Political signs at center of land grant controversy

This sign for candidate Gregg Schmedes was placed without permission of the Cañon de Carnué Land Grant, according to its president, who said his opponent, Jessica Velasquez, did get permission to place signs there. Photo by Leota Harriman.

In a story that has garnered some national attention, the husband of a candidate for the state House of Representatives took down her opponent’s sign—in what the president of the Cañon de Carnué Land Grant says is a dispute over trespassing on private property.

Aaron Velasquez was filmed by a hidden camera placed by the campaign for Gregg Schmedes—who is facing Jessica Velasquez in the race for the District 22 seat in the House—removing a Schmedes sign. Aaron Velasquez was asked to remove the sign by Moises Gonzales, land grant president.

That video was shared on social media by Schmedes.

Gonzales told The Independent that the issue is not the campaign signs themselves; he said that both Democratic and Republican candidates for Bernalillo County sheriff and county commission have signs up on land grant property.

For Gonzales, it is an issue of respect for the private property of the land grant, where he said the sign Aaron Velasquez pulled down was located.

While Schmedes maintains that the sign was not placed on land grant property, Gonzales said county maps “are just flat out wrong.”

Schmedes said he asked permission from the principal of Roosevelt Middle School and “looked at county maps.” He said he has since spoken with a past president of the Carnué Land Grant: “He assures me it’s not a big deal,” Schmedes said, adding, “This is partisan.”

Gonzales does think it’s a big deal, and on Monday filed a police report with Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies alleging trespassing.

Carnué Land Grant president Moises Gonzales pointing to the boundary of the land grant on a map. Photo by Leota Harriman.

“The fact that somebody would jump over a fence into land grant land and put cameras there is bizarre and very disturbing,” Gonzales said, adding that he intends to file an ethics complaint against Schmedes, who was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to fill out the term of the Dist. 22 position left vacant by Jim Smith.

Smith is currently running for re-election to the county commission against Charlene Pyskoty; both have campaign signs up on land grant property after getting permission, Gonzales said.

Smith had been appointed to finish the vacant position of Wayne Johnson, who was appointed state auditor by Martinez.

“If [land grant representatives] had ever contacted me, out of respect I would take it down,” Schmedes said.

Asked if he feels responsible for placement of campaign signs bearing his name, Schmedes responded that anybody, including someone working for his political rival, could have placed a sign on land grant property.

His opponent in the Republican primary election this summer, Merritt Hamilton Allen, said in a Facebook post that the Schmedes campaign had placed signs on private property without permission in that race as well, an assertion that Schmedes denied.

Asked why he hasn’t called Gonzales to ask permission, Schmedes answered, “At this point, I don’t have an interest or a need of putting up a sign on land grant property.” He added, “I want to move forward and represent the land grants to the best of my ability.” Schmedes said he “made plans to meet with land grant folks after the election.”

Gonzales acknowledged “sensitivity” on the part of the land grant’s governing board about encroachment onto land grant property—describing an issue that goes back a hundred years or more.

Originally a grant of 90,000 acres, the Cañon de Carnué Land Grant now occupies about 2,000 acres, with about half of that territory taken up by road easements for N.M. 337, Old Route 66 and Interstate 40. The campus of the now-combined Roosevelt Middle School and A. Montoya Elementary School also fall within that territory, Gonzales said.

While the land grant posts signs along its boundaries marking it as private property, “people always throw those down,” Gonzales said, adding that people also move fence lines and squat on land grant property.

This sign is on land grant property, according to president Moises Gonzales. Candidate Gregg Schmedes says it is not.

“Even the school or the village of Tijeras, they think they have a roadway they assume is public easement right of way, but it’s not. We have a patent from 1901, signed by Theodore Roosevelt,” Gonzales said. “That’s where the sensitivity comes.”

Gonzales said that only Schmedes has not asked permission to put his signs up. “One candidate refuses to ask permission, and is now antagonistic in the way he is treating us.”

The land grant is a political entity akin to a municipality or county, Gonzales explained, with a governing body. That body is united in its opposition to trespassing on land grant property, he said.

“The only reason I was there [taking down the sign] was I was asked to be there,” Aaron Velasquez said.

“Aaron was asked to take down the sign and he did. … The whole situation, in my opinion, is a big distraction from the bigger fish we have to fry in this race,” Jessica Velasquez said. “We ought to be talking about education, about economic development, about issues.”

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