The New Mexico House of Representatives District 22 is a sprawling area including the East Mountains, parts of Edgewood and Torrance County and the South 14 area—and also stretches across the Sandia Mountains to Placitas and Bernalillo.
Until recently, that seat was held by Rep. Jim Smith, who stepped down after being appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to the Bernalillo County Commission to replace Wayne Johnson there.
Johnson left that post when he was appointed by Martinez to finish the term as State Auditor vacated by Tim Keller when he won the Albuquerque mayor’s race in November.
The District 22 legislative seat is now being sought by two Republicans and a Democrat.
Democrat Jessica Velasquez is unopposed in the June 5 primary election, while two Republicans, Merritt Hamilton Allen and Gregg William Schmedes, are seeking the approval of voters to move forward to the November general election. All three live in the East Mountain area.
Both Schmedes and Allen were interviewed by The Independent about why they are running and priorities in office if elected.
Merritt Hamilton Allen
Allen grew up in Silver City, and in 1998 her mother won a seat in the Legislature. Allen owns a media relations business and is a military veteran of the U.S. Navy.
“A big piece to me and my political view is based on being a product of New Mexico rural public schools,” she said. She explained that as a “high achieving” high school student who graduated at age 16 as a National Merit Scholar and took every math class the high school had to offer, she still didn’t have the math skills to be an engineer as she aspired to do.
“In 1998 my mother first ran in Silver City and the legislator who had the seat before her had it since 1968,” Allen said. “He said don’t get on the education committee. Now it’s 2018 and my mother says don’t get on the committee—that’s five decades of doing nothing on education.”
She said she used to think New Mexico should consolidate school districts, but has changed her thinking. “I talk to teachers in rural areas, and they adamantly disagree with that. … My inclination would be to push toward smaller school districts and local control. … Superintendents know their schools and what they need.”
She’d like to increase services in schools like reading intervention and social services, and said one way to get the money is to “take a hard look at spending everywhere.”
Allen added, “We also have to look at intervening on kids at risk of dropping out” because they are at higher risk for poverty and crime, and have poorer job prospects.
“To me, we are in a vicious cycle of economic stagnation, fueled by an unprepared workforce and ramifications of bad decision-making in economics,” Allen said.
One move she would support to attract businesses is simplification of the state’s gross receipts taxes, with a lower tax and a broader base. She supports a tax on food items for everyone except those on public assistance.
She would also work toward internet sales tax that incorporates not only the state’s portion of those dollars, but also the municipality or county, bringing more dollars back to those communities.
Broadband access is one of her infrastructure priorities, and she likened building of that network to “getting the first utility pole in” for the electric grid.
Allen answered, “I have not” when asked if she has ever been convicted of a crime.
“I’ve lived every aspect of childhood and adult life as a New Mexican, so I know what we’re facing,” Allen said. “I bring a real desire to change the status quo. I understand public service. I’m the daughter of a veteran and a veteran myself. … I’m ready to give back and I have a passion for making a difference. And I have a real pragmatic view of what can and can’t be accomplished in this state, but I’m ready to challenge some of the decades-old norms that we’ve just tolerated.”
Gregg William Schmedes
Schmedes is a surgeon on the faculty of the University of New Mexico, and said he has a special interest in “underserved populations and medical ethics,” which are his area of research.
“Since I’m in academics, if I’m elected I will definitely be on the health committee,” Schmedes said, adding that the job allows flexibility for research, teaching or community service. “I think it’s important that as a physician working in the Legislature that you’re actively practicing. I hear issues from all over New Mexico … with intimate details of their lives, their struggle, and their health. It helps me have a better feel for those issues.”
Schmedes said he is new to politics and decided to run “because I saw an intense ned for servant leadership and for representatives who will truly represent the people and not focus on politics. People are tired of that and they want change.”
Education is the top issue facing the District, Schmedes said. “Families want adequate education choices for their children and I hear a lot of concerns about that.”
He is not in favor of the Common Core standards. “Our teachers would like to collaborate with each other more and to evaluate their students. They know how to evaluate their students. They also need to be paid more, by the way.”
Schmedes also likes private-public partnerships like a program he described from A. Montoya Elementary School, in which a nonprofit group supports teachers directly through fundraising efforts.
Crime is another priority, Schmedes said. “The East Mountains does have a reputation for being much safer than Albuquerque,” he said, adding that “often things spill over from Albuquerque.”
Schmedes said, “So how I would address that is number one, w need to instill respect for first responders and police officers, and rid our communities of drugs.” He said the East Mountain area should have a larger law enforcement presence than it does now, and said strengthening the police force is the way to get rid of drugs.
Schmedes said he favors addressing crime “not just through the criminal justice system, but also through the health care system” with care for mental health and addiction.
“We need to focus our resources on those big issues nd get away from a lot of the partisanship,” Schmedes said, adding that New Mexico should be “more friendly to business” in order to strengthen the economy.
Schmedes would work to reform the tax code if elected. “It’s outdated and punitive to small business,” he said. He favors getting rid of exemptions to the gross receipts tax.
“The tax rate should be negligible,” Schmedes said.
He answered, “No” when asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime.
“The voters are telling me that they recognize a typical pattern in New Mexico politics—to not listen to the people, not address big issues, and just keep up with political antics. The issues in New Mexico are too great to continue to ignore.”
“We’re running a grassroots campaign, which will ultimately lead to grassroots representation if I’m elected,” Schmedes said. “I would hope I’d have a strong voice in the Legislature because people would recognize I genuinely want to help people and help our state. … Finally, I will always bring it back to the constituents.”