Four Democrats are seeking the State Senate District 39 seat vacated abruptly by then-Senator Phil Griego last year in the waning days of the legislative session.
Republican Ted Barela, formerly mayor of Estancia, was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to finish the remainder of Griego’s term. Barela is unopposed in the primary election.
The four Democrats come from a variety of backgrounds and offered different perspectives on the position. The Independent spoke with those candidates this week.
Each of the four candidates answered no when asked if they had ever been convicted of a crime.
The primary election will be held June 7.
Mike Anaya described himself as “born and raised in Galisteo,” and has a ranch in Stanley. He served two terms as a Santa Fe County Commissioner.
After getting a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts, he returned to Galisteo, where he got involved with the water association, community association, and where he helped found the fire department.
After leaving the county commission, Anaya worked at the State Land Office as assistant commissioner for the Surface Resource Division.
“Just being from the small community where I’m from, we were taught by our parents to just get involved in the community—get involved and help your neighbor,” he said when asked why he is running for the state senate. “Then I wanted to do that on a bigger scale.”
“Roads is a big issue,” he said. “Every time I go there somebody’s complaining about roads, and road problems.”
Anaya opposes exporting water from the Estancia Basin, and said he would work to have land grant heirs “have a seat at the table when decisions are made at the county level.” He mentioned acequias in the Manzano area and said he would work to preserve them.
Another issue Anaya brought up was senior services. He said he would work to increase funding for Meals on Wheels throughout the district.
Another priority is services for veterans, he said. “Veterans don’t have access to the veterans’ hospital. And veterans who return from service can’t get jobs.”
He said he would work so that skills learned in military service could be expressed as educational credits.
“Another big issue is early childhood education,” Anaya said. “I think that in order to turn the state around we need to educate our kids from birth until they graduate.” He said he would take money from the Land Grand Permanent Fund to pay for it. “It’s called a rainy day fund,” he said. “It is raining in New Mexico and we’ve got funds and need to start educating our children in order to change New Mexico.”
Anaya said that renewable energy can be used for economic development. He also said he would work with towns and counties in the district to bring in jobs.
“When counties and municipalities visit me, I know just what their issues are,” he said, adding, “Most important is listening to the people and the public.”
Liz Stefanics is currently finishing out her second four-year term as a Santa Fe County Commissioner. Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Stefanics settled in the Santa Fe area around 1989, she said.
She has spent her career in health and human services.
She went to work for Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration as Deputy Secretary for Human Services, then to work as State Risk Management Director over Insurance, a position she held for two years. She then worked as director of the N.M. Health Policy Commission, a research agency that is no longer in existence, she said.
She formerly held the District 39 seat, in a different configuration from 1993 to 1996.
“I’m running because I still believe in the state process, the government process,” Stefanics said, adding, “My job most of my life has been to assist people and that’s why I’m running.”
“Many of the people who are in state government have come from local government,” she explained. “When the state makes rules they need to keep in mind local government.”
Stefanics said she lives in a rural area near Cerrillos and understands the needs of rural New Mexicans. She said she has been traveling the district since August, “meeting people and finding out the needs of the community.”
Biggest issues in the district include economic development. That would be improved by “broadband service that’s steady,” which would allow people to learn online, and facilitate telecommuting by people in remote areas.
Stefanics said she would also work to support small, family-owned businesses. She advocates an increase in the minimum wage at the state level.
Stefanics opposes exporting water from the Estancia Basin, and said that “improving aging infrastructure” is part of the role of a state senator.
Stefanics is a gay rights advocate. She said when she served in the state senate previously, she introduced legislation in support of equal opportunities for gay people, and she and her partner of 26 years were the first gay couple to marry in Santa Fe County. “We still as a state have not come to a strong position on how to handle bullying in schools,” she said, adding that bullying can lead to psychological damage and suicide.
“It should be handled at the local school board, but oftentimes policies and curriculum are developed at the state level so they can be distributed to schools,” she said.
Stefanics said she would vote to increase funding to schools by looking at the funding formula and making permanent some funds that are not recurring.
“Part of what I see as a role for a legislator is how to assist the community in addressing a problem that arises,” she said, adding, “Not that I understand everything going on, but I can broker a meeting to get parties talking to each other.”
Hugh Ley is from Terro, an old mining community 14 miles north of Pecos. His parents built a store there that he continues, a recreational services provider that provides camping goods and other supplies for people who visit the Pecos Wilderness. He
Ley attended the New Mexico Military Institute and has a degree from New Mexico State University in animal science. He served as a San Miguel County Commissioner for two terms, from 2001 to 2008.
“As a county commissioner I enjoyed working for my folks and my people, and getting my fair share for San Miguel County,” Ley said, adding that he would work to do the same for District 39.
He said his background in business is one of the assets he would bring to the Legislature.
In terms of economic development, the state has to “get off the gas and oil revenue stream we’ve been so dependent on,” he said, adding that he would support a “jobs council” to determine what the best fit for jobs in the community are. “Instead of top down that needs to come from the county commission level,” Ley said.
He also mentioned broadband internet access, which would allow people in remote areas to telecommute and “go outside of the state with their product.”
Ley said access to healthcare in rural areas is an issue, and said “Medicaid expansion is going to be the first line of getting there,” adding that it would cost $160 million by 2020. He also said that first responders could provide some basic medical services.
He said that he would prioritize road maintenance over construction of new roads. “We’ve got $150 million worth of debt service on construction we’ve kicked down the road,” adding that he would earmark some of the gas tax funds to road maintenance.
Water issues include “the fact that agriculture is our largest user of water in the state,” he said. He opposes exportation of water outside the Estancia Basin, and said that long-term, the state needs to look at desalination of brackish water. Because state population is declining, the issue is not immediately pressing, he said.
His position on water rights, he said, is “don’t sell it.”
New Mexico has a good education system, Ley said, when families are involved in a student’s education. He would “concentrate on starting a little earlier,” with pre-kindergarten, but also said, “You have go get the parents as well as the children to value education.”
He would work to increase funding for Meals on Wheels for seniors, and said rural areas took a disproportionate hit from the Legislature because of the additional cost of transporting those meals long distances. “When you’re matching the rural against the city, it doesn’t match. You’ve got to have a little more money in the rural areas.”
Ambrose Castellano was born and raised in Bernal, the youngest of seven children. He attended school in Las Vegas, and his career has included working for the state transportation department and starting a residential construction business.
Currently he works for Paul Davis Restoration, he said.
He is engaged to Renee Roybal from Pojaque, and has five children ranging in age from 6 to 24.
“I think right now the state senate needs common people,” Castellano said. “It needs a person that works a 40-hour job paycheck to paycheck, to bring the decision-making closer to the common people, the working class.
He said he wants to “set a foundation so we can leave our kids in a better state.”
Castellano’s No. 1 priority is education, he said. After dropping out of high school he eventually got a GED. He said he “could have gone to college” but he had a family to support.
Still, that experience led to his passion about education. He served two terms on the school board of the West Las Vegas Schools, as well as Luna Community College for 13 years, six of those as chairman.
Before getting his GED, “every day I questioned myself,” he said. “I should have finished school.” Three of his children are either graduated from college or attending college. “You grow older and you realize what you should have done. That’s why I’m an advocate for education, why I stand strong for education.”
He said that even though his opponents have more education than he does, “some times common sense, heart and how you strive for things is what makes the difference.”
Castellano said he would work to increase funding for education and “support our teachers a lot more.” He is not in favor of the current levels of standardized testing or Education Secretary Hanna Skandera’s performance reviews.
Community input is important to Castellano, and he said he would hold town hall meetings around the district to help prioritize what is most important to the district.
Tourism would be a good way to promote economic development, as would “help for small businesses.” He said, “We can bring in big corporations, but if they find a better deal they leave. When a small business opens, people have jobs for a long time.” He said he isn’t opposed to bringing in large corporations, but, “I think we need to help our own.”
Water issues are very important statewide, he said, adding that he would “work very hard” to help communities with their water issues.
Healthcare access in rural areas could be improved by training some first responders, Castellano said, and access to healthcare for veterans is another priority. “We really need to help our veterans, who put their lives on the line for us. Veterans need jobs, and they need assistance.”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at email@example.com.