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Former lawyer challenges incumbent

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A retired lawyer is trying to unseat fellow Democrat Steven Michael Quezada as District 2 Bernalillo County Commissioner, contending that the position – which many people do in addition to other jobs – requires full-time commitment.

Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada

Frank Baca, 64, said he believes Quezada has “accessibility” problems with his constituents.

Quezada, 57, an actor, comedian and producer, best known for his role on the hit TV series “Breaking Bad,” said he is thoroughly engaged with the community, previously as a member of the Albuquerque Public Schools board, and now as a county commissioner.

For Baca, “at this point in my life, my strongest attribute is that I’m retired and have had a lot of experiences from my professional work and time to devote to the job,” he said.

The winner of the June 2 primary will have no Republican opposition in November’s general election.

District 2 covers the southernmost portion of Bernalillo County. Its boundaries run from Interstate 25 west to the county line and east along Kirtland Air Force Base and the Isleta Pueblo; and from Central Avenue/Interstate-40 south. Included in the district are portions of Downtown, from Rio Grande to Broadway, the far South Valley, and the area west of Coors to the Rio Puerco.

Frank Baca

Quezada said he is seeking a second term because “we’ve done so much during my first term, from jobs to agricultural projects to save the South Valley, to buying open space, to fixing a lot of broken infrastructure,” as well as bringing water to the Las Padillas neighborhood.

There are also many projects coming up that Quezada said he wants to see through to completion, such as the reconstruction of Bridge Boulevard, the construction of the West Central Route 66 Visitors Center, and the creation of a food processing facility for South Valley farmers “so they have a place to take what they grow and have it processed so it can be sold or stored or used by APS, charter schools, senior centers.”

Baca, who ran unsuccessfully for county commission in the 1980s, said his last job as a prosecutor in the 13th Judicial District, “gave me a huge insight into how crime, homelessness, substance abuse, alcohol issues and mental health problems are all interrelated.”

Consequently, he said, his No. 1 priority will be advocating for “immediate and aggressive utilization” of the Bernalillo County behavioral health tax fund.

“The way to attack that is at the ground level through inpatient programs, outpatient programs, programs while a person is incarcerated and programs so when a person gets out of jail there’s follow up care,” Baca said.

“Quezada said his first priority for the district will be creating jobs, “particularly coming out of the COVID pandemic,” and for people in the South Valley, “it’s going to be agricultural jobs.” Jobs are also a way to provide opportunity for people who might otherwise get involved in criminal activity.

Asked about the controversial Santolina project on the Southwest Mesa, Quezada said he voted against the project when he was on the APS board “because at the time, they didn’t have a plan for schools.” He subsequently voted for it as a county commissioner, he said, “because I’m pro-planned development.”

The Santolina project would eventually spread out over 21 square miles and at its projected build-out in 50 years have a population of more about 96,000 residents – roughly Rio Rancho’s current population. Critics say there isn’t enough water to accommodate a community that dense.

Quezada, who also sits on the governing board of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, said the authority put together a $600 million plan that requires, among other things, that Santolina install water and sewer lines, build a water and waste water treatment plant and do a lot of “reuse” of gray water,” Quezada said.

“They’re going to have to be the best stewards of water in the history of any development in New Mexico,” he said.

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