LOS ALAMOS – Both candidates running for the House District 43 seat in the state Legislature say they came to live in New Mexico because they saw it as an adventure.
“I grew up in the East and wanted to do something different. I viewed it as an adventure to come to New Mexico,” said Christine Chandler, who won the Democratic nomination by beating fellow Los Alamos County councilor Peter Sheehey in the June primary election.
A native of Northampton, Mass., Chandler started clerking for the Montgomery & Andrews law firm in Santa Fe in 1984, spent a few years lawyering there, then embarked on a long career as an in-house attorney at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
It’s been quite a ride.
“To be able to live in a small town, a small state environment and work on complex issues – sometimes national issues, sometimes high-profile issues that would have a huge impact on not just the state, but the country as a whole – what an exciting thing for a lawyer to be able to do. It’s been almost an ideal job, and I enjoyed it tremendously,” said Chandler, who retired from the lab in 2013.
Lisa Shin, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, arrived in Santa Fe in 1997 fresh out of optometry school, accepting an internship at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital. She’s originally from suburban Atlanta.
“I just thought, wow, I’ve never been to New Mexico,” she said. “I just thought it would be an exciting adventure. For three months, why not just check it out.”
That was nearly 20 years ago. Los Alamos caught her eye, and up the hill she went. “I knew this would be a great place to build a practice – people were very friendly, it was safe, good education system, the quality of life up here. There are a lot of engineers and scientists, so they all need glasses,” she said with a laugh.
Both candidates have lived happy lives in Los Alamos. They each met their lab employee husbands here. Shin has a nearly 10-year-old daughter, and Chandler has three stepchildren.
Now, their dual adventures have taken them to a duel for the House District 43 seat vacated by Stephanie Garcia Richard, who is running for state Land Commissioner. The district encompasses Los Alamos County, and parts of Sandoval, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties, including the communities of La Cienega, Jemez Springs and Cuba. It is considered a swing district in the House, where Democrats hold a 38-32 advantage over Republicans.
‘I can bring them in’
Shin says she didn’t become active in local politics until about five years ago, helping out Republican candidates leading up to the 2014 election.
But Shin quickly made it to the GOP’s national stage, literally, when she was asked to speak on behalf of then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump at the Republican National Convention in July 2016.
“I think the fact that I’m an ethnic minority, I’m the daughter of immigrants, and I was there supporting Trump, that really caught their attention,” said Shin. Her parents came from South Korea.
Shin admits she played the race card, the woman card, and the small-business owner card in lobbying the state Republican Party to be selected as a national convention delegate.
“I was aggressive about it. I called 700 people and wrote follow-up letters to 700 people. I took it really serious,” she said. “I told them, ‘You know what? We need minority representation. We need to reach out to everybody. We need new people, and I can bring them in.’ ”
And it worked. She was chosen as a delegate and separately picked by the Trump campaign to speak on his behalf. She was introduced as “the head of Korean Americans 4 Trump,” what she describes as “a loosely organized grassroots-driven social media group” that created a webpage and Twitter account. “We all kind of found each other,” she said.
In her less-than five minute speech in Cleveland, she told the story of her parents immigrating to this country because “they knew America was an exceptional and generous country where immigrants could become American citizens, participate in democracy and live the American dream.”
It wasn’t easy for them, she said. Her family made sacrifices in pursuit of that dream “and they never imagined their daughter would be speaking to you today,” she said, then exclaiming, “This is the beauty of the American dream! To do and to be the unimaginable!”
She went on to disparage Hillary Clinton before concluding that only Trump would ensure a prosperous, safe and secure country, and defend the principles it was founded on.
Why Trump and not one of the other 15 Republican presidential hopefuls? “I saw him as an outsider, and someone who would challenge the whole political system and shake it up,” she said. Mitt Romeny, the 2012 GOP nominee, “was polished, but he didn’t inspire. I thought, if we put another Romney out there we’re going to lose.”
Shin also agreed with Trump’s policies, including on immigration. He’s not anti-immigration, she says, but it has to be done right. “What gives them the right to come up here and evade that legal process, and think that they can just stay and have the rights, protections and benefits of an American citizen?” she asked about those who enter the country illegally. “It’s very difficult for me to accept that.”
Asked about the caravan of U.S.-bound Central American immigrants making their way through Mexico, Shin was in step with the president. “It’s a national security issue, really. I don’t agree with that caravan coming up. I mean, we don’t know who is in there. Are there people who want to harm American citizens? We can’t have that,” she said.
She can do without some of Trump’s rhetoric and tweets, she said, “but he’s delivering on his promises.”
‘Lining up on what makes sense’
“Certainly, Los Alamos folks know she’s an active Trump supporter,” Chandler said of her opponent. “I guess voters will tell us if that’s a benefit to her.”
Chandler points out that Los Alamos County went heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She got 51 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for Trump and 14 percent for Libertarian Gary Johnson. She is also encouraged by the trend of voter registration in the county. Republicans had long held the advantage until after the 2012 election cycle when they were surpassed by Democrats.
“Certainly, we have our share of right-leaning Republicans,” Chandler said of Los Alamos County, where 39 percent of registered voters are Democrats, 32 percent are Republicans and the rest are independent or registered to other parties. “But generally people here are data-based. They make decisions on their assessments and they are thoughtful.”
Chandler hopes that will work in her favor. She’s no newcomer, having launched her political career while still a teenager. “When I was in high school, I was one of these kids who would go to school board meetings and say things,” she said. “I would mostly listen, but I would occasionally speak up.”
Then, while a 19-year-old attending Smith College in Northampton, Mass., she ran for school board and won. “That was a time when people were getting energized and were participating,” she said of the final years of the Nixon presidency. Chandler went on to law school at Boston College, then ventured to New Mexico. She eventually jumped back into the political ring, winning a seat on the Los Alamos County Council in 1996. She was elected again 20 years later and now is council vice-chair.
In between, she served as a probate judge and on the county’s Charter Review and Planning and Zoning commissions. She also served on the New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice, a group that works to expand legal services to low-income residents, and on nonprofit boards. Chandler touts her recent experience as a legislative analyst for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which works on drafting and evaluating the legality of bills at the Legislature.
Chandler says her experience in state and local government gives voters a reason to support her. “You’re dealing with practical problems on a daily basis,” she said. “And you don’t line up on party divisions, you’re lining up on what makes sense to you. You’re using your best judgment from your perspective, and the input you’re getting from constituents and how you interpret that input. That’s a useful skill you learn at the local level that you can bring to the state level.”
Chandler was involved in some controversy years ago when an embezzlement scam resulted in convictions of two LANL employees and allegations that lab brass tried to impede the investigation. An investigator said at a congressional hearing that Chandler tried to verbally intimidate him to obtain his notes. Chandler acknowledged a discussion about FBI notes, but denied any intimidation.
Like Shin, Chandler is the daughter of immigrants. Her parents met on the ship that carried them to America from Poland just after World War II.
Recent campaign finance reports show Chandler with an advantage. While Shin had just short of $30,000 in the bank, Chandler had more than $73,000, including her own $26,500 loan.
Not surprisingly, unions are backing the Democrat. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, Iron Workers Local 495, and New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council combined to contribute $7,100 to Chandler. Oil and gas money is going to Shin. She got $2,000 each from Jalapeno Corp., whose president is Harvey Yates Jr., and Peyton Yates Jr. of Yates Petroleum. Mark Murphy of Strata Production Co. contributed $1,000. Permian Energy gave $2,250.
HOUSE DISTRICT 43 CANDIDATES
POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Los Alamos
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Los Alamos County Council vice chair and two-term councilor; Legislative Analyst for the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee (four sessions); former probate judge; licensed New Mexico attorney; former Los Alamos National Laboratory attorney and manager; small-business owner.
EDUCATION: Smith College, A.B. Economics; Boston College Law School, J.D.; Georgetown University Law Center, L.L.M., International & Comparative Law
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: christine4statehouse.com
POLITICAL PARTY: Republican
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Los Alamos
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Health care provider and small-business owner for 21 years
EDUCATION: Wellesley College, B.A.; Pennsylvania College of Optometry, O.D.
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: lisasfor43.com
1. What are the top two things you would do to improve the economy in New Mexico?
CHANDLER: Businesses look to the quality of the workforce and infrastructure when considering locating in a state. We need a coordinated framework that supports occupational/trade training, certification, and four- and two-year colleges. We must invest in infrastructure, such as roads, utilities and broadband, in order to recruit and retain businesses.
SHIN: Prioritize vocational education and technical-career training. There is a serious gap when it comes to “middle skills” in New Mexico. Ease the regulatory and tax burden on small businesses. New Mexico currently ranks at the bottom for “business friendliness”; we have to change that.
2. What are the top two things you would propose to address the state’s high crime rate?
CHANDLER: The certainty of being caught deters crime, but increasing the level of penalties does not. We must improve the effectiveness of the police and courts. We must support triage: imprison serious and violent offenders; divert low-level offenders to treatment and education; and provide effective rehabilitation for the incarcerated.
SHIN: Support three strikes laws, such as House Bill 18 and House Bill 28, which addressed the high rates of violent and property crime in New Mexico. Provide the resources and support to first responders at a crime scene. Mayor Keller’s plan to use new technology in the fight against gun-related violence is promising.
3. New Mexico now spends about $300 million a year for early childhood programs, such as home visiting, pre-kindergarten and child care assistance. Do you support or oppose a constitutional amendment that would withdraw more money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to increase funding for early childhood services?
CHANDLER: Despite New Mexico’s current level of funding, early childhood programs remain underfunded. Because investment in these programs has been shown to reap long-term educational and behavioral benefits, I support a constitutional amendment that would allow an additional, reasonable increase to support these important programs.
SHIN: I oppose such an amendment. Studies show that distributions greater than 5 percent risk the Fund’s long-term solvency.
4. Do you support or oppose legalizing recreational marijuana use in New Mexico and taxing its sales?
CHANDLER: Yes, with appropriate regulations and applicable taxes.
SHIN: I oppose state-wide legalization of recreational marijuana. I support the use of medical marijuana for treatment of diseases where it has been proven to be a successful homeopathic alternative to pharmaceuticals.
5. Do you support or oppose raising New Mexico’s minimum wage, currently $7.50 per hour? If so, by how much?
CHANDLER: Yes, ultimately to $12.00/hour, phased in over a reasonably short period of time. Workers must be able to earn a living wage to support themselves and their families.
SHIN: I support a minimum wage increase to no more than $9.00/hour in 2019, with modest incremental changes over time. Our Mom-and-Pop businesses simply cannot survive a $12/hour minimum wage law.
6. Do you support or oppose opening the state’s primary elections to voters who aren’t affiliated with either major political party?
CHANDLER: Yes, I support opening primaries to allow Independents to participate.
SHIN: My opponent has a record of stopping local elections, as well as ignoring their outcomes. I support each individual’s right to have a vote in any election, which gives the citizens a voice in our government.
7. Do you favor making New Mexico a sanctuary state?
CHANDLER: The term sanctuary state means different things to different people depending on perspective. State officials must and should follow applicable federal law; however, it has been held by the federal courts that the federal government cannot require state officials to enforce federal laws.
SHIN: No, I do not support such a policy
1. Have you or your business, if you are a business owner, ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens?
2. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?
3. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state? If so, explain.
Go to abqjournal.com to see the candidates’ answers to more issues questions. Click on the Voter Guide button.