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Rodellas Appear To Win in Rio Arriba

By Martin Salazar/
Journal Staff Writer
      ESPANOLA — Tuesday's primary election in Rio Arriba County apparently belonged to Debbie and Tommy Rodella after all.
    The colorful husband and wife duo prevailed in their respective Democratic primary races despite stiff competition, according to unofficial election results released by the Rio Arriba County Clerk's office at 2:05 a.m. today.
       With no Republican opponents, Tuesday night's victory all but ensures that state Rep. Debbie Rodella will keep the District 41 state House of Representatives seat she's held for 14 years. For Thomas "Tommy" Rodella, the victory means another shot at the Division 1 magistrate seat he unceremoniously resigned last year less than four months after being appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson.
    While Debbie Rodella appears to have prevailed in her race, her narrow margin of victory shattered any illusions of her being invincible. She held onto her seat by just 84 votes, according to figures posted on the Secretary of State's Web site as of about 4 a.m. today.
       Moises Morales, a former county commissioner, refused to concede defeat late Tuesday night when preliminary election figures showed Debbie Rodella narrowly defeating him.
       "It's a very close race," Morales said, pledging to challenge the results if the outcome was close.
    "We had a lot of support," Morales said. "I was running against a very powerful lady."
    Tommy Rodella, meanwhile, won his race by 231 votes. With all precincts reporting, he garnered 24 percent of the votes in the six-person race. His closest competitor turned out to be outgoing Probate Judge Marlo Martinez, who walked away with 21 percent of the vote.
    The Rodellas spent much of Tuesday campaigning outside of a firehouse that served as a polling place in the La Mesilla area, where they reside.
    "We worked hard, and the people will have their say," Tommy Rodella said when contacted by telephone late Tuesday night.
    Seven positions were up for grabs in Rio Arriba County, and only Democrats filed to run in the races.
    In the two open county commission races, Rio Arriba County Democrats re-elected Elias Coriz to a second four-year term but booted incumbent Andrew Chavez.
       Coriz faced a challenge from Charlie Trujillo, who also ran unsuccessfully against Coriz in 2002. In Tuesday's primary, Coriz beat Trujillo by 246 votes.
       A cautious Coriz didn't declare victory Tuesday night, opting instead to wait for all the votes to be counted. He nevertheless thanked his supporters and the entire community at a gathering.
    Montoya, however, had no qualms about claiming victory in his race, saying he was elated with his results.
    "We were expecting a really tight race," said Montoya, who garnered 56.4 percent of the vote in a three-person race. "To my surprise, the grass-roots campaign I had was very successful." Montoya has previously served 10 years on the county commission.
       Sheriff Joe Mascarenas, meanwhile, easily defeated challenger Donald A. Valdez. The county's Division 2 magistrate post was also up for election, but incumbent Alex Naranjo was the only person to file for the job.
    While 19 candidates were running in Tuesday's primary for the seven Rio Arriba County positions on the ballot, much of the attention in the election was focused on the Rodellas.
    Debbie Rodella garnered 50.9 percent of the vote, apparently staving off a challenge from Morales. Debbie Rodella was first elected in 1992 and since then has been re-elected every two years.
    During the campaign, Morales hammered the longtime representative for accepting thousands of dollars from out-of-state corporations affiliated with alcohol, gaming, telecommunications, tobacco, corrections, airlines, energy, pharmaceuticals, insurance and payday-loan corporations. He also criticized his opponent for supporting legislation in 2005 that made private hunting resorts in New Mexico exempt from paying taxes at commercial rates. The bill trumped a state Supreme Court decision on a property tax dispute between Rio Arriba County and the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
       Tommy Rodella ran under the slogan, "Return Thomas R. Rodella Rio Arriba County Magistrate Judge Div. I: Our County... Our Choice... it DOES MATTER."
    Gov. Richardson appointed Tommy Rodella to the magistrate post on March 31, 2005, to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Tony F. Martinez in December 2004. Following his appointment, information surfaced that Tommy Rodella had been disciplined for marijuana use, improper use of a weapon, physical abuse and other charges during his 13-year State Police career.
    Tommy Rodella resigned the position less than four months after being appointed amid criticism for his having helped an acquaintance arrested on a DWI charge get out of jail within hours of his arrest.
    Richardson had expressed disappointment after learning about Tommy Rodella's handling of the case, and the governor said he asked Tommy Rodella to resign.
       The magistrate post Tommy Rodella won is currently vacant, but it's unclear whether Tommy Rodella will assume the position immediately. The Governor's Office said in late May that Richardson still hadn't made a decision on whether he would appoint the winner of the primary to the post.
    County Manager Lorenzo Valdez said turnout for Tuesday's election was low, noting that roughly 20,000 people are registered to vote in the county. According to figures from the clerk's office, about 8,240 people actually cast ballots in this year's primary.
    Rio Arriba County primary election was monitored by Attorney General Patricia Madrid's office. Among the allegations that surfaced in the days leading up to the election was that someone requested an absentee ballot and voted for a 78-year-old Española nursing home resident no longer competent to handle his own affairs. The man's daughter, who holds power of attorney for him, cried foul, saying, "I just don't feel that that's right for them to do that. I wasn't even contacted."