Editorial: Journal endorsements for statewide offices - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Journal endorsements for statewide offices

Today, the Journal continues its endorsements for the Nov. 8 general election with our recommendations for statewide offices, with the exception of governor, which will be published later. For more information including candidate Q&As, district maps, news stories and endorsements, go to the Journal Election Guide at abqjournal.com.

Secretary of state

Democratic incumbent, Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Maggie Toulouse Oliver

After 10 years as Bernalillo County clerk and nearly six as New Mexico secretary of state, Toulouse Oliver knows how to run elections — even during a pandemic.

Under her leadership as New Mexico’s chief elections officer, the state implemented secured, 24/7-monitored ballot drop boxes in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state also mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.

The results were impressive. According to a report from the UNM’s Department of Political Science, 928,230 New Mexicans cast a ballot in the 2020 general election. The 69.7% turnout was the largest in recent history.

Toulouse Oliver supports more promptly restoring a felon’s voting rights after incarceration, opening primaries to independent voters and the establishment of a Native American Voting Rights Act — all good government ideas.

She’s also committed to maintaining clean voter rolls through a national voter database and continuing to purge N.M.’s voter rolls every odd-numbered year.

Toulouse Oliver faces Libertarian Mayna Myers, who didn’t respond to a Journal interview announcement or our Q&A, and Republican Audrey Trujillo, who also did not respond to a Journal Q&A and who wrongfully supports scaling back absentee voting by requiring voters to have a valid reason to vote absentee.

Late in the 2018 general election, Toulouse Oliver pushed to bring back straight-party voting. Fortunately, the state Supreme Court blocked her from doing so and she says she has given up on it, at least for now.

Some of Toulouse Oliver’s fundraising efforts have been troubling. Her Friends of Maggie campaign crassly tried to raise money off the shooting death of Breonna Taylor and the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Still, Toulouse Oliver is clearly the most qualified candidate for SOS. We hope she’ll focus more on the duties of her office than national politics if reelected.

Attorney general

Democrat Raúl Torrez

Raul Torrez

The race for N.M. attorney general features two well-qualified candidates with commendable records of service. But we give the endorsement to Democrat Raúl Torrez for his well-earned familiarity with the dynamics that have shaped the state’s public safety policies.

Torrez and Republican Jeremy Gay are competing to succeed Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat who is term-limited out.

Torrez has served at all levels of government — as an assistant district attorney in New Mexico, an assistant New Mexico attorney general, an assistant U.S. attorney and the elected district attorney in Bernalillo County. As the head of the largest prosecutor’s office in the state, he’s consistently advocated for maximizing police power and making changes to the state’s pretrial detention system as ways to combat perceptions of lawlessness that feed criminal behavior. But he’s also supported pre-prosecution diversion programs and addiction treatment. While tough on career and violent criminals, he understands not all defendants need to be locked up.

As AG, he says he will continue to push for common-sense ideas to strengthen N.M.’s criminal justice system while aggressively defending consumers and workers, safeguarding the environment, tackling corruption and protecting democracy and women’s rights.

Additionally, he’s ready to use the power of the “bully pulpit” to get lawmakers in Santa Fe to pay more attention to the challenges frontline law enforcement personnel experience trying to keep the state safe. He also wants to bring “the troubling erosion of the constitutional order” into the public eye and challenge the state’s judiciary to return to its job of interpreting laws.

Gay is a former U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate, a post in which he investigated and prosecuted criminal offenses and defended fellow service members. He also served as a special assistant U.S. Attorney, prosecuting, training and assisting federal law enforcement officers in investigating and prosecuting crimes. He is now in private practice in Gallup, representing New Mexico families, businesses and veterans.

State auditor

Democrat Joseph M. Maestas

Joseph Maestas

Maestas offers a wealth of experience to oversee the management of public funds at the State Auditor’s Office. He has served 14 years as an elected official in New Mexico, including as mayor and a city councilor in Española and as a city councilor in Santa Fe. He’s currently the chair of the Public Regulation Commission.

Maestas also spent decades as a federal transportation and water resources engineer and notes the job of state auditor is to be a watchdog to fight against fraud, waste and abuse.

“A federal civil servant for over 30 years, I’ve overseen hundreds of project audits and recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal funding,” he says in his Q&A.

Current Auditor Brian Colón is not seeking re-election after running unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Republicans did not field a candidate for state auditor. Maestas faces Libertarian Travis Steven Sanchez in the general election.

State treasurer

Democrat Laura M. Montoya

Laura Montoya

As a former Sandoval County treasurer for eight years, Laura Montoya has considerable experience investing public money, and has held other positions that prepared her to be the state’s chief financial officer. We liked her in the primary; her nuanced takes on investment strategy and tax policy helped her retain our endorsement in the general election.

Coming off a tour of all 33 counties, she says she’s emphasized to rural communities she’s an “independent thinker” beholden to no one but the people of New Mexico.

“This is really not a political position,” she told the Journal Editorial Board. “It’s about a skill set. Can you invest? Do you know how to hold yourself and other people accountable? Do you know how to have good checks and balances within the office?”

She’s an advocate for using the power of the office to promote financial literacy in a state that has no shortage of family-level checkbook challenges.

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, she 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.

Both she and her opponent, Republican Harry B. Montoya (no relation), are competing to succeed state treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat who cannot seek reelection due to term limits.

Both candidates have cited the importance of transparency and accountability, as well as the performance of state investments. While Harry Montoya has had fiduciary responsibilities on the Pojoaque school board and Santa Fe County Commission, Laura Montoya has more direct experience as a treasury official.

Commissioner of public lands

Democratic incumbent, Stephanie Garcia Richard

Stephanie Garcia Richard

Since running for land commissioner four years ago, Garcia Richard has rightfully pushed for New Mexico to boost its royalty rates for permits on state trust lands to equal those in neighboring Texas.

The State Land Office, which oversees energy leases across 14,000 square miles of state trust lands, can currently charge up to 20% on oil and gas production in some areas. Garcia Richard wants to raise that to 25% on future leases, which would further help fund our schools, universities and hospitals.

She says she would support a temporary moratorium on fracking permits for the oil industry, not in opposition to the practice but as a method to force the Legislature to boost New Mexico’s royalty rates. “We’re leaving billions of dollars on the table.”

Garcia Richard has overseen record-setting revenues into the State Land Office since taking office in 2019, jumping from roughly $1.1 billion during the 2019 budget year to $2.4 billion in the just-ended fiscal year.

While that’s primarily been a result in a surge in oil production in southeast New Mexico, the State Land Office under Garcia Richard has streamlined some core functions, including reducing the average turnaround time to process applications for rights of way from 90 to 60 days.

Garcia Richard has been a good steward of public lands from fiduciary and environmental perspectives.

Oil and natural gas make up more than 80% of all State Land Office revenue. Seeking to maximize revenues is good business for New Mexico because much of the money flows into a state permanent fund that helps fund public schools and other beneficiaries. Garcia Richard, a former teacher, has also pushed to increase renewable energy leases on state trust land.

She faces Republican Jefferson Byrd and write-in candidate Larry E. Marker for land commissioner.

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.

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