Two familiar names are facing off in the race for Torrance County Commission District 3, representing the southern area of the county, including the town of Mountainair.
The incumbent is Democrat Javier Sanchez, who has held the position since 2016, and is seeking a second term. Sanchez is up against Republican LeRoy Candelaria, who served in the seat from 2004 to 2008, and again from 2012 to 2016.
Asked why they are running for the office, Candelaria said, “I like politics, and I think I can do good,” while Sanchez responded, “Because there’s much work left to be done.”
The Independent interviewed both on their positions and priorities if elected to the office.
Sanchez rattled off several priorities when asked which accomplishments in office he would point to, saying he ran in 2016 as a “change candidate” and remains one today.
He said he wants to continue work on issues that have been a priority for him during the past four years, including creation of an EMS station in Willard; a push to expand the commission from three to five members; the county’s contract with the Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority; fostering relationships with state legislators to increase capital outlay allocations; planning of an Estancia Valley Heritage Center in Estancia; a land grant advisory council; expansion of renewable energy; and creation of milestones and goals for the road department.
Sanchez said that “while at times I feel I’ve been treated pretty roughly for wanting to bring change, what galvanizes me is we have tremendous support.”
He said changes in the county have been a result of coalitions between parties that include the county, towns and land grant communities.
Sanchez would like to see a regional EMS Center based in Willard: “I’d really like to see that thing be a hub for EMS services in the region,” he said, adding that he would like the county to build a helicopter pad, and add another ambulance and more paid staff.
An Estancia Valley Heritage Center is something Sanchez envisions as “tourism based economic development strategy for Estancia and the entire region as a whole” using an “integrated marketing system at the regional level.”
Sanchez said he would pursue continued evaluation of the county’s contract with Estancia Valley Solid Waste Authority, and said he would “very much oppose any increases in [solid waste disposal] rates.”
Sanchez said that as a commissioner, he has “been able to build effective partnerships with legislators,” resulting in a 40% increase in capital outlay to his district, including some that had “not received capital outlay for 50 years, or not at all.” He added, “Bringing capital outlay to these communities is going to be key for bringing forward their vision for themselves.”
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Sanchez answered, “No.”
Asked why people should vote for him, Sanchez answered, “If you’re interested in positive change for the county, if you’re interested in the voice of the people being heard, if you’re interested in grassroots development of ideas, that kind of government, you should vote for me. I’m interested in helping the communities identify a vision for themselves, and then of course realize that vision.”
Candelaria said if elected, “I would like to take a look at how the finances are in the county, and make sure we can sustain ourselves.” He said with coronavirus, “monies are tight everywhere across the state,” adding that he wants to make sure Torrance County has the money to “continue doing the services they are supposed to do.”
One of the biggest issues facing the county now, Candelaria said, is “an unfunded mandate for police” in the form of a body camera mandate for law enforcement in New Mexico. “We don’t know how that’s going to affect the county [financially],” he said.
Candelaria talked about economic development in the county including hemp, which he said he is “leery” of. “I’m just concerned,” he said. “I know it’s pretty popular and everything else. I’d like to see more numbers and projections on the future of it, a year or two more to study it and see where it’s going and see from there.” He said he also wonders about water usage for growing the crop. “It’s a closed basin and we don’t have recharge from rivers or anything else, and our snowfalls have been kind of light.”
On water issues, Candelaria said the county should partner with the Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other organizations including EBRA, the Estancia Basin Resource Association, and advocacy group that sprang up in the county during an attempt to export water from the Estancia Basin to Santa Fe. Candelaria sits on the board of the Claunch-Pinto Soil and Water Conservation District and EBRA.
He also favors “getting involved with the State Engineer more” and membership in organizations like the Mid-Region Council of Governments, or MRCOG; as a commissioner he represented the county on the MRCOG board. He said “if you’re there all the time at those meetings” opportunities arise for the county.
In terms of economic development, Candelaria said Torrance County should promote itself. “The railroad runs through Mountainair, double track.” Another idea is promoting the area as a nice place to retire. “I see more retirement moving into the county. That could be economic development, … still a form of providing some kind of jobs in the county.”
To attract people to the county, “We need to make them feel safe,” he said, adding, “We have to make the county look clean, presentable. We have to be proactive.”
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Candelaria answered, “Nope.”
Asked why people should vote for him, Candelaria said, “I just want them to vote for me if they’re comfortable to vote for me. Who I am is who I am, and that’s it. I’ll answer any questions they have for me—they may not like the answer, but I’ll give them an answer. … I’ll do the best job I can. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.”