Today, the Journal announces its endorsements in contested primary races for New Mexico attorney general, auditor and treasurer. The newspaper will conclude its primary endorsements Saturday with its primary picks for governor and lieutenant governor. For ongoing coverage that includes candidate Q&As and endorsements, go to abqjournal.com/election-guide.
Democrat, Raúl Torrez
In the Democratic primary race for attorney general that has unfortunately degenerated into a mudslinging match, state Auditor Brian Colón calls second-term Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez a failed prosecutor who can’t keep the public safe. Torrez calls Colón a career politician who’s supported defunding the police and has never prosecuted so much as a parking ticket.
Each is being unfair to the other.
Colón has been an effective state auditor in his first term in public office, after unsuccessful bids for mayor of Albuquerque and lieutenant governor. For example, a March 2021 audit by Colón’s office of Los Lunas schools uncovered irregularities that led to the Public Education Department ousting the entire five-member school board. Colón’s office also had the mettle to hammer the Martin Luther King Jr. State Commission for consistently late audits and an inability to provide documentation for expenses.
Torrez, meanwhile, inherited a disaster when he took over the DA’s Office in January 2017, which had 8,000 boxes of unlaunched felony case files lining virtually every hallway and room in the four-story Steve Schiff Building — some were 40-year-old unindicted homicides.
It took a lot of work and leadership to clear that backlog, which unfortunately grew again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s imperative for the state’s largest DA’s Office to clear its backlogs to be able to move forward, and Torrez has shown he has assembled a team that can do that.
Torrez has also introduced data analytics to make the best use of resources and supported preprosecution diversion programs and addiction treatment. While tough on career and violent criminals, he understands not every defendant belongs behind bars.
While the AG’s Office has historically had limited involvement in criminal cases outside of prosecuting criminal appeals and some complex white-collar crimes, Torrez wants to add 18 to 20 prosecutors to the current nine to transform the AG’s Office into an anti-corruption agency and independent bureau to prosecute police misconduct. That makes more sense than leaving police misconduct prosecutions to local DAs or a roving special prosecutor.
Torrez also wants to reduce the AG Office’s reliance on out-of-state counsel. If elected, he plans to ask state lawmakers for substantially more resources to pursue civil litigation. Using in-house attorneys would help keep settlement funds in-state and, we hope, result in fewer cases being sealed from the public.
Meanwhile, Colón’s campaign has been the recipient of donations from multiple out-of-state law firms that have done work for the AG’s Office or are representing the office in cases.
Torrez is committed to not only increasing training for elected officials on the Inspection of Public Records Act, but also to filing more IPRA cases.
Both choices for attorney general in the Democratic primary are qualified, well-known candidates committed to public service. Colón says he will build relationships, and based on his support base it appears he is a safe bet to continue current practices. But the time is ripe for a more aggressive attorney general. Torrez — who has prosecutorial experience at both the state and federal levels — is that candidate.
The winner faces Republican Jeremy Gay in the general election.
Democrat, Zackary Quintero
Quintero calls himself a “proud nerd” for his ability to dive into the granular details of the State Auditor’s Office. Reviewing the department’s budget, he’s crafted a five-point plan to expand the effectiveness of the office, including how to account for millions in COVID relief funds to ensure they’re used as intended.
The plan needs a legislative assist on two points: Quintero wants the Legislature to authorize prosecutorial discretion on cases investigated by a dedicated fraud unit that involve adults with disabilities, seniors and veterans. He will also seek an appropriation to implement a modern software system that details where state and federal funds are going in real time.
His other priorities can be implemented with existing resources, he says, including developing a rural resource officer program to help small government entities meet their fiduciary responsibilities; creating a single dashboard for environmental reporting from multiple agencies; and safeguarding personal medical data post Roe v. Wade.
He faces Joseph Maestas, current chair of the Public Regulation Commission, in this Democratic primary. Maestas spent 30 years as a federal transportation and water resources engineer and has 14 years as an elected official with fiduciary responsibilities.
Quintero, 31, says he has more “relevant” experience, as a graduate of UNM Law and having served nearly a year as the federal ombudsman for New Mexico, responsible for investigating abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. “This job requires a specific skill set within financial law, within state investigative law and within the administrative code,” he says.
The winner will face Libertarian write-in candidate Robert Jason Vaillancourt.
Democrat, Laura Montoya
As a former Sandoval County treasurer, Montoya, 44, has considerable experience investing public money, plus she’s held other positions that have prepared her to be the state’s chief financial officer.
Working under Sen. Pete Campos on the Senate Finance Committee, she got a first-hand look at how the Legislature’s budget, spending and capital outlay bills come together. Later she was an administrative assistant to then- state Treasurer Doug Brown, a mentor on state investment strategy.
During her two terms as county treasurer, Montoya served on key committees related to the state’s finances and was legislative chair for N.M. Counties’ Treasurer’s affiliate, which lobbied to remove tax loopholes and change the state’s investment statute.
Montoya wants to work with local governments to strengthen their financial practices; lobby lawmakers for a state bank to help farmers, ranchers and small businesses; and promote financial literacy.
“My whole idea is that if we can teach people to have a meaningiful, respectful relationship with money and finances, they can make better choices for their families and for themselves,” she said.
She faces Heather Benavidez, chief of staff to incumbent state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg. The winner faces Republican Harry Montoya in November.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.