New Mexico’s longest-serving legislator is facing an election challenge from a rising power in Rio Arriba County politics.
“Let the people decide,” said state Rep. Nick Salazar of his House District 40 race with Rio Arriba County Commissioner Barney Trujillo.
Salazar, 87, who’s served in the House for more than four decades, added: “There’s nothing new about me. I think people know who I am. After 44 years, if people don’t know who I am and what I do, they’ll never know.”
What Trujillo, in the middle of his second four-year term on the County Commission, has to say about the race, Salazar’s long tenure or ongoing controversies in Rio Arriba has been hard to track down.
The Journal North, despite repeated efforts, was unable to reach Trujillo over roughly the past two weeks as the June 7 Democratic primary approaches.
Voice or text messages were left at the phone number listed for Trujillo on the candidate list posted by the Secretary of State’s Office; at a phone number on his campaign finance reports filed with the secretary of state; and at two phone numbers for a local campaign consultant whose firm has been paid by Trujillo’s campaign, according to the finance reports.
The Journal North also sent an issues questionnaire and other messages to the e-mail address Trujillo provided to the secretary of state and an e-mail address listed for Trujillo on the Rio Arriba County website. There was no response to any of the Journal’s messages.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face off in November against Republican Jerald Steve McCall of Angel Fire in sprawling District 40, which also extends into Mora, Colfax and San Miguel counties.
In October, the Democratic contest started on an odd note when Trujillo, of Chimayó, announced he would be a candidate and said that he understood that Salazar, of Ohkay Owingeh, was retiring. Trujillo said he would be “honored” to succeed Salazar. But Salazar said at the time that he hadn’t made up his mind and in February confirmed he was running for another two-year term.
In March, Trujillo accused Salazar of trying to ruin his candidacy by filing complaints about Trujillo with the state Attorney General’s Office, which is using the state Inspection of Public Records Act to seek documents from Rio Arriba County related to projects for which Trujillo has been under press scrutiny.
Trujillo told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he questioned the timing of the AG’s inquiries and that Salazar’s campaign wants to be able to say, “Oh, hey, look, the AG’s Office IPRA’s Barney and his campaign.”
The Journal recently obtained, via its own records request, the information request that the Attorney General’s Office submitted to the county in February.
Some of the requested documents relate to a county-financed Chimayó playground or “beautification project” that led to charges last year against a local contractor, brought by the state Construction Industries Division, for contracting without a license.
The Attorney General’s Office asked for all financial documents about the park and beautification projects, any funds “expended by the County Commission or individual commissioners that are not standard operating expenses,” lobbying services and “County Commissioner Barney Trujillo’s County related activities.”
In October, the Rio Grande Sun weekly newspaper reported that the AG’s Office confirmed an inquiry into another controversy, this one over a $50,000 no-bid annual contract granted to Trujillo by the Española School District to promote the local public schools.
About two weeks after Trujillo was first given the school district contract in August 2014, the county hired a school board member as human resources director, according to the Sun. The county manager said she was hired because of her qualifications.
The Sun’s October article quoted James Hallinan, spokesman for the AG’s office, as saying via e-mail, “This inquiry is ongoing and we will update the media as soon as we have a public update.”
Hallinan told the Journal recently that the AG’s office can’t say anything about pending investigations. “The Office of the Attorney General fully reviews every complaint received and investigates where appropriate,” Hallinan said.
“It is the policy of this office to neither confirm nor deny an existence of an investigation, in order to preserve the integrity of our investigations and protect those individuals not charged with a crime.”
Salazar, for his part, doesn’t want to talk about Trujillo. “I don’t care to say anything about my opponents,” he said.
“He can say anything he wants about me,” said Salazar. “They can say I’m too old or that I’m blind… I run my own campaign, and they can say whatever they want.”
He emphasized his experience with and “institutional knowledge” on the state budget gained from service on the Legislature’s finance-related committees. “I’ve been there when we’ve had a lot of money and when we’ve been broke,” he said. He said the current strained state budget “is a very hard one.” His campaign also emphasizes his support for funding of acequias that was vetoed this year by Gov. Susana Martinez.
“I want to concentrate on the budget and whatever is there, make sure we get a share for northern New Mexico,” Salazar said.
Salazar is retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Trujillo worked in the State Land Office from 2000 to 2010.
Democratic candidates for House District 40
NAME: Nick L. Salazar
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
OCCUPATION: Retired from Los Alamos National Laboratories
RESIDENCE: Ohkay Owineh
RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: 44 years as a member of the NM House of Representatives
EDUCATION: University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB)
CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: N/A
NAME: Barney Trujillo, member, Rio Arriba County Commission
(Trujillo did not provide responses to a Journal candidate questionnaire.)