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Rio Rancho, Santa Fe voters heading to the polls

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Voters in several cities across the state – including Santa Fe and Rio Rancho – will go to the polls today to elect new leaders.

The campaigns in the City Different have featured heated contests among three well-known candidates, with more than twice as many Santa Feans voting early than in the last mayor’s race four years ago.

One of the biggest issues is the participation of outside groups, which have spent more than $50,000 supporting Javier Gonzales, former county commissioner and former chair of the state Democratic Party.

Also running is City Councilor Patti Bushee, who has served on the council for 20 years and lost in the mayoral election in 2002, and Bill Dimas, a former magistrate and police officer who has staked out a position as the most conservative candidate in the field.

The 2014 campaign is the first Santa Fe mayor’s race taking place under the new public campaign financing system, where $60,000 was distributed to each candidate provided he or she met certain start-up requirements and then agreed to forgo accepting any additional private contributions.

However, two pro-Gonzales political action committees and Working America, based in Washington, D.C., have poured money into the race.

Gonzales’ opponents and the Common Cause good government group have criticized the PAC spending as defeating the purpose of public campaign financing, intended to “level the playing field” and keep big money out of local races.

As of Monday, Working America, a national AFL-CIO affiliate, had spent over $27,800 on Gonzales’ behalf; the Santa Fe Working Families PAC – with most of its money from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and whose treasurer is an Albuquerque political consultant – reported spending $26,664; and the Progressive Santa Fe PAC had spent $3,257.

Dimas has been a lone wolf during the campaign, opting out of all public candidate forums. He also has separated himself from the others by advocating for placing a cap on the minimum wage and criticizing the City Council’s penchant for taking positions on topics like gay marriage.

Meanwhile, voters in Rio Rancho will choose among four candidates in that mayoral race. Candidates consist of former mayors Jim Owen and Mike Williams, and political newcomers R. Morgan Braden and Gregg Hull. Braden is a business owner and emergency medical technician; Hull is a former business owner. Owen runs a business and Williams, a city councilor for 12 years, is retired from a career in law enforcement.

Rio Rancho’s mayor chairs City Council meetings, votes to break a tie, represents the city in intergovernmental relationships and makes various appointments subject to council approval. The city manager oversees the daily operations of the city, working with the council, the policy-making body.

Mayor Tom Swisstack announced in September he would not seek re-election.

Rio Rancho voters also will elect three city councilors positions and a municipal judge.

City council District 2 incumbent Patty Thomas is stepping down. Sandra Atwood, an insurance agent, Darlene Collins, who runs a consulting business and is a former officer in the U.S. Air Force, and Dawnn Robinson, a business owner and former U.S. Army officer, are vying to replace her.

In District 3, incumbent Tamara Gutierrez, an Intel human resources staffer, is facing a challenge from Cheryl Everett, who has held positions in sales, marketing and local government administrations.

Tim Crum, the incumbent in District 5, has three opponents: Thomas Buckner, Paul Howell and Shelby Smith. Crum works in state government and is a U.S. Navy veteran; Buckner is retired from a career in banking and finance; Howell is a local business owner; and Smith is a retired Rio Rancho police officer and fitness business owner.

The municipal judge race pits incumbent G. Robert Cook against Jeffrey Goen and Ramon Montaño.

Bernalillo and Corrales are also holding municipal elections today.

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