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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Candidates Address Colonia Residents at Chaparral Forum

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Contributing writer Stephen Jones checks in with more on-the-ground coverage from Southern New Mexico.

Southern New Mexico candidates faced off at a well attended community forum held at the Betty McNight Multi-Purpose Community Center in Chaparral, New Mexico, a small rural community near the Texas border in south central New Mexico. About sixty residents turned out from Chaparral and surrounding communities to attend the event, which was sponsored by the Chaparral Community Development Association.

The forum drew candidates from both Doña Ana and Otero Counties. The community straddles the County line. Chaparral is designated by the State of New Mexico as a Colonia, a rural borderland community in an unincorporated area which has traditionally lacked adequate infrastructure.

County Assessor
The forum of both Democratic and Republican candidates was generally low key and friendly, though occasionally took on an edgy tone. “I’m an American and a God-fearing father of six,” said Tyson Murphy, the Republican candidate for Doña Ana County Assessor, in his opening remarks. The comment and tone seemed to be aimed at the largely Hispanic audience, many of whom were Spanish-speaking and immigrants.

In his opening remarks, Andy Segovia, the Democratic candidate for County Assessor responded, “I’ve come down to this community and worked to serve you. I’ve been here to support you,” Segovia said. Segovia is currently the deputy in the County Assessor’s office. Segovia and Tyson are vying to replace the outgoing Doña Ana County Assessor, Gary Perez. “Over the past eight years we’ve developed award-winning systems in the Assessor’s office,” Segovia said, “I’m bilingual and I am able to reach out to all of our communities. I’m always able to help you.” Asked what changes he would make to the office, if elected, Murphy said he would bring “fresh eyes” to the operation and “have an open mind toward changes.”

Most of the other opening remarks centered on the panel of candidates recounting their backgrounds and qualifications for the specific offices they were seeking.

Judicial Candidates
The three judicial candidates on hand, Democrats Jose “Joel” Cano, Appellate Judge Mannie Arrieta, and Rick Wellborn, his Republican opponent, spent considerable time explaining the different judicial levels and functions of the Doña Ana County Court system. Cano, who is seeking the position of Magistrate Judge, termed his office “the quality of life judge.” Magistrate Judges primarily handle traffic and minor civil cases. The Appellate Court is charged with major civil and criminal caseloads.

Cano, who is a retired police officer, suggested that the magistrate court needed to make greater use of legal provisions that permit communities to develop community service programs. “I’ve worked at every level of the community,” he said, “and I intend to bring that experience to the Court.” Arrieta and Wellborn resumed their ongoing debate over experience and how best to address the backlog of legal cases pending before the Court. Arrieta has 25 years of experience in primarily civil law. Wellborn has 15 years of experience, primarily in criminal law. 68% of the cases in the Appellate court are civil cases.

Another issue raised was the pending closure of the Anthony, New Mexico Magistrate Court, which is eleven miles from Chaparral. If the court is closed, Chaparral residents will have to travel to Las Cruces, 36 miles away. All of the candidates urged local residents to work with their representatives to keep the court open.

Another contentious issue was immigration. Asked whether they would support the formation of an oversight commission to address complaints over enforcement practices in the region, all three Sheriff candidates responded they would not. Sheriff Todd Garrison, the Doña Ana County incumbent, responded that his office was the authority charged with enforcement, in coordination with Federal authorities, and he would not support a new authority to address the issue. Juan “JR” Stewart, the Democratic candidate, reminded the audience that immigration enforcement falls under Federal and not under local authority. He promised to work for fairness and coordination between all existing law enforcement authorities. Wally Anderson, the Democratic candidate for Otero County Sheriff, said that illegal immigration was caused by illegal employers and that State and Federal authorities needed to address what he called “the real issue.” Anderson has received support from the Border Patrol Unions.

Another controversial immigration issue was the New Mexico law that allows residents to acquire driver’s licenses without a Social Security number. Representative Joseph Cervantes pointed out that local law enforcement had actively lobbied for current law, and that the New Mexico policy had drastically reduced uninsured drivers and traffic enforcement issues. While New Mexico’s law has enhanced enforcement, Cervantes said, uninsured drivers and high auto insurance rates remain a major problem for neighboring states.

Representative Nate Cote (D-53) responded that he had not been in the legislature when the current statute was passed, but was willing to revisit it. “I think we can address the issue of non-citizens holding New Mexico driver’s licenses, while allowing people to drive and acquire insurance,” Cote said. “I’m opposed to it, right off the bat,” said Rick Little, the Republican candidate for the 53rd District. He said he would work to repeal the law.

Economic Development
The role of the legislature in economic development was also discussed. Reps. Nate Cote and Joseph Cervantes addressed the Colonia development funds that they have worked to acquire, including a million dollars in funds for Chaparral. “I was proud to get those funds for this community,” Cervantes said. Asked if he believed in “trickle-down” economics, Rick Little said “I do.” He called for a “tax break” for communities like Chaparral. Little said New Mexico needed to become a “business friendly state. Government isn’t going to spend us out of the problem,” he said.

Building Codes and Infrastructure
Local building code violations were also discussed extensively at the Chaparral forum. Code violations and substandard infrastructure are ongoing problems in the Colonias. Asked if State and County candidates were willing to act against violators, the candidates responded affirmatively. “We already have the laws,” said Janet White, an independent candidate for Otero County Board, “but if elected officials aren’t willing to enforce them they aren’t worth very much. Lack of enforcement leads to lack of credibility,” she said. L.C. Marshall, the Democratic candidate for Otero County Commission District 1, concurred, but also pointed out that he was already involved in working to insure that landowners met standards for code enforcement. “We’ve looked at a new subdivision here in Chaparral with 107 lots,” Marshall said, “and are working to make sure it meets the codes."

Members of the Chaparral Association at the forum pointed out that people who buy lots on unimproved lands have no reason to expect the seller to supply infrastructure, including roads, sewers and water. On the larger issue of code enforcement, Representative Cervantes noted that New Mexico’s Colonia law had created new code standards to protect the communities, and that residents should work with their representatives and the Attorney General’s office to ensure enforcement.

Public Regulation Commission
Stephanie DuBois was the only candidate seeking election to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to appear at the forum. She outlined the duties of the office, which regulates insurance and utilities in the state, and promised to be a watchdog for the public on the commission. “I’m running a publicly funded campaign,” she said. “My opponent is accepting  donations from the companies that are regulated by the commission. 16% of his contributors are from Texas. I might ask what interest Texas has in your public regulation commission.” DuBois' opponent is Patrick Lyons, who currently is the sitting Land Commissioner.

Asked what the first thing she would do if elected to the PRC, DuBois responded that she would establish methods of communication for her office. “The thing I hear most often from voters is that they have no way to communicate with members of the commission.”

Photos by Stephen Jones. To see more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.

October 14, 2010 at 10:41 AM in 2010 General Election, 2010 Judicial Races, 2010 NM Legislature Races, 2010 NM PRC Races, By Stephen Jones, Contributing Writer, Events | Permalink


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