Forum in Mountainair brings out many candidates

Candidates preparing for the forum jointly hosted by the Republican and Democratic parties of Torrance County. Photo by Leota Harriman.

A forum hosted in Mountainair featured many candidates for local office, who answered questions that had been submitted by the public.

The forum was jointly hosted by the Torrance County Republican Party and the Torrance County Democratic Party, which came together in providing food for candidates and those in attendance, and in jointly moderating the forum.

The forum started out with candidates for the Torrance County Commission District 3 seat. There are two Republicans and two Democrats in that race, with an Independent who will be on the ballot for the General Election if he can garner enough signatures.

Republicans in the race are the incumbent, LeRoy Candelaria, and Edwina “George” Hewett, a regular fixture at county commission meetings. Candelaria did not attend the event.

On the Democrat side of the race, Javier Sanchez is facing off against Ivan Riley. Riley did not attend the event.

An Independent candidate, Fred Sanchez, was represented at the event by his daughter. She said he had recently taken a fall from a horse. As an Independent, Fred Sanchez will need to submit a petition signed by voters in District 3 to get on the General Election ballot.

Angelica Sanchez said her father was for reform and ethics, and that he taught his children the importance of public service. She mentioned veterans’ issues as being very important to him.

Candidates for that race had been asked how to improve county infrastructure and economic development. Angelica Sanchez said she could not answer for her father, referring questions to him.

Javier Sanchez spoke next.

Javier Sanchez said he is in favor of changing the organizational structure of the county to where it was before the first county manager was hired around 1976. “Commissioners no longer oversee the day-to-day operations of the county,” he said. “They oversee policy.”


Javier Sanchez said decisions like which road to blade are now done “at the tactical level” by the county manager and department heads, and said county government is “as good as the people that you have.”


Javier Sanchez spoke in favor of “formation of committees to tackle problems.” He said the county should look for diverse sources of funding and work to “maximiz[e] inclusion of stakeholders.”

On economic development, he said the county should look for industrial partners, create a countywide marketing plan, look at county government as a job creator, and lower the threshold for a tax credit to allow smaller businesses in rural areas to take advantage of it.

Edwina “George” Hewett spoke next, and said the county is not run effectively. She said she has been working as a volunteer for 20 years to help improve the county.

She cited roads as a very important issue to Torrance County residents. “Have we ever had a roads plan?” she asked. “I’ve never seen that.” She suggested that the citizens should be the ones to assess the state of the roads.

Hewett also said she would “take a hard look at that budget” and “move money around.”

On economic development she said infrastructure would attract business. She finished by saying she would work hard to lobby for the interests of people in the district.

The forum then moved on to candidates for Torrance County Treasurer, starting with Tracy Sedillo. Sedillo has worked for the county for over 27 years, she said, and is currently chief deputy treasurer. She spent 10 years before that in the Treasurer’s office as comptroller. She is a Republican, and unopposed in the primary.

Sedillo said she is in favor of strong internal controls, efficient tax collection, transparency, statutory compliance, and exceptional customer service.

Sedillo said she is in favor of strong internal controls, efficient tax collection, transparency, statutory compliance, and exceptional customer service.

She said the county is poised to get new payments of PILT (payment in lieu of taxes, which replaces taxes that would have been paid for public lands if they had been private) and that it could shift its investment policy to include long-term investments. If elected she said she would diversify investments.

There are two Democrats in the race for Torrance County Treasurer, Wilson “Brent” Myrick and Margarita Hibbs. Myrick did not attend the event.

Hibbs also spoke about her years in public service as a volunteer, mentioning her time as Estancia’s first lady. She said she doesn’t believe in “public service as a profession.” When her husband was mayor of Estancia, Hibbs said the town improved its infrastructure and quality of life through building the town library and pool.

On investments, she said she believes in “best business practices” and said the state’s assessor had “identified several areas of investment that are not savory.”

Hibbs spoke in favor of transparency and said, “People do not feel engaged in their government in a way they understand.”


Margarita Hibbs spoke in favor of transparency and said, “People do not feel engaged in their government in a way they understand.”


She said she would work to create charts showing the county’s income and expenditures in a graphic form to help people understand the county’s finances better.

She said investments “are the way we build a stronger economy.”

Art DuCharme spoke on behalf of Myrick, saying that he is new to politics, and in favor of honest and open government. DuCharme said Myrick was a veteran of the Army, a substitute teacher, and recently appointed to be on the planning and zoning commission of the City of Moriarty.

He said Myrick’s view is that “public servants should not make a career out of public service,” saying that Myrick would “work through his term to make improvements, then leave.”

The forum then gave the floor to Judith Nakamura, running for retention as a Justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court, a position to which she was appointed. A career in criminal law led her to the conclusion that what she didn’t like about the legal system was judges, she said, and she ran for Metro Court 1n 1998, then District Court before the appointment to her current position. The Republican Nakamura is opposed in the General Election by Michael Vigil, a Democrat, who did not attend the event.

Next to have the floor was Denise M. Dawson, a Democrat who is running as a write-in candidate for a seat on the Public Education Commission. Asked by this reporter before the event why she wasn’t on the ballot, Dawson said that she decided to run because no candidate had stepped forward, and she didn’t want to leave the vacancy to be appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Dawson said she was a teacher for 23 years, until she could no longer “torture children” through “ridiculous and excessive” standardized testing.

As a write-in candidate, her name must be written on the ballot exactly as it appears at the Secretary of State’s office, which is “Denise M. Dawson,” which she spelled out for voters.


As a write-in candidate, her name must be written on the ballot exactly as it appears at the Secretary of State’s office, which is “Denise M. Dawson,” which she spelled out for voters.


Lee Deschamps is a Democrat running for District Attorney in the 7th Judicial District, against incumbent and Republican Clint Wellborn. Both are unopposed in the primary.

Deschamps said he held the office previously from 1989 to 1992. He said he supported construction of CCA in Estancia and tried to get free jail cells there for the county. He described himself as single and a workaholic.

Wellborn is the incumbent who said he ran in 1996, where he lost by two votes, then again in 2000, when he was elected. He said he ran because he “didn’t like some things going on in the District Attorney’s office then.”

He said a rise in crime “seems to be a trend nationwide” because of a “decline in values.”

Next the forum turned to the races for the state Legislature, starting with House District 50. In that race, incumbent Matthew McQueen will face Republican Jeremy Tremko in the General Election. Another candidate, Andrew Homer, was not qualified to appear on the ballot by the Secretary of State. Tremko sued for his place on the ballot, according to reporting by The New Mexican after McQueen challenged most of the names on Tremko’s petition. Tremko prevailed. Both were at the event.

Tremko sued for his place on the ballot, according to reporting by The New Mexican after McQueen challenged most of the names on Tremko’s petition. Tremko prevailed. Both were at the event.

Tremko is a 29-year old from Moriarty, where he owns a martial arts business. He said he is a combat veteran of the Iraq war, having served nine years in the Army.

Candidates for the position were asked what the state can do about its budgetary reliance on the oil and gas industry, and for their opinion about the Second Amendment.

Tremko said coal mining “as long as it’s done environmentally soundly” is not an issue.

“I believe in the Second Amendment,” Tremko said. “If you follow the laws and want to carry a gun, that’s your right.”

McQueen said he is a lawyer who lives in Galisteo. He said as a minority in the state House “not much got done.”

He said he is in favor of eminent domain reform and ethics reform. “Once convicted of a crime, you should be off the state payroll,” he said, to applause from the audience.

McQueen said the state should diversify its economy to reduce dependence on oil and gas, citing the “huge potential” for renewable energy to create good jobs.

He said he believes in the Second Amendment, calling it a “restricted right,” and adding that he does support certain restrictions on gun ownership.

From there, the forum moved on to the state Senate District 39 race. The seat was formerly held by Phil Griego, who resigned abruptly just before the end of the 2015 legislative session. That led to an appointment by Gov. Susana Martinez of Ted Barela, formerly mayor of Estancia, to replace him.

Barela is unopposed in the Republican primary, and was not present at the event.

There are four Democrats running for that seat: former Santa Fe County Commissioner Mike Anaya, who represented the southern part of the county; current Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics, from Cerrillos; Ambrose Castellano, from Las Vegas; and Harold “Spike” Murphree, who lives in the East Mountains.

Castellano was not at the event, but Tillie Herrera spoke on his behalf, saying he is “a good family man and smart,” and adding that he has visited the area several times.

Murphree went next, saying that his concerns include “water, or a lack thereof,” transparency in state government and education. He said students need “less testing and more teaching, more learning.”

He said he spent 28 years in the armed services.

Murphree also favors diversifying the state’s economy through development of renewable energy. He said he is for background checks at gun shows, and concealed carry with a permit.

He said education is an investment that would allow the state to “get out in front of our labor needs” later on.

Liz Stefanics said she lives near Cerrillos, on a dirt road, and in a home with a well and septic system. She moved to New Mexico in 1982 to teach at the University of New Mexico, and made a career in health services.

She spoke in favor of “growing jobs one at a time,” and getting broadband internet to every community in the state, as well as “local authority back to the school boards and not having the state running schools.”


Liz Stefanics spoke in favor of “growing jobs one at a time,” and getting broadband internet to every community in the state, as well as “local authority back to the school boards and not having the state running schools.”


She brought up health services and increased funding to senior centers, and spoke in favor of background checks foor gun sales. She said the state should tap into the Land Grand Permanent Fund for early and pre-k education, and should look at hemp farming “and maybe legalizing marijuana.”

Mike Anaya took the floor, reminiscing about a childhood visit to Mountainair. He said he was born and raised in Galisteo, and carrying on the work his father, Joe Anaya, had started in the community, like the first water system in the village.

He said what he learned as a Santa Fe County commissioner and working in the State Land Office under Ray Powell would help him in navigating the Legislature.

He said the area could “tie in to the Sun Zia Line,” a renewable energy transmission project between Arizona and Corona, to generate revenue.

Anaya said he believes in the Second Amendment, gun safety and hunter safety, and said he has a concealed carry permit. “There are things we need to do if we want to have a weapon,” he said.


Anaya said he believes in the Second Amendment, gun safety and hunter safety, and said he has a concealed carry permit. “There are things we need to do if we want to have a weapon,” he said.


He also brought up senior services, clean water and roads as important issues, along with access to public lands and veterans’ services. He said the state should tap into the Land Grant Permanent Fund for education. He said it’s a “rainy day” fund, adding, “It’s raining in New Mexico.”

A few audience members stuck around after the forum, and gave their opinions on the event to The Independent.

“Everybody was for transparency,” said Cora Howard. “This tells me this is what we need more than anything. Howard defined transparency as “where the money comes from, where does it go?”

She said she appreciated the cooperation between the county’s Democrat and Republican parties, and praised the discourse. “I was impressed by the fact that three or four honed in on education of our children,” Howard said. “I think that’s a weak point in this area. … It definitely needs some attention.”

The cooperative forum is “something I wish we would do more of,” said Cindy Hollenberg of Abo. She said the event pointed out that “there are issues and values common to both.”

Howard said she heard a lot of talking about transparency, but not about “what are you going to do to be accountable,” adding, “Rarely is anything specific offered.”


Howard said she heard a lot of talking about transparency, but not about “what are you going to do to be accountable,” adding, “Rarely is anything specific offered.”


By transparency she said she was referring to campaign disclosure laws, chiefly, asking, “Where is the funding coming from?” and “How is the money being spent?”

She said Torrance County’s commission is not open, saying, citizens are not allowed to speak. “People were shut down, and that needs to change.”

She said if commissioners are not listening, they aren’t doing their jobs.

Jan Eshleman said she lives west of Mountainair, and wondered why the “primary qualification” for elected office in New Mexico “is they are born and raised here.”

She said those who move to the area by choice are just as vested and just as interested in the local governance. “I moved here because I love the state, love the mountains,” she said. “I came here by choice.”

Eshleman said there aren’t enough bipartisan events, adding, “And I was disappointed in the candidates that didn’t show—the same ones I’ve never seen show up anywhere, and that speaks volumes. If I’m not worth your time, you’re not worth my vote.”