Democrat candidates debate local, state issues

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Two dozen Democratic candidates running for local and state offices turned out for a candidate forum hosted by the Valencia County Federation of Democratic Women last Thursday. The offices range from state representative to county officials to various judgeships.

There were four New Mexico State Representative districts represented that night. Districts 7, 8, 49 and 50.

Those candidates were asked to describe their concerns regarding the governor’s education policies, specifically “high stakes testing and funding early childhood development.”

Former state representative for District 7 Andrew Barreras is running against Dr. Teresa Smith de Cherif for the primary nod this year.

Barreras said the first time he met Hanna Skandera, state public education department secretary-designate, “I knew we were in trouble. The Florida standards by (Jeb) Bush that she brought are bad. They are a ploy by the governor to get vouchers. We’ve heard the governor’s comments on teachers. What we’re seeing are smoke screens just to hurt teachers and students.”

Teachers are being driven out of the profession by the governor’s policies, Smith de Cherif said.

“A recent study by the American Statistical Association shows these value-added methods, making teachers’ salaries and their very jobs dependent on them, are absolutely invalid statistically,” Smith de Cherif said. “They do not work and need to be abandoned. Unfortunately, the governor is making recommendations on policies that don’t stand up.”

Jim Danner said students spend more time on computers taking tests than teachers can teach.

“We have more than $12 billion in the land grant fund and if this is not an emergency, I don’t know what is,” Danner said. “We need to use some of that money for (kindergarten) through (third grade), Pre-k. Studies have shown that if students are involved in the educational process, they benefit when they get to high school. … We need to do something to change.”

His opponent, Frank Otero, said when Martinez ran for office, she decided she could win on gimmicks.

“She threw out testing and teacher evaluations as a way to get votes. We’ve brought in a person (Skandera) with no education background,” Otero said. “This has created havoc. I have been speaking with teachers and a lot of them are changing careers. As for early childhood education, in the first five years a child learns more than in the next 13 years in school. We have to invest in early childhood education.”

Public-private partnerships are being built and forming fascist police states, said Erik Hawkes, and Martinez is following the New Century Jobs program.

“And that is nothing but a public-private partnership and Skandera is a part of that. The confirmation hearings were a sham,” Hawkes said. “The media reported there was a 10 percent gain in graduation rates but what they are hiding from you is there is a one-year reprieve. These public-private partnerships implement courses that are mandatory for you to pay for. It’s continuing education from birth to death for everything from home ownership to vehicle maintenance.”

When she was the chairwoman of the vocational department at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, Dell Washington wrote the curriculum for the early childhood education program.

“I am the product of early childhood education,” Washington said. “I am against vouchers; it’s a code word for racism. Taking public education money and using it in private schools was a ploy in the south when they brought in integration. My grandparents were teachers, so I know the tradition and appreciate the hard work.”

Running unopposed in the primary, Matthew McQueen said education was the defining issue of this campaign season.

“The governor’s policies are destructive. I went through public schools. When I was a kid, my teachers were my heroes. They deserve our support and respect,” McQueen said. “Testing has gotten out of hand. I understand that students spend 40 percent of their time either taking tests or preparing. Teachers are teaching to the test and that’s not right. We need to absolutely invest to early childhood eduction; it sets the table and gets our kids ready to be good students when they reach school age.”

All the Valencia County commission candidates were asked, “What is one problem in Valencia County that has motivated you to run for commissioner? What skills do you bring to help resolve that problem?”

Helen Cole said during her 15 years with the county public works department the biggest problem was roads.

“We need to fix roads correctly; it’s a matter of public safety,” Cole said. “I worked closely with Sen. Michael Sanchez to get money for roads.”

Cole’s challenger in the primary, Mark Leeder, did not attend the forum.

His love for Valencia County is what encouraged Michael Melendez to run for commissioner. Melendez relocated to the county seven years after living in Dona Ana County and serving for four years on the planning and zoning commission there.

“We have many of the same situations here we faced there with landowners. One of the things I see that could be improved on are the revenues the county is able to generate using its ability to create business,” Melendez said. “Revenues from business activities such as solar and wind are important, good opportunities, and one of the things I am going to support.”

Calling himself an old man, not a politician, Norbert Schuller said he has spent nearly five years attending county commission meetings, and the biggest problem is the commissioners are not doing their job.

“They are not working for the people, they are working for their own interests,” Schueller said. “Last December, a jail (gross receipts tax) was introduced. We are one of the few counties that does not have it. It was voted down by three commissioners. (Earlier) this year PNM asked for a zone variance for solar. Those same commissioners voted it down. They are not trying solve problems. This county is damn near broke. We need commissioners who are working for all the people of the county, not their own self interests.”

Running unopposed on the Democratic ticket, Christian Garcia said the No. 1 issue in the county is public safety.

“I would like see a task force with all the entities in county,” Garcia said. “No. 2 is infrastructure; we have no economic growth because there are no business needs met for roads, gray water, clear water. To bring business in, we need to work together.”

Candidates running for county assessor were asked, “What are your qualifications to manage the office of assessor?”

Mary Lydia Castillo said she brings 26 years of management skills as the director of programs such as the dietary department and funeral department at the Los Lunas Training School.

Beverly Dominguez Gonzales served two terms, eight years, as assessor and 23 years of working in the assessor’s office, he said.

“I know how to work with the commission on budgets and have done reappraisal programs several times,” Gonzales said. “I have worked with the state property tax division, and when I was a senior appraiser there, I worked with all the assessors throughout the state. I know the process to pick up all properties for fair and suitable value to generate more money for the county.”

As the chief appraiser for the department, Orlando Montoya said he has been managing employees within the department for several years.

“I am a state certified appraiser, I graduated from the University of New Mexico with a bachelor’s in political science with an emphasis in local government,” Montoya said. “I have worked under two Democratic assessors and helped move us into the 21st century. I have the drive and experience; I’m a young, hardworking guy. If you do this job equitably across the board, you do it the do right way.”

Candidates for the sheriff’s race were asked, “What do you think is the No. 1 challenge for the sheriff? What skills do you bring to solve this challenge?”

Emily Montoya said the No. 1 challenge is going to be a change of culture in the department.

“We are going to change culture and give reliable professional service,” Montoya said, introducing her appointment for under sheriff if she wins the seat, Larry Lindberg. “Together we’re going to work for this county and we’re going to work hard. We will find answers to problems and each community has its own special problem. This county has been neglected for many years and I will work hard to be a working sheriff for this county.”

The No. 1 challenge will be handling burglaries, auto theft and other crime in Valencia County, said Rene Rivera.

“I am going to work to make sure that we are getting qualified local deputies from Valencia County who can help respond faster. I have people telling me it’s taking an hour to five hours to respond sometimes, if there is a response at all,” Rivera said.

The probate judge candidates were asked why they wanted the position.

Joe Ray Chavez said he was a family man, raised in Valencia County.

“I can help out families. I have dealt with family issues and personal issues as far as land and probate issues,” Chavez said.

Jamie Goldberg said he wanted to bring some integrity to the office.

“A lot of people run but don’t know what goes on with probate issues. When loved ones pass there is something called a chain of title that has to be done immediately,” Goldberg said. “Otherwise, 20 years down the road, they can end up in district court and it can cost thousands of dollars. I have worked for 20 years for the district court, supervised the employees and managed a $7 million budget.”

Between the district court judges and magistrates seats, there were six candidates. Each candidate randomly drew a separate judicial knowledge question to answer.

“What do you believe to be the root cause for the high number of juvenile offenders? What changes can the court system make to reduce these numbers?”

Joshua J. Sanchez said the high number of juvenile offenders stems from a lack of things for children to do after school.

“They get out school at 2:30 p.m. and their parents are working a full time job until 6:30 p.m.. They find themselves doing things they shouldn’t do,” Sanchez said. “We need to get adults involved, parents. These kids need to be productive when they grow up. They are going to be our neighbors and teachers, a part of our community.”

Sanchez said the courts could help reduce the number of juvenile offenders by being proactive.

“We could have different court-sponsored activities so we’re not on the back end dealing with a problem,” he said.

“What do you believe are the causes of the high rates of minority incarceration?”

One of the causes of high rates of minority incarceration, Walter Hart said, is a problem that probably effects all families these days.

“Here we are in 2014 and median income is not any higher than it was in 1971. And that’s with two household members working,” Hart said. “I think for minorities, there is a sad history of even lower rates of income. With less income and less options comes the opportunity to face incarceration. I think in the family court division you have to deal with people as individuals, where they come from and tailor to that. The law applies equally and justice demands what they deserve.”

“Violent crime, particularly youth violence, is perceived to be at a crisis level by many experts today. What, if any, do you believe is the appropriate role for the judiciary in addressing this perceived crisis?”

Unchallenged incumbent Tina Garcia said violence stems from poverty and lack of education.

“When I think of families in crisis, I think the role of a judge can reach beyond the bench,” Garcia said. “I sit on several youth boards and judicial boards and we do try to reach families. We have a lot of resources but I don’t think families know how to reach them.”

“What do you perceive as the greatest obstacle to justice and why?”

Phillip “Shorty” Romero said having worked with the district and magistrate courts, scheduling is a huge obstacle.

“All the judges need to get to together for scheduling. I’ve seen cases dismissed because an officer is in grand jury, unable to be in the courtroom on a DWI. Public defenders are working on three cases going at the same time,” Romero said. “I think judges know my character. I think I could bring everyone together and give everyone their fair day in court.”

“What factors are considered in granting and setting bail amounts for defendants? What do you believe is the primary consideration?”

The factors involved depend on the situation, Albert Jose Tapia said.

“It depends on what the person has done. You have to look at each individual person and each individual case. You have first-, second- and third-time offenders. You end up setting bond depending on the situation,” Tapia said. “I want to help out as much as I can but I don’t want repeat offenders. I want to help first-time, youth offenders.”

“What do you think about the growing prison population? What response should society have to prison overcrowding?”

Providing more effective programs for youth to intercept problems early would be one way to reduce the growing prison population, said Jodie Gallegos.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.