SANTA ROSA — There were a lot of interesting outcomes in last week’s municipal elections, all over the state. I thought the one I covered up close and personally was exceptional, but it turns out there were plenty of others.
My first experience covering a Santa Rosa election was quite an introduction. It was a dirty one, in which familial feuds and longstanding divisions bubbled to the surface, topped by a lopsided forum in which one faction—the winning one, it turned out—refused to attend, while a secretly recorded video recording and imagined threats served to muddy the facts and cloud the issues even more.
A mere 21 votes brought down seasoned politician Jose Campos in the mayor’s race. Political newcomer Nelson Kotiar rode into office with majority control, since the two council candidates he campaigned with also won. Now they have the 3-2 vote they need to make all kinds of changes, and that’s filled half the town with excitement and half with dread.
As close as that race was, others were even closer. In Lordsburg, Robert Barrera won by only 13 votes over second-place finisher Glenda Green. In Edgewood 20 votes separated two candidates.
And in Taos Ski Valley, the margin for mayor couldn’t get any more narrow. Voters in this northern New Mexico ski resort elected a new mayor by a single vote—of 83 total votes cast, 41 went to councilor Christof Brownell, while incumbent mayor Neal King garnered 40 votes. Brownell compared it to “winning a close ski race by a second.”
Also up in ski country, Red River’s voters did something notable—they voted in a write-in candidate. I can’t remember the last time I saw a write-in actually win an election, but that’s what 31-year-old Sloan Covington, owner of Red River Angler and Sport, did. Despite the fact that his name wasn’t on the ballot, he managed to get his name written on to more than a third of the total ballots cast—129 times out of the 356 votes cast—to secure himself a spot on the town council.
Then there were the grudge matches, like the one in Vaughn. Thomas Owens, a former fire chief who was fired last year after being accused of stealing an iPod out of a car that had been involved in a fatal accident, decided to attempt a comeback by taking on Mayor Roman Garcia head-to-head.
When Owens was ousted as fire chief, a lot of the volunteer firefighters went with him, pretty much gutting the fire department’s personnel. But the support for Chief Owens had did not grow into much for Candidate Owens, and Garcia enjoyed a 144-53 landslide victory on Election Day.
Over in Roswell, it took a little less than 40 percent of the total vote to put Roswell’s Dennis Kintigh back in for another term as mayor, thanks in part to a four-person field of candidates. Combined, the two premiere progressives in the race, former mayor Del Jurney and councilor Natasha Mackey, pulled in 2,766 votes, but the conservative Kintigh, a former FBI agent who has alienated his share of Roswell residents, handily won re-election with all he needed, a plurality of 1,924 votes.
Once again, the lack of a runoff, which few New Mexico municipalities have, means that a majority doesn’t have to decide an election. That certainly served to Kintigh’s advantage.
What happened in Roswell’s mayoral election stands in stark contrast to what happened in Española’s, where political newcomer Javier Sanchez won a clear majority in a three-person race.
Sanchez got 54 percent of the vote by besting, not one, but two sitting council members. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that one a mandate for change.
In Carrizozo, however, not only was change rejected in the mayor’s race, but an outstanding criminal charge was ignored. Richard Hyatt is facing an “indecency with a child” charge in El Paso that goes back to 2014 (the case has been continued several times since then, so it’s still pending a verdict). The Lincoln County News reported the case a month before the election, but in the end it didn’t matter, as Hyatt won election with a 59 percent majority.
That’s an example of something I noticed in this election cycle: Things that would’ve wrecked a campaign in the past are now unimportant to voters.
Tom McDonald is founder of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and owns The Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.