Calhoun, Ortez vie for House seat in Taos County

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Taos County’s House District 42 has long been a Democratic stronghold, largely due to Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales holding the seat for more than a quarter of a century.

Kristina Ortez

But Gonzales is gone, moving over to the senate. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed him to the senate position following the death of Sen. Carlos Cisneros last September.

Gonzales’s seat, in turn, was filled by Taos Mayor Dan Barrone – picked by the Taos County Commission – but Barrone, also a Democrat, has opted out of defending the seat, leaving House District 42 up for grabs.

Kristina Ortez is the Democratic Party’s nominee. She beat out Questa mayor and Taos County Commissioner Mark Gallegos in the primary with 60% of the vote.

Linda Calhoun won the Republican Party’s primary, besting Paul Anthony Martinez with 54% of the vote.

Linda Calhoun

Calhoun, 65, has been mayor of Red River for the past 14 years.

“Being a mayor is so much fun,” said Calhoun, a Texas native who has called Red River home since she graduated from West Texas A&M University more than 40 years ago. “It’s not as partisan and we can focus on the community and get things done.”

Calhoun said she would take that nonpartisan approach to the Roundhouse, if she’s elected. Everyone elected to the state legislature on Nov. 3 needs to do that, especially given the stresses caused by the coronavirus outbreak, she said.

“Now, with our budget deficit, the state of the economy and unemployment, we all have to step back and say that we’ve got to be New Mexicans and not worry about partisanship,” she said.

Ortez, 46, has been involved in politics for some time, working as an environmental advocate. But she hadn’t run for office before the primary election. She decided to run after a group of women encouraged her to do so.

“It was a big leap, for sure,” said Ortez, who has been executive director of the Taos Land Trust for the past six years. “I have long been interested in politics and have been a conservation advocate, pushing legislation around public lands and acequias. My focus has been on the community aspect of community engagement.”

Ortez first put herself out there as a candidate when she applied to fill Cisneros’s senate seat. Though she was the choice of the Los Alamos and Santa Fe county commissions, Gov. Lujan Grisham picked state Rep. Gonzales to fill the seat instead. She also threw her hat into the ring for the same seat she’s now seeking, but the Taos County Commission went with Mayor Barrone.

Born and raised in the central San Joaquin Valley of California, Ortez went on to earn a degree from Harvard. After a life-changing trip to Indonesia that set her on the path of conservation advocacy, Ortez and her then-husband moved to New Mexico in 2008. She earned a master’s degree in public administration from UNM and worked for the Sierra Club and then Somos, a literary foundation, before going to work for the Taos Land Trust.

“My focus has been on bringing people together in a way that allows us to find the best solution,” she said.

Calhoun says her experience sets her apart from her opponent. She had served on the New Mexico Municipal League, including time as president, and is vice-chair of the New Mexico Mayor’s Caucus. She was also one of just two Republicans chosen by Lujan Grisham to serve on her transition team.

“I think it’s very important that people understand that I have a lot of good Democrats that support me, and that goes to show I’m nonpartisan and can work with both sides,” she said. “Under the current political climate, it’s important to have that leadership and experience.”

Ortez says her experience, education and expertise make her the best choice.

“We need someone who can analyze data and understand trends and I was trained to do that in the master’s program I took at UNM. It’s critically important when you’re taking on problems in Santa Fe to develop something that is actionable,” she said.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports from July, Ortez had raised more than $43,000 and had about $18,000 left to spend, while Calhoun had raised more than $14,000 and had about $10,000 left to spend.

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