Dems trade attacks in treasurer race - Albuquerque Journal

Dems trade attacks in treasurer race

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The race to become New Mexico’s next state treasurer already has triggered three ethics complaints and a series of attack ads.

And that’s just the Democrats, with three weeks still to go in the primary campaign.

Seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination this year are former Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya and Heather Benavidez, chief of staff to incumbent state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg.

The winner will face Republican Harry Montoya in the general election.

Three ethics complaints have been filed in the race – one targeting each of the Democratic candidates, plus another against Eichenberg.

Accusations aside, Laura Montoya and Benavidez each describe themselves as well-qualified to lead an office that functions a bit like a state bank, managing and investing the cash used to operate state government. The treasurer also runs an investment pool for local governments and serves on key state boards, including the State Investment Council.

Montoya is highlighting her eight years of service as treasurer in a fast-growing county as evidence that she is ready to step into the statewide job.

“I already have a proven track record,” she said. “I’ve lived in a fish bowl. There’s no hidden surprises.”

Benavidez, for her part, says she is well-positioned as chief of staff in the office to continue Eichenberg’s drama-free tenure.

“I feel very strongly that keeping integrity in this office is important,” Benavidez said.

But the sober duties of managing New Mexico’s cash belie the contentious race to succeed Eichenberg, a Democrat who cannot seek reelection because of term limits.

He has emerged as an important player in the race, filing an ethics complaint against Montoya and paying for radio ads that accuse her of accepting unemployment benefits while campaigning full-time, among other allegations – all of which Montoya describes as false.

Montoya also has been targeted by a radio ad alleging she was fired from the Children, Youth and Families Department and charged with domestic violence.

Montoya acknowledged the 2014 battery charge against her and notes that it was dropped. Her defense attorney at the time said it was a “serious self-defense issue.”

Montoya calls the ads sexist – one of which includes a narrator who says Montoya “sounds like a real … bully.”

Montoya, who served as Sandoval County treasurer from 2013 to 2020, said voters should ask themselves why Eichenberg is going to such extremes to tarnish her name.

“It’s all this hoopla – smoke and mirrors – to distract people,” Montoya said.

Eichenberg, for his part, told the Journal last month that he was motivated simply by Montoya’s character.

As for the substance of the accusations, Montoya said she accepted federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits in January and February 2021, shortly after she left office as a county treasurer. Work was hard to find in the pandemic, she said, and she didn’t announce a campaign for state treasurer until August. Montoya said she wasn’t fired from CYFD for misconduct. She was let go from a job at the agency years ago, she said, but only after she had reported wrongdoing by others, putting her at odds with a supervisor.

She is now a foster parent, she said, demonstrating that the agency didn’t substantiate any misconduct on her part.

“CYFD wouldn’t allow me to have children in my home as a foster parent had there been misconduct of any type,” Montoya said.

Eichenberg, meanwhile, released a document that he says shows Montoya was terminated for misconduct. He also filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission in March accusing Montoya of campaign finance violations and of inaccurate financial disclosures, which she denies.

Complaints

Montoya isn’t the only one rebutting allegations on the campaign trail.

Two complaints were filed with the ethics commission in late April against Benavidez and Eichenberg.

Rio Rancho resident Karen Schafer, a supporter of Montoya, filed a complaint accusing Benavidez of violating state law by campaigning on state time, among other allegations.

The complaint cites, as one example, that Benavidez was paid a full eight hours on the same day her Twitter account posted a picture of her at 9:26 a.m. collecting petition signatures.

In response, Benavidez said she is a salaried employee without set work hours and that she has the flexibility to fulfill her work duties outside of normal office hours.

Campaign supporters, she said, may also send tweets on her behalf.

“The complaint against me is without merit,” Benavidez said. “I’m not campaigning on state time.”

A separate complaint – filed by Roswell resident Richard Garcia – targets Eichenberg, accusing him of using his office to promote the candidacy of his subordinate, Benavidez, and of allowing her to campaign on state time.

The allegations include that Eichenberg purchased radio ads with Treasurer’s Office funds to broaden Benavidez’s name recognition under the guise that it was to promote a state program.

Eichenberg says the allegations are false.

“It was fabricated out of whole cloth,” he said.

Cash advantage

Montoya has had a financial edge over Benavidez in the race.

Montoya has raised about $90,000 in contributions and reported $47,000 in cash on hand earlier this month. Benavidez has raised about $59,000 and reported $36,000 in cash on hand.

The two have plenty of ideas for the office if elected.

Benavidez, who’s 44 and lives in Albuquerque, said she would like to improve and expand a savings program for individuals with disabilities, establish a savings account program for children and explore the possibility of opening satellite offices to offer financial literacy and other workshops.

“I’ve been a proud public servant for the last 20 years,” she said, “and I want to continue that service.”

Montoya, who’s 44 and lives in Rio Rancho, said she wants to work with cities, counties and other governments to strengthen their financial practices; lobby the Legislature to create a state bank to help farmers, ranchers and small businesses; and promote financial literacy.

“For me, it’s about bridging the gap of inequity,” she said.

“The treasurer has great opportunity to expand resources and provide outreach to rural communities.”

More Journal Polls

Home » 2022 election » Dems trade attacks in treasurer race


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Early release for inmates under scrutiny in race for ...
2022 election
Ronchetti has said he will push ... Ronchetti has said he will push for legislation to stiffen criminal penalties
2
False allegation surfaces against Democratic candidate in CD2 race
2022 election
Herrell and other Republicans accused Gabe ... Herrell and other Republicans accused Gabe Vasquez of misrepresenting himself and called his positions on police 'radical.'
3
Up early, Bedonie pursues a 'clean' campaign
2022 election
She plans to win the race ... She plans to win the race through face-to-face meetings
4
NM candidate removes gun-for-$100 donation offer
2022 election
Shotgun 'giveaway' appears to violate a ... Shotgun 'giveaway' appears to violate a state prohibition
5
2022 election
2022 election
Welcome to the Journal's coverage of ... Welcome to the Journal's coverage of the 2022 general election. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
Here you will find stories, key voting ...
6
Governor candidates set to face off in TV debates
2022 election
Ronchetti, Lujan Grisham to participate in ... Ronchetti, Lujan Grisham to participate in two in-person events
7
Q&A: Governor candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham
2022 election
NAME: Michelle Lujan Grisham POLITICAL PARTY: ... NAME: Michelle Lujan Grisham POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic OCCUPATION: Governor CITY OF RESIDENCE: Santa Fe RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Current governor, former member of Congress, county commissioner, ...
8
Q&A: Governor candidate Mark Ronchetti
2022 election
NAME: Mark V Ronchetti POLITICAL PARTY: ... NAME: Mark V Ronchetti POLITICAL PARTY: Republican OCCUPATION: Former chief meteorologist CITY OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Meteorologist, dad, husband, not a politician EDUCATION: ...
9
Q&A: Attorney general candidate Raúl Torrez
2022 election
NAME: Raúl Torrez POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic ... NAME: Raúl Torrez POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic OCCUPATION: District attorney CITY OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: Bernalillo County district attorney, 2017-present; private practice, 2013-2017; assistant ...