Q&A: Bernalillo County Commission District 4 Candidate George ‘Walt’ Benson
- NAME: George “Walt” Benson
- POLITICAL PARTY: Republican
- OCCUPATION: Small business owner and executive; Baskin Robbins franchise, owner: 2018 — present; New Mexico Waste Management, managing partner: 2014 — present; FootPrints Home Care, co-founder, COO and CEO: 2005 — 2017 ; US Eagle Federal Credit Union, business lender: 2013 — 2015; US Eagle Federal Credit Union, Sr. financial analyst: 2005 — 2012
- CITY OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque
- RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Born and raised in Albuquerque, 1st time running for office. Currently serving as an APS Audit Committee member.
- EDUCATION: MBA, University of New Mexico, 2009 ; MA, History, Western Michigan University, 2003; BA, History/Psychology (double major), University of New Mexico, 1998
- CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: www.WaltBenson.com
What is the top priority in your District and how would you address it as a county commissioner?
Fighting Crime. Albuquerque continues to set yearly records for homicides and violent crime. Crime contributes to our shrinking community and weak economy as locals and businesses move to safer regions. I will fight hard to make sure our law enforcement has the required budget for appropriate staffing, resources and training.
Under what circumstances, if any, would you support a tax increase? And what types, if any, would you support?
As we recover from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the last thing we should consider is raising taxes. Our priority needs to be on rebuilding our economy. If we are to stop New Mexicans from moving away, we need to provide a clear vision of hope.
The county received $32 million in federal CARES Act relief money that is available for use only through the end of the year. What initiatives or ideas do you propose to spur the post-pandemic economy?
As a small business owner with a background in finance, I’m used to managing budgets. We must distribute larger grants to local small businesses. Also, grants for law enforcement and behavioral health, as we’ve seen a surge in crime, domestic and substance abuse, and mental health needs during the shutdown.
What do you think should be the county’s top three capital project priorities?
Westside road expansion and infrastructure to support our residential growth. Law enforcement: provide funds for staffing, tools, and training needed to reduce our record-breaking crime. Infrastructure development for business growth: Sunport Interchange (including the Rail Spur), Upper Petroglyph Sector (i.e. Amazon), and the Santolina Master Plan.
What, if anything, do you think the county should be doing differently with regard to how it manages and uses the behavioral health tax?
Expand our existing relationships with UNMH and other local providers by initiating internal training and outreach programs. Incentivize and attract behavioral health providers to join this effort. Those with mental health needs will benefit as will our first responders and local community who are struggling to manage this challenge alone.
What role, if any, should the county commission play in advising the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office on matters related to public safety?
The sheriff is an elected official and is accountable to his constituents, but the county commission controls the sheriff’s budget. As a team, the commission and the sherriff need to communicate with each other and work together effectively to reduce our crime — which is among the worst in the nation.
Doyou agree with the county’s current immigrant-friendly policy, which, among other things, prohibits jail staff from providing information to immigration authorities unless legally required to do so?
No. One of the unintended negative consequences of this policy is that it creates a large loophole for criminals to evade the justice system. I am an advocate for legal immigration, but violent criminals should be held accountable for their crimes. The murder of Jackie Vigil highlights this point.
How do you feel about the Bernalillo County sheriff being the de facto local go-between in federal initiatives like Operation Legend and Relentless Pursuit?
The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county; he was elected for this role. As such, it is appropriate for him to communicate with federal law enforcement as we work to combat our nationally ranked violent crime — Albuquerque is on track to surpass last year’s homicide record!
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, please explain.