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2020 general election: Sandoval County Commission District 2 candidates

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Early voting for the 2020 general election is underway through Oct. 31, and Election Day is Nov. 3. For a list of polling places, visit sandovalcountynm.gov and click on “2020 Election Information” under “Quick Links.”

The Observer asked candidates running for Sandoval County offices and state legislative seats representing southern Sandoval County to answer a list of questions. Answers were not edited, and were held to a strict word limit.

Democrat Leah Ahkee-Baczkiewicz and Republican incumbent Jay Block are running for the District 2 seat on the Sandoval County Commission. Their responses follow.

Leah Ahkee-Baczkiewicz

 Leah Ahkee-Baczkiewicz, Democrat

Community of residence: Rio Rancho

Education: Associates of Science in Occupational Therapy

Professional and political experience: Occupational Therapist Assistant Lic. Vice-chair Sandoval Co Democratic Party, SCC member, member of the NM Occupational Therapist Association Legislative team

Have you ever been charged with a felony or DWI? No

How can people reach you if they have questions? Via email Leah4sandoval@gmail.com

1. What should the county do to support mental health care?

As a County we must have mental health services available to all but specifically to our youth. We must continue to provide support for our hospitals and our first responders. Provide jobs for healthcare workers and support skills training at our higher education institutions geared toward medical professions including social work. Providing support to our law enforcement including training that emphasizes conflict negotiation.

2. What should the county’s role be in helping residents and businesses recover from the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic?

The County must first set the example of following CDC guidelines and State law in maintaining safe practices.  And we must support our first responders and front-line workers.  Our businesses have weathered and continue to weather this storm.  The County should assist local businesses by helping then identify and obtain Federal and State funding.  We need to be proactive in assisting our small businesses which form the backbone of our local economy.

3. What should be done about the issues of racism and racial equity in Sandoval County?

Elected officials and leaders must convey a message of unity for all who live in Sandoval County. I support our law enforcement. I believe that our law enforcement work to protect our communities. Racism is a long and ingrained problem. Through education we can gain knowledge and understanding thus providing a sense of community. We must come to terms with the fact that racism and environmental justice go hand in hand.

4. What should be the top budgetary priorities for the county going forward?

The top priority is recovery from the pandemic.   Economic recovery is paramount assuring that our businesses’ doors remain open and that these businesses have a healthy workforce to hire. Recovery involves working with State and Federal Governments to access funding. We must support our law enforcement and first responders by assuring they have needed training, equipment, and staffing.

5. What are the greatest challenges facing your district and how would you address them?

The issues of most concern in District 2 as I’ve heard when talking to people who live here are Public safety and Infrastructure. I would work with State and federal officials, Tribal, and County entities to access funding. Supporting our law enforcement and first responders is vital.  Broadband access and expansion are priories for Sandoval County I would work toward expansion and access because broadband is vital for our businesses, schools, healthcare facilities, and to individual households.

Jay C. Block

 Jay C. Block, Republican

Community of residence: Rio Rancho

Education: BS North Dakota State University, MS Troy State University

Professional and political experience: Retired Lt Col USAF, Nuclear Consultant

Have you ever been charged with a felony or DWI? No

How can people reach you if they have questions? jblock@sandovalcountynm.gov; (505) 252-6218

1. What should the county do to support mental health care?

We have a large need to treat mental health issues in our county.

This commission supported for the first time ever, a mill levy for SRMC top open a state-of-the-art behavioral health (BH) program to treat and serve those with mental health issues. We also cover those conditions in the detention center since they are very vulnerable to make sure the inmates receive the care they need to reduce recidivism.

Thankfully, SRMC’s BH Clinic opened last year and they are increasing telehealth participation rates and in-person appointments to see patients during the pandemic.

2. What should the county’s role be in helping residents and businesses recover from the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic?

Our citizens and businesses have been stressed with the shutdown and our Economic Development (ED) Department continually works with small businesses and collaborating with other entities to ensure businesses have the tools and access to various programs to help them and their employees get through this crisis. Currently, our county is working

with eligible businesses helping them apply for payroll, rent/mortgage, insurance, utilities, marketing, and purchasing PPEs for employees, etc…

This commission also worked with the Sandoval Economic Alliance to implement the Economic Gardening and Veriready Development programs to help local businesses expand. This program also identifies commercial properties that are infrastructure ready for new businesses that want to relocate here.

3. What should be done about the issues of racism and racial equality in Sandoval County?

Under this commission, again for the first time ever, we implemented a professional process for interviewing and hiring applicants to focus on diversity and the results are something we can be proud of. Our numbers reflect our commitment to diversity as follows:

Distribution in leadership/professional positions — Female 48%, Male 53%

Ethnicity distribution for leadership/professional positions — 59% Hispanic, 39% White, 2% Black

Additionally, sheriff deputies are trained yearly on racial profiling, interaction with mental health citizens, and hate crimes to assure all citizens are treated fairly and safely.

As an inclusive County, we can be proud of the progress we have made over these past four years and we must continue to respect each other and also listen to each other. When we do that, we learn.

4. What should be the top budgetary priorities for the county going forward?

Without safe communities, no one will relocate their family or business here. My #1 priority is always public safety and that’s why I have the endorsements of both the deputies and firefighters. My #2 priority is to once again grow jobs in a post-COVID environment. We reduced the unemployment rate by one-third before COVID and will do it again using our County model. By growing the tax base, not increasing taxes we will be successful.

5. What are the greatest challenges facing your district and how would you address them?

The greatest challenges of District 2 is jobs and infrastructure. I will continue to focus on growng businesses and keeping the positive hiring trends of Intel instead of shedding 2,000 jobs from 2013-16. We have been trending in the right direction since 2017 adding hundreds of new jobs and I am confident more will be added. We have completed

Southern, Meadowlark and Sara during my first term and we must continue to work with Rio Rancho and Corrales to fix even more roads in my second term that are high traffic areas.



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