Sandoval Signpost


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Voting Details

Just because Election Day is November 4 doesn’t mean you have to wait. First, you have to be registered to vote, and the last day to do that is October 7. That’s also the first day absentee ballots are available by mailed request and that absentee in-person voting begins.

Early voting begins on October 18 and runs through November 1, the Saturday before the election. October 31 is the last day the Sandoval County Clerk can mail out absentee ballots. All absentee ballots must be returned to the County Clerk by the time the polls close on November 4.

On Election Day, polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Anyone in line at 7:00 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

A federal judge has ordered the County Clerk’s Office to open 17 voting centers in Rio Rancho on Election Day. The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf of a voter, and two losing candidates, after the opening of only five centers in Rio Rancho led to hours-long waits and some voters simply giving up in 2012.

Democratic state House candidate John Wallace of Placitas (left) joined gubernatorial candidate Gary King (right) in a visit with voters.

Jim Smith, from Sandia Park, candidate for State Representative, District 22

State representative draws Placitas challenger

—Candidate stories by Bill Diven

Both candidates running to represent Placitas in the state House can claim backgrounds in classroom teaching, but their views on New Mexico’s educational issues diverge from there.

Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, spent 18 years in education, mostly teaching science and computer skills at the high school level in Moriarty and the East Mountains. He retired earlier this year and is seeking a third two-year term representing House District 22.

John Wallace, a Placitas resident in his first political campaign, has taught in the Albuquerque Public Schools since 2001, until taking a leave of absence this year to work for the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. It was the education policies of Gov. Susana Martinez, and Smith’s support of the A-F grading system for schools—which gave Placitas Elementary School a D—that led him into politics, he said.

“I’m on the governing board of Placitas Elementary School,” Wallace said during a forum sponsored by the Placitas Community Library and the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association. “We lost sixty kids because of this policy.”

Wallace took another swipe at Martinez for trying to cut funding for social programs in a state rife with poverty. He also cited protecting the water and boosting the economy among his top priorities, mentioning the low minimum wage as one reason the state isn’t moving forward.

While Smith didn’t respond directly, due to the format of the forum, in an earlier interview he said his experience on the House Education Committee suggested partisan rancor is interfering with improving the state’s schools.

“My grand plan from here out is we’ve got to get away from this partisan discussion on education,” he said. “The only way to move out of that is getting better discussions about what’s good for the kids.”

While Smith has described himself as a strict constitutionalist, he also said he has been able to work with Democrats to pass bills banning texting while driving, opening school-based health centers, and removing Placitas from the Eastern Sandoval County Arroyo Flood Control Authority.

“I don’t carry any national legislation coming out of national organizations,” he told the Signpost. “It’s more important to represent the people of the district.”

District 22 covers parts of Sandoval, Santa Fe, and Bernalillo counties and is split by the Sandia Mountains. The bulk of the population is in the eastern section, which includes the town of Edgewood and the Sandia Park-Cedar Crest-Tijeras areas.

Both candidates took issue with the state’s handling of issues related to the Lafarge quarry and other gravel mining in Placitas. Smith said he wants to open up the state’s dated mining law, which only regulates larger operations, and add gravel to the mining activities paying into the Severance Tax Permanent Fund.

Wallace said Lafarge isn’t paying a fair share of taxes, should restore the land it disturbs, and must be monitored for air- and water-quality issues, which isn’t happening now. “It’s almost an emergency,” he said.

Smith and Wallace also favored opening Republican and Democratic primaries to voters who have declined to register with either party with Wallace adding he didn’t want crossover voting between the major parties.

Responding to questions during the forum, Smith and Wallace took different approaches approving background checks for sales at gun shows, legalizing marijuana, and tapping the Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education.

Wallace favored a wait-and-see approach to marijuana legalization, based in part on Colorado’s new law, while endorsing decriminalization. Some drug-war policies have hurt the country,” he said. “We shouldn’t be putting people in prison for marijuana.”

Smith declared opposition to legalization and said the people in prison for marijuana are there for distribution-level charges. “People are not in prison for possession,” he said.

And while Wallace said he favors background checks at gun shows, Smith said he wasn’t necessarily opposed as long as there were protections including exempting sales to family members.

On the continuing debate over using, or as some have said, “raiding,” the $14 billion dollar Land Grant Permanent Fund to add $150 million dollars a year to early childhood education, Wallace and Smith both expressed support for early education as an investment in the future. However, Smith qualified that by saying the principal of the fund should be left untouched while Wallace said the spending should depend on how well the fund investments are doing.

Incumbent Sheriff Doug Wood (far left) debates with Jesse James Casaus (far right) for the next sheriff appointment in Sandoval County. ES-CA moderator Ed Majka sits center.

Wood and Casaus wrangle over who should be sheriff

Sandoval County’s incumbent sheriff and one of his deputies are competing to hold the top-cop job for the next four years.

Sheriff Doug Wood, a Republican living in Rio Rancho, is himself a former Sandoval County deputy while Deputy Jesse James Casaus of Placitas is a former New Mexico State Police officer. Wood also was a military police officer and a deputy in Santa Fe County.

Wood is citing his depth of experience during 25 years of law enforcement with about half that time spent in supervisory or management roles. He also said he has turned around a department in disarray when he took office.

“It was completely broken down when we came in,” he said during an interview. “Deputies can hold their heads up high when they go on duty now.”

Part of the turnaround involved setting professional standards for hiring and training and rebuilding relationships with other departments, he said.

Casaus spent seven years with the State Police before joining the sheriff’s office in 2008. And while he has not been in administration, neither had Wood when he was first elected, he said.

“As the county has gotten bigger, property crimes are on the rise,” Casaus said. “As the county has gotten bigger, the sheriff’s office has been stagnant… I believe an aggressive approach on drugs would reduce that by targeting drug activity.”

Casaus also is proposing finding grant funds to support drug-interdiction on highways in the county.

Wood told the Signpost that he’s created a special-services unit to identify members of outside gangs living in the county and sharing intelligence with other agencies. The unit also handles “elevated-risk” warrant arrests—45 so far without incident—and a tracking team for finding lost hikers and hunters or fleeing felons.

Patrol cars now have radio repeaters that work with hand radios, he added, and there is a five-year plan to add repeater towers as funding is available, Wood said.

“That all came to light after the Joe Harris incident,” he said referring to the deadly 2009 confrontation between the sheriff’s sergeant and what turned out to be a murder suspect during a stakeout at a Jemez Mountains cabin beyond radio communication.

During a candidate forum, sponsored by the Placitas Community Library, Casaus also stressed the importance of good relations with other departments in a large county with few deputies. While the radio repeaters are a “no-brainer,” some officers lack basic equipment like Tasers, he said.

The department is authorized for 52 commissioned officers, including the sheriff and undersheriff to cover a county of 5,700 square miles. It currently has two vacancies.

Wood said much of the department’s funding issues relate to the recession and reduced tax collections supporting local governments. “We’re a Class A county with Class B funding,” he said, adding that his budget of around five million dollars is half that of Santa Fe County.

Money from grants, criminal seizures, and pueblos has allowed the department to expand monitoring of sex offenders and add a simulator for active-shooter training.

The sheriff’s race made extra news late in August over a confrontation between Casaus’s mother and uncle and Wood, who was seated with his family at the Range Cafe in Bernalillo. According to news and police reports, Elizabeth Aguilar accused Wood of removing her son’s campaign cards from a display of local business cards at the restaurant entrance, and Felix Aguilar claimed Wood assaulted him.

Wood rejects both claims and said he touched Felix Aguilar while asking him to calm down. Bernalillo police turned their report over to the District Attorney’s Office for further review, Police Chief Thomas Romero told the Signpost.

Miles, Dominguez hoping to fill commission vacancy

A new Sandoval County commissioner will be representing the Placitas-Bernalillo-Algodones area after the November 4 election.

James Dominguez of Bernalillo bested three other candidates in the Democratic primary in June, while Republican Gary Miles of Placitas has been running unopposed. Both hope to replace Democrat Orlando Lucero who is leaving office after serving the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms in District 1.

In Rio Rancho-center District 3, incumbent Commissioner Don Chapman is seeking a second term after defeating one challenger in the Republican primary. The Democrats did not field a candidate for the office.

Dominguez, with a family background in ranching and after a career related to public utilities, told the Signpost he’s been doing his homework on county management and budgeting after deciding to run for the office.

“For the last two years, I’ve worked hard to understand what’s going on in the county,” he said. “I’m going to be an active commissioner. That’s my whole role: be there and support the communities.”

Miles, who declined a request for an interview, is a long-time Placitas resident and animal activist who founded Placitas Animal Rescue 26 years ago. He is also a member of the Coronado Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

Over the last few years, he’s been deeply involved with the free-roaming horses in the area, caring for horses seized by the New Mexico Livestock Board and buying them when they are put up for auction as strays. He and others have worked to remove the horses from roadways where public safety became an issue.

In an April interview he said he was running for the office because Placitas has lacked representation at the county level. “All the decisions are being made by people from Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, and Jemez Pueblo,” he said.

Dominguez said public safety comes first, whether it involves the horses or flood control in Algodones. Yet while the county has a lot of needs, “How do we get there without raising taxes,” he said.

During a forum, sponsored by the Placitas Community Library and the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association, Dominguez spoke against expanded gravel mining in Placitas. The county should enforce its zoning requirements and involve the state to help regulate the operations and to protect neighborhoods from noise and dust, he said.

However, he added, he’s against expanding mining, particularly into the 3,100 acres of federal land known as the Buffalo Tract. “I think we’ve done enough mining,” he told the audience.

Dominguez spent 27 years with PNM in its electric and gas operations as a welder, and later, as a field supervisor managing crews installing new infrastructure. He also served as a consultant to Qwest installing fiber-optic cable.

Later, Dominguez said, he worked for the town of Bernalillo, increasing revenue by bringing hundreds of water meters back online. He also helped reduce expenses by ending the paid disposal of wastewater effluent and implementing an excavation permit to cover town costs when utility contractors dig in public right-of-way.

Tom Garcia

Antonio Montoya

Candidates for assessor spar over reappraisals

The two candidates for Sandoval County Assessor disagree on aspects of the countywide reappraisal now underway, although both are promising fair treatment of taxpayers.

Republican Tom Garcia is running for a second four-year term while Democrat Antonio Montoya, a certified appraiser in Garcia’s office, is making his first run for public office.

Garcia has defended the time and expense of the reappraisal as necessary to consolidate decades of diverse, and sometimes inaccurate, records into computer databases and to add missing properties to the tax rolls.

“We didn’t start it to raise taxes,” Garcia said during a forum at the Placitas Community Center. “We did it to get the data right.”

While some appraised values are going up and some down, the eight hundred thousand dollars in new tax revenue is paying for the project over time.

The assessor is governed by state law and has no flexibility in setting appraisals at market value, he said. The law also caps increases in residential appraisals at three percent for current owners, he added.

Montoya questioned launching the project during an economic downturn when families and fixed-income residents are hurting financially. Instead, property details not affecting market values are being added to help cover the cost of the $1.7 million dollar effort, he said.

“They’re compensating by picking up slabs, gazebos, lean-tos and animal shelters,” Montoya said during the forum sponsored by the Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association and the Placitas Community Library. Property values should be minimized to reflect current market trends, he added.

“I consider myself a public servant, not a politician, but politics comes with it,” Montoya told the Signpost. “I like dealing with people. Being there and helping out.”

Garcia cited work outside appraisals that his office has done, including finding seven hundred thousand dollars that wasn’t being paid through industrial revenue bonds to the Rio Rancho School District and stressing continuing education for his staff. He also noted a drop in appraisal protests from 22,000 to three thousand, although Montoya contended the bulk of that was from giving developer AMREP a blanket reduction on 16,000 parcels that it owns.

Garcia’s thirty-year background includes heading the state Property Tax Division, work as an appraiser, authoring instruction manuals, and current work as an instructor for a New Mexico State University program. Montoya trained in real estate and appraisals, intending to become a Realtor and has been with the assessor’s office for 15 years, 13 of those as a certified appraiser.

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