The state Senate’s District 19 sprawls from the west side of Albuquerque to the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, and it is hotly contested.
District 19 was formerly held by Sue Wilson Beffort, who announced her retirement this year. Four Republicans and one Democrat are seeking the seat.
The district includes parts of Sandoval, Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Torrance counties, reaching north past Bernalillo, south past Kirtland Air Force Base, and northeast to San Miguel County. It includes Tijeras, Edgewood, Cedar Crest, Moriarty and Stanley and the surrounding areas.
The Independent spoke with all but one of the candidates, Anthony Thornton, who did not respond to requests for an interview by the time The Independent went to press.
The primary election will be held June 7.
Herb Gadberry, a Republican, described himself as a newcomer with “no political debt” and “no special interest.” He once ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Edgewood.
Asked why he was seeking a seat in the state Senate, he said, “I would like to rock the boat up in Santa Fe and try and get something going instead of sitting up there for three weeks with nothing going. You can’t do it in the last 48 hours or 72 hours in the session.”
He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and has been a real estate broker for 45 years, he said. He said he was in the trucking business for 50 years and ran the Duke City Raceway for 20 years. Turning 78 this week, Gadberry said he sees his years and experience as an asset.
Asked what he thinks are the most important issues facing the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, Gadberry responded, “There’s just so many it’s hard to pick out the specific issues. … I usually keep up with current events and stuff, but it’s a whole different ballgame when you get to Santa Fe.”
He said he would “try to stimulate the situation, to get things moving.”
Asked about water, he said he would work to keep water in the Estancia Basin. He said a proposed water line linking the town water systems from Willard to Moriarty “would probably benefit everybody, but they need to change the policies, that’s all, and service the people that have rock around their house.”
Asked about education, Gadberry said he is opposed to social promotion and thinks that Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is doing a good job.
“Reading is very important,” he said. “If the student can’t read, they can’t read instructions on how to do things, even if he’s a ditch digger or an auto mechanic.” He favors extra interventions to help young students read but did not have an answer for how to fund that.
Asked about economic development, Gadberry answered, “We need jobs. We need to be more open to the small business person. Too many restrictions—whether it be statewide, local, county city—I think they need to open their arms a little bit more and have more incentives. I can’t say what the specific restrictions are but being in the real estate business I’ve had a lot of comments.”
He favors tax breaks and other financial incentives for business. “As I said, I’m not up there so I don’t know just exactly how that can be introduced. But I’m sure there’s a way,” Gadberry said.
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Gadberry answered, No. In fact I’ve got several years of law enforcement experience, and I’m for the second amendment.”
He finished, “New Mexico for the last 85 years, … with the good has been on the bottom and for the bad it’s been on the top. I think that needs to change.”
Republican Jim White is a pilot who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a full colonel. He has a Bachelor’s degree in math and economics, with a Master’s degree in systems management, he said.
He worked at the Albuquerque International Airport as operations manager for six years, and served previously as a state representative.
White said he has the time to dedicate to the position, and cited his experience in Santa Fe. “I know probably 80 percent of the legislators,” he said. “I know the budget process very well. I have a math and economics background—that’s where I feel at home.”
White also said that while “it may sound corny,” he feels a sense of responsibility to serve. “We’ve got a great country, a great state. I feel a responsibility to do my part to pay back. … Everybody can’t just sit back and enjoy the benefit of our society, somebody’s got to do that.”
Asked what he thinks are the most pressing issues facing the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, he brought up “law and order,” education and economic development.
“Having seen disparity around the world and poverty around the world, societies that are not organized, don’t have law, they fail,” White said.
On education, White said he thinks Education Secretary Hanna Skandera has “brought change to the education department,” adding that time will tell whether her changes are effective.
He would find out where good schools and good districts are and “bring those techniques into the schools who need some help.” He said he supports evaluating students and teachers.
On economic development, White cited changes to tax laws to reduce the corporate tax rate, and another law that benefits some companies by taking square footage of a business out of the equation for manufacturers.
He would work to protect military bases around the state.
For the East Mountains and Estancia Valley to “grow properly,” White said infrastructure should come before population. “It may involve a tax increase. You don’t have infrastructure if you can’t pay for it.”
He would add a few cents to the gas tax, he said, because that’s where money for roads comes from. “In my mind the gas tax is not really a tax—it’s a user fee. If you want to use the roads you pay for them.”
He is in favor of promoting tourism, which he called “a great way to bring the dollars in.”
White lives in Albuquerque. Asked how he would balance the needs of the rural part of District 19 with the urban part, he said Albuquerque is underrepresented in the Legislature as a percentage of population.
“We have more representation in the Albuquerque area, but each [legislator] represents more people,” he said, adding that the Legislature in general “has a lot more in general rural representation than urban.”
He favors the current capital outlay process, because it allows the state to funnel money to the rural areas, he said.
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, White answered, “No. I’ve had some speeding violations in my career—but you’ve got to remember I’m a pilot.”
Jim Wilder is a Republican who has made a career in sales in the aviation industry. He has deep roots in New Mexico, with a grandmother born in Albuquerque in 1893.
He’s been married for 19 years; his wife is pursuing a doctorate.
Wilder attended the University of New Mexico, where he got a Bachelor’s degree in Aviation.
He has lived in the East Mountains for five years, after moving here from Chicago.
Asked why he is running for the District 19 seat, he answered, “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Wilder said he regrets not ever having served in the military, calling it “a gap in my life,” and said the Senate position would be “a great opportunity to serve.”
Economic development would be a priority if elected, Wilder said. “I have a lot to learn but my philosophy is that less government is better government. But I think also that leadership is important. We need to pull together. A senator should provide leadership and be there to highlight businesses.”
He said he would be a visible presence in the community. “I’ve been five-six years and I’ve never seen anyone,” he explained. “I’ve never seen the governor or a politician. I’ve never seen any of these people in the community—my kids have never seen them.”
He said he would vote to make New Mexico a Right to Work state, and for “less interference” with business and lower taxes. He said it would be valuable to “be there for ribbon cuttings,” adding, “I’d like to be a senator who’s visible.”
Wilder said education is another priority. He would promote vocational schools.
“More kids need to be encouraged to continue and better their lives,” he said. “A 65 percent graduation rate is not acceptable.” He said he would vote against social promotion.
Wilder said he would visit every school in the district on a regular basis.
He is not in favor of standardized testing, and thinks teachers should not be evaluated on test scores. He would work to increase family involvement in a student’s education, he said.
Wilder is also in favor of youth sports and other extracurricular activities, and said Spanish should be taught starting in elementary school.
His children are ages 8 and 12, and Wilder said that gives him first-hand experience and greater understanding of how the educational system is functioning. “I see the other parents in my daughter’s class. They only have art one day a week. I understand the problems.”
He said he has expertise in introducing tourists to the East Mountains and Estancia Valley and marketing the state. “I’ve got 20 to 30 years of contacts in the [travel] industry,” he said, adding that he would promote Route 66 and the Turquoise Trail. “I’ve been to 75 countries and 50 states, and this is one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said, calling tourism “dollars waiting to go into the pockets of businesses here.”
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Wilder answered, “No.”
Harold Murphree is the lone Democrat in the race, unopposed in the primary election.
He described himself as a “retired GI,” who moved to New Mexico because of family and climate. He lives in the East Mountains, in Paa-ko, and has for the past 11 years.
He said he has volunteered for other campaigns and said he considered a bid for office in 2012.
“Aside from campaigns, I’ve written to members of Congress, and letters to the editor. … Rather than write the senators and tell them what I’d like to see done, I thought I’d be the one and just get it done.”
He is running for the seat for another reason, too: “In general, I don’t believe ideally in a democracy that someone should run unopposed. In the general election I’d like to see Independents, Libertarians and Greens have a vote in the ballot box because they’re not allowed to vote in the primary,” he said. “More than one Cracker Jack in the box gives voters the chance to look at more than one candidate and more than one issue.”
If elected, he said he would buck the “tendency to do what’s good for your constituents,” and look at the good of the state as a whole. “I do not want to devote resources to this district at the expense of the rest of New Mexico.”
Asked for clarification, Murphree explained that he is not talking about allocating capital outlay dollars outside District 19, but general fund dollars. “Am I a citizen of the district or the entire state?”
Asked about which issues he thinks are most pressing in the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, Murphree said education.
“More teaching, less testing,” he said, adding that he would work to decrease standardized testing, and emphasize teaching on the part of teachers and learning on the part of students.”
Murphree said that “nationwide there is a revolt from the left and the right” about standardized testing. Bringing up a controversial test, the PARCC, for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, he said, “Three states that use PARCC testing, Florida, Texas and New Mexico, are close to the bottom of the scale overall.”
He supports extracurricular activities like art and music. “Band, art, drama—these are not fluffy things,” Murphree said. “Music, playing a musical instrument, helps a student do better in math. It’s not just an extra.”
Murphree’s interview was cut short. Since he is unopposed in the primary election, The Independent’s coverage of the race will continue with the general election and candidates’ events leading up to the primary.