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Four vie to represent Taos House District 42

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Until last December, people living in House District 42 – a district entirely contained within the boundaries of Taos County – were represented for more than a quarter century by Democrat Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales.

But when the 2021 legislative session rolls around next January, District 42 will be represented by its third person in the span of 16 months. That’s due to the domino effect that started with the death of state Sen. Carlos Cisneros, a Questa Democrat, from a heart attack last September. Gonzales was appointed by the governor to fill Cisneros’s District 6 senate seat. Taos Mayor Dan Barrone was the Taos County Commission’s pick to replace Gonzales and represent District 42 in the Roundhouse in the past legislative session, but he is not looking to keep the seat.

That makes the June 2 primary election essentially the semifinals in the competition to become the district’s next state representative, with Democrats Mark Gallegos and Kristina Ortez matched on one side of the bracket, and Republicans Linda Calhoun and Paul Anthony Martinez on the other. The winners advance to the District 42 “championship” during the November general election.

Democrats

It’s notable that Gallegos, who, aside from being mayor of Questa is a Taos County commissioner, voted in the majority when the commission chose Barrone to fill the District 42 seat on a 4-1 vote in December. Notable not only because he picked Barrone over Ortez, another of the applicants, but because he picked Barrone over himself. Gallegos, too, had applied for the position.

Efforts to reach Gallegos, 49, last week were unsuccessful and he did not respond to a Journal questionnaire sent to all legislative candidates.

The Journal visited with Gallegos at El Monte Carlo Lounge, the bar and liquor store he runs in Questa, in 2017. At the time, the village was working to rebrand itself as “the Gateway to the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument” as it looked for ways to stimulate the local economy in the wake of the Chevron molybdenum mine closure three years earlier.

The idea was to take advantage of the region’s ample outdoor recreation opportunities – fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting and the like – to attract not “tourists,” but what he called an “outdoor adventurer clientele.”

He recently said on a virtual candidate forum that there needs to be more vocational training opportunities for students in Taos County, according to the Taos News, and that if elected he would like to serve on House committees that deal with agricultural issues.

Gallegos, who has been Questa’s mayor since 2014 and spent 10 years as a village councilor before that, said that he hadn’t raised any money for his campaign.

“My strength is that I’m out there and I’m engaged with the public,” the News reported Gallegos as saying.

Ortez has been involved in politics before, generally in her role as an environmental advocate, but to actually become a candidate herself was a bit of a leap, she said.

It all came about when she and other women met last September and talked about finding women willing to run for office, as there were several seats that were opening up at the local level.

The next day, she said she got calls from four women urging her to become a candidate.

“That was really the impetus, the shot in the arm I needed,” she said. “So I talked to my daughters, who are 6 and 9. After I got their permission, I went forward.”

Ortez jumped at the next opportunity to become a candidate, which was applying to fill Cisneros’ senate seat. Even though she was nominated by the Los Alamos and Santa Fe county commissions, Gov. Lujan Grisham picked Rep. Gonzales to fill the senate seat.

“After that, I realized that it would be best to go for (Gonzales’s) seat and not press pause, so I did,” she said.

She didn’t get that either, but when Barrone decided not to run to retain the seat, she kept going.

Ortez, 46, says she comes from humble beginnings, raised in the central San Joaquin Valley of California by a single mother who was a probation officer. Her older brother was the first in the family to attend college and he encouraged her to do the same. She did and was accepted at Harvard.

After graduation, she did some work for internet startups, but what changed her life was a trip to Indonesia in 2001.

“That’s where I had my environmental awakening,” she said. “It struck me at that moment, and took me being several thousand miles from my home, to realize the devastation that happens to the land.”

She and her now former husband moved to New Mexico in 2008, first to Albuquerque, where she had her daughters, and then to Taos. She worked for the Sierra Club and Somos, a literary foundation, before becoming executive director of the Taos Land Trust, a position she’s held for six years.

“It was a crisis management position,” she said of the time she first took over. “I’m really proud of being able to work with other folks to bring an organization back to life.”

Ortez’s short career as a politician has gained some traction. She won the endorsement of several groups, including Conservation Voters New Mexico, the Sierra Club, two teachers unions, AFSCME Council 18 and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, among others.

Republicans

Though District 42 residents have been represented by Democrats on the House and Senate side of the Roundhouse for decades, Linda Calhoun believes she can break through.

“If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be trying,” she said.

Calhoun is mayor of Red River, a resort town north of Taos along the Enchanted Circle, and has been for the past 14 years.

A Texas native, she’s called Red River home for more than 40 years.

“I graduated college in May 1978 and moved here two weeks later,” said Calhoun.

She and her husband, Ted, own a grocery store and gift shop in town, and are partners with their oldest grandson in Red River Brewery (a blended family, the couple have been married for 27 years, have five children and eight grandchildren). She also is a licensed real estate broker.

Calhoun, 65, touts her years of involvement with various entities as qualifying experiences. She started on the town council in 1996 and became mayor 10 years later. She served on the New Mexico Municipal League, including time as president, and is vice-chair of the New Mexico Mayors’ Caucus. She was also one of just two Republicans chosen by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to serve on her transition team. More recently, she was selected to serve on the statewide Mayor’s Council on Economic Recovery to address issues surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think it goes to the fact that I’m very fair minded and I don’t get too hung up on partisanship,” she said of being chosen to committees by Lujan Grisham’s administration. “I’ve been a nonpartisan mayor for 14 years and I know what it takes to get work done and not have to worry about politics. I’m much more focused on getting things done than I am about being a Democrat or Republican.”

Her campaign website shares her stances on education, crime, veterans, affordable housing and protecting natural resources.

Her opponent in the Republican primary is Paul Anthony Martinez, who describes himself as a “Christian conservative Constitutionalist.”

Some of his views are decidedly Democratic, though. He believes Citizens United was a mistake, and that corporations have too much power and influence. He’s critical of former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, says he didn’t vote for President Trump in 2016 and probably won’t this year.

Martinez is also a passionate land grant advocate.

“I’m an activist by nature,” says the 56-year-old Martinez, who recalled participating in a protest against the environmental damage being done by the Questa molybdenum mining operation when he was a freshman in high school.

His father was an employee of the mine and his mother was president of the school board at the time.

Martinez finished high school in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and attended Highlands University for several semesters, but didn’t graduate. He says he spent much of his career as a firefighter, eventually becoming a Type I fighter task force leader. He says he now works as a consultant, including work as a water dowser.

Martinez says he’s running because there’s a need for leadership and he feels he can provide it.

“People need leadership and leadership that involves people’s rights,” he said. “My whole goal is help the people. People need to hear the truth. Truth and justice are more important to our people right now than anything else.”

Martinez, who has never been married and has no children, admitted to a domestic violence charge filed against him in the 1990s and receiving a deferred sentence.

“It saved my life,” he says now.


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