Photos Courtesy of Sandy Feutz of FeVa Fotos


Article By Charlie McKee

On Thursday evening, May 8, 2014, the Thursday Forum Committee, Western New Mexico University (WNMU), and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) hosted a forum featuring Democratic Party candidates running for office in the Grant County primary election on June 3, 2014.

The candidates attending the forum were Democratic Party candidates, Judge Hector Grijalva, running for re-election as Magistrate Judge, Division 2; Lonnie Sandoval for Magistrate Judge, Division 2; Mary Guthrie running for re-election as Grant County Assessor; Raul Turrieta for Grant County Assessor; Moses Clark for Grant County Commissioner, District 1; and Raul Villanueva, running unopposed in the primary for Grant County Sheriff.

Gabriel Ramos, who is running for re-election as Grant County Commissioner, District 1, was not present at the forum, but was represented by Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca who read a prepared statement. The audience also discovered on their chairs copies of a legal Consent Agreement between the State of New Mexico's Securities Division and Ramos regarding Ramos's terminated license as a State Farm agent and possible violations of the New Mexico Uniform Securities Act.

Nick Seibel, a lifelong resident of Grant County and a former Silver City Town Councilor who has recently also become the new publisher of the Silver City Daily Press, moderated the forum. Seibel thanked the audience for attending, emphasizing the importance of voting in the upcoming election because it is a "chance to choose the people who will shape our community in the years to come." Seibel asked each of the candidates to give an opening statement of two to three minutes each, which would be followed by questions from the audience. He added that each of the candidates could present also a closing statement at the conclusion of the question-and-answer period.

The candidates then presented their opening statements, which are summarized as follows:
1) Grijalva – Grijalva stated that he is a lifelong resident of Grant County, a veteran, and worked for many years as a contractor. He has been the Division 2 Magistrate Judge since 2007, when he noted that the court caseload was low. Grijalva stated that that he now handles approximately 3,000 cases per year with a staff of two and a half employees, and he needs additional help.
2) Sandoval – Sandoval stated that he is currently the Chief of Police in Santa Clara, has lived in Grant County for 22 years and attended WNMU. Prior to becoming Chief of Police in 2010, he was with the New Mexico State Police. Sandoval told the audience that he wishes to continue to serve Grant County residents in a new role as Magistrate Judge.
3) Guthrie – Guthrie stated that she is currently serving as the County Assessor, has 29 years of experience and has been a certified assessor since 1989. She said that she understands the appraisal process and its reporting requirements, as well as how to prepare reappraisal packages and budgets. She emphasized that she "knows what it takes to get the job done."
4) Turrieta – Turrieta stated that he was born in Silver City, attended WNMU, served in the US Navy, and had previously served as County Assessor. He noted that he has been certified as an appraiser since 1981 and that he is teaching Western Institute of Lifelong Learning (WILL) classes in property assessment.
5) Clark – Clark stated that he is a resident of Arenas Valley, an employee of Unicorn Press, and attended WNMU. He reported that he is in favor of increasing minimum wage and that his goal is to achieve open, honest, and transparent government in Grant County. Clark informed the audience that he had been convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and knows that he is not perfect. However, he is open and honest about it.
6) Ramos – Ortego read a prepared statement on behalf of Gabriel Ramos that stated that, as current County Commissioner, Ramos is in favor of keeping the forest roads open, the protection of water, and achieving a balanced budget that meets audit standards. The statement reported that Ramos previously served as Grant County Clerk and on the Hurley Town Council. The statement also noted that Ramos had been instrumental in starting three important groups: the Southwest County Commissioners Alliance; the Eco Watershed Group; and the Grant County Parks and Recreation Committee. Ramos's stated goal is to grow the economy of Grant County.
7) Villanueva – Villanueva noted that he is running for Sheriff unopposed in the primary election, but urged the audience to vote on June 3. He stated that he has been Grant County Sheriff since 2010 and served on the Bayard City Council prior to that. Villanueva informed the audience that he is anxious to continue to serve Grant County.

After opening statements, Seibel then opened the forum to questions from the audience, both in written form and asked directly to the panel. Seibel instructed the audience to direct their questions to all candidates for a particular office or to all candidates in general. The questions and answers are summarized as follows:

1) Question: What are your two or three most important character strengths?
• Villanueva – Working with the public and keeping an open door policy, as well as being the father of six kids.
• Clark – Open, honest, and transparent.
• Turrieta – Fairness and justice; doing good deeds; and energy.
• Guthrie – Dedication to correct valuation and honesty.
• Sandoval – Honest and open with good ethics; and likes to talk with people.
• Grijalva – Disciplined, honest, and fair; and lives by the Golden Rule.

2) Question to Judicial Candidates: What will you do about the rising drug problem and about your personal education regarding the law?
• Grijalva – Drug sentencing choices are limited and cases are often already settled prior to coming to court. Judges are required to attend continuing education courses, and he does so.
• Sandoval – He will hold people accountable and will cooperate with law enforcement in the tri-county area. He believes we must all work together. His education is continuous in law enforcement.

3) Question to Assessor Candidates: What will you do to keep lowincome natives in their homes?
• Guthrie – Ben Lujan took care of this in 2001 or 2002 by legislating that the value of homes could not be increased more than 3% per year, so people cannot be forced out of their homes.
• Turrieta – Residents over 65 years of age can freeze the value of their home, if they qualify as low-income residents. In this declining market, the Assessor can get homes back to their correct values.

4) Question to Commissioner Candidates: What is your position on the diversion of the Gila River?
• Clark – The cost of diversion is estimated to be $450 million, and the residents will have to pay for at least $350 million of this. The money should be used for regional water projects instead, because the Gila may not have enough water in it 10 to 15 years from now to go into diversion, and the money would have been spent.

5) Question to the Sheriff: What are you doing about the murders in Grant County? Also, what do you think of the statement that the Sheriff is the highest authority in the County?
• Villanueva – Since 2009 there have been three unsolved murders, one of which has been solved. The other two continue to be under investigation by two fulltime investigators.
• Villanueva – It is true that the Sheriff is the highest authority in the County and is tasked with keeping it safe, even if challenged by federal authorities. However, he wants to cooperate with outside agencies to keep the county "open and free for all of us."

6) Question to the Judicial Candidates: What is the difference in the roles between law enforcement and judges?
• Sandoval – Police collect evidence correctly and work with the District Attorney to prepare a case. The judge makes a decision as to whether the case was done correctly on its merits.
• Grijalva – Police begin the case, and the judge appoints an attorney and follows the process to the end.

7) Question re Securities Consent Agreement: An audience member stated that the act of putting copies of the New Mexico Securities Division Consent Agreement with Gabriel Ramos on the audience chairs was "sneaky." He then asked if the person who did it would have the decency to admit to it to the group. No one replied.

8) Question to the Commissioner Candidates: What is your opinion of a five-member Commission?
• Clark – Two of the county districts are huge and should be smaller to obtain better representation with five members of the Commission. However, increasing the size of the Commission would require funding two more salaries and also requires a unanimous vote of the existing three members.

9) Question to the Judicial Candidates: How does/will your law enforcement experience affect you as judge?
• Grijalva – I am fair, and I stay on top of case law.
• Sandoval – I would not be heavy-handed and would be "fair but firm." I treat everyone equally and am devoted to Grant County.

10) Question to the Judicial Candidates: What do you think of our prison system and the fact that the US locks up more people than anywhere else in the world?
• Sandoval – Diversion programs don't work, especially for people like the mentally ill. However, when they do work, people can be sent to other jurisdictions and technology enables this with faxes and other means of communication.
• Grijalva – Jail is expensive for the taxpayers; but some offenders need it. It must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

11) Question to the Assessor Candidates: Other places have online GIS capabilities. Why is it not here?
• Turrieta – GIS has been neglected for years in Grant County, and we need a good map first. We need to put more money into mapping.
• Guthrie – GIS technology requires a lot of money, and we need to get it into the budget.

12) Question to All: In one word, why are you a candidate?
• Clark – Love
• Grijalva – Service
• Sandoval – Dedication
• Villanueva – Care
• Guthrie – Passionate
• Turrieta – Experience

13) Question to All: What does success [in office] mean to you?
• Sandoval – Grant County elected me to protect them; success is helping the people of Grant County.
• Grijalva – Continuing to serve and seeing people who come up to me and thank me.
• Clark – Providing a regional water system and holding GRMC accountable.
• Turrieta – Meeting the needs of the community.
• Guthrie – Knowing that values are correct and that people over 65 years old and Veterans are served properly.
• Villanueva – Providing service so that residents feel safe to live in Grant County and do not worry.

Seibel then concluded the question and answer period and asked the candidates to make closing statements, which are summarized here:

1) Villanueva – Villanueva stated that he cares about the community and keeps an open door to everyone.
2) Clark – Clark stated that he is open, honest and transparent.
3) Turrieta – Turrieta stated that he is a people person with family values, who has been an assessor in the past and involved in efforts at the State level.
4) Guthrie – Guthrie stated that she is not a politician, but is passionate about the job and values. She said that she wants to continue to serve the community.
5) Sandoval – Sandoval stated that this is his first time in politics, and he is learning a lot. He said that he has spent 22 years protecting Grant County and wishes to continue to serve the community.
6) Grijalva – Grijalva stated that his time on the bench and his continuing education give him the ability to serve in this countywide position. He emphasized that the position of Magistrate Judge can be voted upon by anyone in the county.

In closing, Seibel invited unopposed candidates who were present in the audience to say a few words. Judge Maurine Laney, running unopposed for Magistrate Judge, Division 1, addressed the audience stating that she loves serving Grant County and runs a fair, dignified, and respectful courtroom. Terry Fortenberry, running unopposed in the Democratic Party primary for the 38th Congressional District, stated that he was a graduate of WNMU's law enforcement program and had served for six years as Mayor of Silver City. He promised to work "to bury the hatchet" with opposing politicians in order to provide equality in New Mexico and to improve the quality of life.

Seibel concluded by urging everyone present to get out and vote and informed everyone that early voting had begun at the Grant County Clerk's Office.

The forum was then adjourned to dinner.


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