elected, Frost said, “I just don’t want to quit doing it. … I care about people and I care about the county.”
Asked about his accomplishments in office, Frost is not one to pull out a laundry list of items, saying instead that as only one voice on a commission, he doesn’t think that he can “take the credit.”
He added, “A lot of it is kind of in the past. I’d rather be known for being fair and honest and open to make decisions, and just look at everything from both sides to make proper decisions—and not to make a list of monuments, so to speak.”
Still, Frost pointed to creation of the county’s first animal shelter, the dispatch building and new animal shelter, the county fair, work on roads, wind farms, and his seat on the board of the Estancia Valley Economic Development Association, or EVEDA.
“It’s not a two day a month job, it’s an every day and night job,” Frost said. “I have never failed to respond to a phone call—I answer every call I get. … Every two weeks we have a list of 15 to 25 issues that have to be studied, and I do that every Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I’m not out to make points because we build something, I just want people to think that I’ve worked on it.”
Frost said he would like to spend some of the money paid to the county for wind farms on a multipurpose facility for the county fair.
A lot of times, commissioners would like to spend money on things they can’t fund, Frost said, alluding to vastly increased costs to the county for housing and transport of prisoners—which the county must do by law. “We’d like to spend those dollars on new programs or construction or whatever, but the law says the Sheriff’s main duty is to house and transfer prisoners. The county has to stay solvent in order to do that.”
By the same token, Frost said that money to repair roads comes from primarily from gas taxes, adding, “and we have three gas stations in the county—it makes our gas tax income very small.”
Frost also pointed to the county’s senior program as very successful. He drives the transport van for the program, taking seniors to appointments and delivering meals to shut-ins. “They feed probably 75 people or less daily,” he said. “I’ve been to a lot of those homes and a lot of those people literally would not have food if it wasn’t for that program.”
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Frost answered, “No, ma’am.”
“I respect everybody, I listen to everybody, and I never say a bad thing about anything,” Frost said, adding, “I think my main accomplishment is to steady things, and to try to make fair choices—and those fair choices have to be feasible, which gets into the dollar end of it.”
Kevin McCall is a Moriarty businessman, owner of McCall’s Pumpkin Patch. He has never run for public office before, but said his experience as a businessman would give him a leg up on the county commission.
Asked about his priorities for the county, McCall said, “I’d like to bring back leadership and some pro-business approaches to the commission.”
A shrinking tax base due to an aging population and young people moving out of the area is one of the biggest issues facing the county, McCall said. He would focus on attracting employers who pay good wages for college graduates.
“We’re seeing youth moving away, and we don’t have any draw—we don’t have any jobs to bring them back to this community. Our tax base and our citizen count is dropping. That’s evident in our schools.”
McCall said he would like to attract more businesses like the pumpkin patch—which brings about 80,000 people in six weeks, mostly from out of the area. “The Pumpkin Patch is economic development at its finest, bringing in new dollars from outside the community.”
Planning for the pumpkin patch requires thinking “on a larger scale,” McCall said, something he sees as an asset.
He said that because of his business experience, he knows what businesses want when they consider locating in Torrance County. “If you don’t know what businesses are needing and looking for, if you’re not in the loop you tend to get passed by on some economic development opportunities.”
McCall said he supports the work of the Estancia Valley Economic Development Association, or EVEDA, but said, “I think there could be more done.”
McCall said he would work for the county to “foster a relationship with or state representatives,” adding, “I’d like to turn over a few rocks and see what else is out there in terms of funding and finances.”
On the increased financial burden on the county due to the closure of the prison facility in Estancia, McCall said, “We need to get them back. Whatever it takes, we need to see what we can do to entice them back to our county for a couple of reasons: jobs, and the second one is to house our own local inmates.”
McCall replied, “I have not,” when asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime.
The biggest obstacle the county faces is, “We’ve got to get our tax base up,” McCall said. “A lot of concerns and grumblings and gripes of our citizens are valid ones, but it comes back to lack of funds. … I don’t think the youth’s going to come back without a job, a good-paying job. We’ve got to establish some businesses that will be hiring our college graduate kids, not just our fast food joints and gas station and retail business. If companies come with good-paying jobs, I think that’ll bring our youth back.”
McCall said he has been attending commission meetings since he declared his candidacy, which means he can hit the ground running if elected. He said he’d like to see commissioners with “dirt and grease under their fingernails,” and to restore common sense. “I just feel like we need to get the working man back in there,” he added.
“There’s lots of room for improvement at the county,” McCall said. “We have a great community with lots of opportunities and we just have to take advantage of them when we see them, and go out and work hard to get those opportunities.”
Jeremy Tremko is a Moriarty native and owner of Tremko Karate. At 30, he is the youngest person in the race, which he views as an asset. He previously ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature in District 50.
Asked why he is running for the county commission, Tremko said, “Mainly business economics for Torrance County. There’s a lot of job potential for Torrance County.”
Tremko said he would seek grants through the University of New Mexico for a desalinization project, grants from the state, “money left over,” attracting businesses like marijuana farms or like Google, and creation of training programs.
Tremko said UNM has a program to turn salt water into fresh water. “They’re still developing it, but there’s been multiple opportunities in Torrance County to come out and do that. If they can actually figure out how to turn salt water into fresh water that could create up to 75 good-paying jobs.”
Asked about grants through the state, Tremko said, “Commissioners that are in office now don’t know how to go through the state for economic development.” He said if elected he wold “find out where the grant money is and what committees can grant money to the county to create more jobs.”
He said “money left over” refers to spending the county has done, like “instead of buying $45,000 trailers they buy two $100,000 trucks.”
Tremko said he would work to bring training programs to the county by working with different types of unions, with schools that can offer “different avenues than college to get some training.”
He also pointed to empty buildings around the county and said the commission should work with other entities like school districts. “Even if the commission doesn’t have a full say in anything, working with other boards is good. Everyone tries to stay in their lane which is fine and dandy but the county needs to supplement the schools—there’s always a way to do that. If you look at our area we don’t have a Job Corps or anything like that. It would be very successful for our youth.”
Asked what his priorities for the county are, Tremko answered, “You have the same people in office over and over and nothing getting done. They’re not looking at growing it, the actual problem or situation we have in the county. We need some individuals from outside who haven’t been involved with the county from a political viewpoint, to look at the county with fresh eyes and see where they can really make changes at.”
His age is a positive, Tremko said, adding, “As a young Republican, I’m not party line, I vote for what’s right. Even if the party says look at one direction, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
Obstacles the county faces include “the drug issue we have,” Tremko said, adding, “No one’s going to want to come to the county.”
And Tremko said the problem is made worse by a lack of “the right tools to push drug pushers out,” like police dogs.
Tremko said the Sheriff’s department needs more officers and more training. Asked where he would find the money for additional deputies, he said he would search through the budget for wasted dollars.
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Tremko answered, “Absolutely not, not even a speeding ticket.”
While Tremko talks about bringing business into Torrance County, he relocated his own business from Moriarty into Santa Fe County. “The average income is $13,000 a year higher in Santa Fe County than Torrance County,” he said. “It’s a sad thing to look at. It’s one of the questions I knew I’d be asked. If my business can’t succeed here … that’s an obvious sign that there’s an issue.” Since relocating to Edgewood, Tremko said his business has nearly quadrupled.
“It’s actually the reason I’m running for the county commission instead of state representative. I was born and raised in Moriarty. I love Torrance County. A fix has to be somewhere.”
Dorothy Encinias has been Moriarty’s municipal judge for 20 years.
Asked why she is seeking a position on the Torrance County Commission, she answered, “Number one, the direction the county’s headed—I just think new people need to come in with new ideas, new goals, new voices. I think I could help the … constituents more in a capacity as county commissioner rather than municipal judge.”
Encinias said current county commissioners seem to “have their own personal ideas about how the county should be run” rather than reflecting the will and desire of the people in the county at large. She also said that each commissioner tends to act on behalf of each district rather than the county as a whole.
Strengths she would bring to the position include that “I don’t have anything to gain as a county commissioner,” Encinias said. “I’ve lived in Torrance County all my life, seen it’s ups and downs, and I want it to go back to where it was even five to ten years ago. It’s just slowly going downhill.”
She also cited skills from being a municipal judge, like “being a good listener, hearing all sides of an issue before a decision is made,” and added, “I hate saying this, but even just to learn to agree to disagree in a cordial way. My main goal is our constituents, our community—we need to work together to reach that goal, to make the county a better place.”
Her priorities if elected would be first to examine the budget. “We need better roads. Fire and police are always a priority, along with economic growth and just healthy family living in Torrance County.”
Encinias said is isn’t currently familiar with the county budget, and that she would want to meet with longtime county employees to learn about the inner workings of the county before proposing changes.
“I’m already educating myself by going through minutes and agendas for the last two years. I’m familiarizing myself with what’s involved in the county government,” she said.
Obstacles the county faces center around its budget, and Encinias said she would prioritize spending and the budget if elected.
Asked if she has ever been convicted of a crime, Encinias answered, “No. Speeding tickets.”
A regional approach to economic development, research and talking to EVEDA, or the Estancia Valley Economic Development Association, chambers of commerce, and state legislators would be a place to start, she said.
Encinias said she has “all the respect” for incumbent Jim Frost, adding, “We need new faces and new goals for the county. I may not be the right person, but I’m willing to give it a hundred percent.”