It’s been a long time since state Rep. Nick Salazar, age 89, hasn’t been on the ballot in northern New Mexico.
But come primary voting day, June 5, voters in his House District 40 – which in its current configuration sprawls across a largely rural area from the outskirts of Española in Rio Arriba County north and east to include Mora, Springer, Cimarron, Eagle Nest and even a small stretch of the Colorado state line – will have to pick someone new.
After 46 years, Salazar, of Ohkay Owingeh, is finally stepping down from his House seat. Three candidates – two from Rio Arriba and one from the district’s eastern portion on the other side of the Sangre de Cristos – are vying to replace him.
The candidates are Mora Commissioner Paula Garcia, of Mora, executive director of the New Mexico Acequia Association; Rio Arriba Commissioner Barney Trujillo, of Chimayó; and Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, former CEO of Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative and now an engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The House 40 race has flown somewhat under the radar – especially compared to the bitter race in adjacent House District 46 between incumbent Rep. Carl Trujillo, who faces a legislative investigation over allegations of sexual harassment, and Andrea Romero, whose handling of travel reimbursements at a publicly funded agency has come under fire.
Garcia emphasizes her advocacy for acequias and her experience ushering bills related to that work and water issues through the Legislature, and her work on the Mora commission, where she and the other current commissioners have found a way to finish an incomplete county administrative and courts building they inherited and that stood for years as an empty shell.
Sanchez touts his work at the Jemez electric co-op, which he said is the state’s largest, with 30,000 customers, and that he’s overseen management of projects with budgets of millions of dollars. “I did a lot for the cooperative in a short time and my hope now is to help at the state level,” he said.
And Trujillo, who formerly worked as an assistant at the New Mexico State Land Office, said his strength is getting community projects done and establishing community services, citing a park in Chimayó he pushed for as a county commissioner. He said it would be a privilege to do the same for other communities in District 40.
But there’s also some friction and controversy in the race for Salazar’s seat.
Trujillo maintains that Sanchez is the “hand-picked” candidate of Ohkay Owingeh. Trujillo said he’s been “a thorn in the pueblo’s side” over issues such as water rights and calls Ohkay Owingeh a “money-making machine” thanks to government contracts, and state and federal appropriations.
“I will be an advocate for all the people,” said Trujillo.
Sanchez acknowledged that he’s been endorsed by Ohkay Owingeh and has received campaign money from the pueblo that he says represents about 2 percent of what he’s raised. But he said he’s also been endorsed by many others, including the National Education Association teacher’s union and the Building Trades Council.
If elected, he’d serve “the entire district, not one area over the other,” he said.
Garcia isn’t part of this argument. She says she has something to contribute at the Roundhouse thanks to a combination of grassroots experience, her knowledge of the legislative process and her special expertise on water issues.
Attorney general’s probe
Trujillo, who is completing his second term on the Rio Arriba commission, ran unsuccessfully against Salazar in 2016. The race came as the state Attorney General’s Office appeared to be targeting Trujillo with a criminal investigation.
The AG’s Office used the state Inspection of Public Records Act to seek documents from Rio Arriba County related to projects for which Trujillo had been under press scrutiny, including the Chimayó park Trujillo championed. Its construction led to charges against a local contractor, brought by the state Construction Industries Division, for contracting without a license.
The AG’s office later filed suit against Española Public Schools seeking more documents, including some related to Trujillo and his marketing company, which was given a $50,000-a-year, no-bid marketing contract with the school district.
Then, in January 2017, investigators from the AG’s office raided Trujillo’s Chimayó house. The office never commented on what it was looking for.
But asked about the status of the case this week, James Hallinan, spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas, said, “This is a highly active investigation, however I cannot provide any other updates at this time.”
Trujillo said no one has ever informed him about anything he’s been accused of and that the only time he’s spoken to anyone with the AG’s office was when the officers came to his house. “Last I checked, we do live in America and I’ve never been informed of what I’ve actually done wrong,” he said.
And despite the “hoopla” over the Chimayó park, he said, there’s never been a negative audit finding about it and it’s now “an incredible place” where families gather to have a good time.
When interviewed about the House 40 race, neither Sanchez nor Garcia brought up the AG’s investigative work on Trujillo.
Trujillo had raised $4,180 for his campaign by the end of the most recent reporting period on May 14. His biggest contribution came from Angie Trujillo of Chimayó, a school bus driver who contributed $1,300. He also received $800 from Wray Ortiz of Ortiz Gallery in Chimayó, and $500 apiece from Albuquerque resident Ashley Gonzales and the PNM Responsible Citizens Group.
Sanchez had received just shy of $50,000 in contributions. His largest contributions came from retirees Brenda Salazar, of Española, who gave $2,500, the maximum allowed, and Anna Salazar, of Alcalde, who contributed $2,000. He also received contributions of $1,000 apiece from Z4 Enterprises, Inc., in Alcarde; the Committee to Elect Richard Martinez, a state senator from Española; and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.
Garcia had raised a little more than $25,000. Her biggest contributor was the liberal Enchantment PAC, based in Albuquerque, which gave $1,250. The next highest contributor was Santa Fe retiree Tom Farrell, who contributed $1,200. Harold Trujillo, an engineer from Chacon, gave $750. Las Vegas farmer Tony Gallegos, Guadalupita retiree Betsy Bloch and the Albuquerque political action committee Justice for America each gave $500.
POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic
OCCUPATION: Executive Director, NM Acequia Association
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Mora
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Mora County Commissioner for two terms, 6 years as chairwoman (current); executive director of New Mexico Acequia Association for 20 years; president of NM Association of Counties; chairwoman of the USDA Minority Farmers Advisory Committee.
EDUCATION: Some college, undergraduate studies at University of New Mexico.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: paulagarcia.com
POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic
OCCUPATION: One Stop Operator — Northern Area; Local Workforce Development Board
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Chimayó
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Chairman, Rio Arriba County Commission; vice-chair, Regional Coalition of LANL Communities; former public relations assistant at New Mexico State Land Office.
EDUCATION: St. Michael’s High School; attended New Horizons learning center and UNM continuing education multimedia development.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: barneytrujillo.com
Joseph Louis Sanchez
POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic
OCCUPATION: Electrical engineer
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Alcalde
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: I bring over 15 years of executive management and technical experience in the energy sector, and in the construction and operation of nuclear facilities for waste and research operations. My professional work includes: engineering manager, LANL Engineering Services Division; electrical engineer in support of LANL construction and operation programs; and CEO of Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative, Inc.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Mexico; two master’s degrees, one in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Mexico and one in Business Administration from New Mexico State University.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: josephsanchezfornm.com
House District 40 Democratic candidates
VIEWS ON TOP ISSUES
1. What are the top two things you would do to improve the economy in New Mexico?
GARCIA: First, we need to improve educational and economic opportunities for youth and young families. Education, from pre-K through college and university, should be better funded and aligned with economic development opportunities in the state. Secondly, we need to diversify our economy with home-grown industries in renewable energy, high-tech and value-added agriculture.
TRUJILLO: Invest in our local homegrown businesses curtailing/offsetting economic leakage, which is the import of products into New Mexico that we could otherwise produce for ourselves. This would greatly benefit our rural communities. Also, workforce development. We cannot grow our local businesses or recruit out-of-state industry without a quality workforce.
SANCHEZ: Support the Office of the State Engineer/Interstate Stream Commission effort to help the 16 Regional Water Planning regions update their water plans. Without adequate water infrastructure, NM can’t address the many other water needs. We need to expand broadband infrastructure to rural areas for both education purposes and economic development.
2. Do you support or oppose legalizing recreational marijuana use in New Mexico and taxing its sales?
GARCIA: I support medicinal cannabis and I support decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis. I would consider legislation on legalization and taxation based on data on successful implementation from other states, including economic and public health impacts.
TRUJILLO: Yes, I support. We have to regulate and tax properly, preferably at a lower tax rate, to help creative a competitive advantage over our neighboring state.
SANCHEZ: I fully support medical use and am open to supporting recreational marijuana if the pros outweigh the cons. We can look at other states with similar demographics and their impact with recreational marijuana.
3. Do you support or oppose raising New Mexico’s minimum wage, currently $7.50 per hour? If so, by how much?
GARCIA: Increasing the minimum wage is one of the most direct ways to support working families. I support increasing the minimum wage in New Mexico to $10 per hour by 2020 and $13 by 2023 to bring New Mexico in line with Colorado and Arizona.
TRUJILLO: I would advocate for $10.00 an hour.
SANCHEZ: I support a raise of the minimum wage in New Mexico. The number determined should not have a negative impact on our small businesses. Basic economics tells us when money moves, the economy moves.
4. Do you favor making New Mexico a sanctuary state?
GARCIA: Being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime. If a law enforcement agent detains an immigrant who is cleared of criminal activity, that person should not be detained by local or state law enforcement for federal immigration authorities. This is often referred to as “safe cities” or “sanctuary.”
5. What would you support to make New Mexico schools safer? Would that include changing New Mexico’s gun laws? If so, what specific changes to the gun laws would you support?
GARCIA: I support school safety measures including improved security, surveillance, and centralized ingress and egress. I support common sense gun laws, such as closing loopholes on background checks, requiring waiting periods, regulating assault rifles, limiting the number of weapons purchased at one time and keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
TRUJILLO: We need to set a standard for school security and surveillance. For all schools to stay monitored properly. Right now, I don’t believe it is necessary to change our gun laws.
SANCHEZ: We need to give schools the resources to identify red flags that may not easily be identified with students that have potential issues. Also limit gun access for people with permanent protective orders from domestic violence incidents.
Get a more complete overview
To see the candidates’ answers to all of the Journal’s issues questions, go to abqjournal.com and click on the Voter Guide icon under Editor’s Picks.