While Torrance County’s first district county commission seat is a crowded field, District 2 has two candidates, both Republicans, meaning the contest is effectively decided by the primary election June 5.
The race pits incumbent Julia DuCharme against challenger Ryan Schwebach, a third-generation farmer in the Estancia Valley.
DuCharme is originally from Turkmenistan, and has been a U.S. citizen since 2008. Six years later, in 2014, she ran for public office for the first time, and was elected to the Torrance County Commission; she is currently its chair.
Schwebach has been on the board of the East Torrance Soil & Water Conservation District for the past 10 years, an elected position, and currently serves as its chair.
Julia DuCharme said she first got involved with politics by attending county commission meetings with her husband. “I observed how the county commission at that time represented the people in Torrance County, and I felt that District 2 residents didn’t have adequate representation—I felt that residents were ignored and not taken seriously.”
She decided to run for office, and was elected. DuCharme said she ran on a platform of open government and transparency, and believes the county has made progress.
DuCharme points to public comment at meetings, which when she was elected was offered at the end of meetings, a point of contention for members of the public who wished to comment on items before the commission. Public comment is now allowed at the beginning of meetings, along with during the commission’s consideration of issues; she said it’s much easier to get an item added to the agenda as well, and that minutes of those meetings are more detailed.
In addition, DuCharme points to staffing changes, including a new county manager, new fire chief, new procurement officer and new human resources director. “They are all making needed changes here,” she said.
Other priorities include law enforcement, the fire department and roads, she said. “Everyone who has approached me, I tried to help as much as I could,” she said of her time in office. “I think right now we have a good team in the county and I just want to continue, and ensure we don’t go back to what we had before.”
DuCharme said the county has changed course for the better, and said her experience will allow her to be effective if re-elected. “When I started, my focus was just to inform the public how county government works, and that’s what I was doing. Now, I want to continue this, but also I would like to go through every policy we have in the county and see what kind of improvements we can make there.”
One change she would like to see is a road maintenance plan that is “proactive and not reactive.”
DuCharme said the county should continue to work with the Estancia Valley Economic Development Association, or EVEDA, to bring businesses and jobs into the area.
“As county commissioners, our responsibility is to set a policy and almost every time businesses were in front of the commission I voted in favor of those businesses to be there.” At the same time, she said a recent job fair was poorly attended by applicants. “If somebody comes in front of the commission with an initiative that would help the community improve the workforce, I would favor that.”
Asked about obstacles facing the county, DuCharme said she would like to see more community involvement and input in the county. “I think the first step is to inform them about the importance of the decisions the county commission makes and how those decisions affect them directly.”
Asked if she has ever been convicted of a crime, DuCharme answered, “No, ma’am.”
She finished, “I just want to let Torrance County residents know that I am committed to my constituents. I want to do the best job for them and I want to continue the reforms we have started for the county—and I’m asking for their vote and their support.”
Ryan Schwebach said he decided to run for office after being asked for many years to do it. With boys now age 12, 10 and 4, he said he was reluctant.
“I feel I have some very unique talents I can bring to the table, and so I chose to do it,” Schwebach said. “When I was younger, … the entire valley worked together. I’ve watched Albuquerque grow and openly treat us as a bedroom community and nothing more. All of us have to be on the same page with many things. … We have to stop fighting each other.”
Schwebach said he feels that being third-generation in the Estancia Valley is a strength he brings to the table. “I feel I can facilitate that unity, so to speak.”
He said he wanted to be more than a “county road commissioner,” adding that the position is to “be a leader in entrepreneurship, economics, morals, all of it.”
That doesn’t mean that roads would not be a priority, Schwebach said. He would prioritize roads where they would benefit economic development—which would raise the county’s income overall, and free up money for roads.
Schwebach also said that his agricultural experience with large equipment means he can find ways to save money in the road department.
He said he would also look for grants. “It’s a huge issue, and I don’t have all the answers. I’m pretty confident in my knowledge of machinery, and I feel we can stretch that dollar a lot further than now.”
At age 42, Schwebach said he feels his age is an asset. “I have kids in school. … My parents started me very young. They were instrumental in a lot of growth. The advantage to being a 42-year-old is it will start bringing my generation up to the task.”
Schwebach said that he would expect more people around his age to step up. “Those old school guys are ready to step down and they’re waiting for somebody to step up.”
Building the economic base in the Estancia Valley is a priority, Schwebach said, because “that helps with crime, that helps with drugs, that helps with schools. … Economics is the key to start turning a lot of things around.”
He also supports the work of EVEDA. “I think EVEDA is doing a great job, and I think the rest of the community needs to back them.”
Schwebach said a county commissioner should be paying attention to school boards, other local governments, and state elected officials. “I want our representatives on speed dial, and I would expect to talk to them on a weekly basis.”
Being a businessman in agriculture, Schwebach said he has to be able to “shift gears on an hourly basis,” adding, “that’s how my mind works—that’s how I’m wired.”
Asked if he has ever been convicted of a crime, Schwebach said, “I had speeding tickets, and when I was a minor I got popped for shoplifting at $2.50 pen at Walmart.” He said he was 16 and got probation.
Asked about his priorities, Schwebach said he wrestles with the question. “I would like to give you a long list, but I’m reluctant simply because it comes across as promises.” But he went on to say that reopening the prison facility in Estancia, roads and solid waste are important.
The biggest obstacle the county faces is its finances, Schwebach said.
He favors a regional approach to economic development, with each community in the area playing on its strengths rather than fighting over businesses. “I’m not going to fight you for a Walmart—that’s bullshit.” Each town has a unique character that it should build on, he said.
“When all is said and done, I’m coming in to work hard, and I don’t stop,” he finished.