[Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a two-part series of articles on the candidate forum on Sept. 18, 2018]
By Mary Alice Murphy
Two groups of candidates answered questions at the candidate forum hosted by the Grant County Prospectors and the Silver City Regional Association of Realtors on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, at Western New Mexico University's Besse-Forward Global Resource Center Auditorium.
The first group featured candidates for 6th Judicial District Judge, Republican Will Perkins and Democrat Tom Stewart; candidates for Commissioner District 1, Republican Sheila Hudman and Democrat Chris Ponce; candidates for Commissioner District 2, Republican Tyson "Ty" Bays and Democrat Javier "Harvey" Salas.
The candidates gave opening statements before answering a set of questions that they had received prior to the forum. Every candidate thanked the hosts.
Perkins said he has practiced law for 15 years, with about 25 percent of it being criminal law and the rest wills and estates and civil litigation. "I put my hat in to be appointed to replace Judge Aldrich. Gov. Susana Martinez appointed me to begin my service on Oct. 1."
"Everyone I hear in my court will be given a fair hearing with civility," Perkins said. "I can't promise anything for the legislative and executive branches, but I can promise that when those branches pass and approve laws, I am there to support those laws."
Stewart said the 6th Judicial District Judge practices in Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties. He has practiced law for 32 years as a defense lawyer. "I started as a public defender, and I have handled medical malpractice, personal injury and jury trials. I have a wide and expansive experience, including divorces and child custody cases. I have been working for individuals generally against larger corporations. I will be an impartial administrator of justice."
Hudman said she has been clerk of the village of Santa Clara for six years and is now running for the District 1 commissioner seat. She said she has served in administrative positions for more than 30 years in several different businesses. "I have government experience. I know how government works, and I know how businesses work. And I know how to put the two together to make things work. In Santa Clara things work and they keep working. I want to help with education and to address some of the issues with crime in the area to help fix those problems."
Ponce said he was born and raised in Grant County. "I have been married for 31 years and have two children. I will listen to the concerns. I want to be an advocate for all the communities to help them accomplish their goals. I will be fair and will work hard. We have to be transparent. I spent almost 24 years in law enforcement. I have overseen employees in various organizations," which he listed. "I have always been a public servant."
Bays congratulated his Democratic opponent for winning his primary and the local Democratic Party for rejecting the radical progressive candidates "and electing real Democrats." He also grew up in Grant County in a family who worked in mining and ranching. "I have seen multi-million-dollar radical environmental groups terrorize Grant County and all the western states. They shut down logging, and have crippled the livestock business and mining. This is my home. I don't believe they have our best interests in mind. Your Grant County party has asked you to vote straight party. I ask you not to do that. We have worked hard to find the best candidates. I ask you to look at the candidates, look at the issues and choose wisely. I will drill down to the facts and make financially responsible decisions for the county. I am open-minded and will try to be very successful in the county"
Salas is also a Grant County native, born in Santa Rita. He has been married for 46 years to his wife Estella. "Grant County is a great place to be. Can it be better? Yes, it can. I have lived through its highs and lows. I pledge to make it a better place. Let's put things in motion so when mining goes down, we can survive. Let's put things in motion to give everyone a helping hand. We have a great history, but it involves some darkness of prejudice and racism, but it is part of our history. We have to go on and make unity for everyone in Grant County. It doesn't matter your political persuasion, your religion, your race, I want Grant County to be one. Hate decisions are coming out in our country, but I believe in strength in unity. I want to leave a legacy."
The first question for the judge candidates was "Briefly describe the most serious ethical challenge you have faced, and how did you respond."
"I can't recall a huge ethical challenge," Perkins said. "As an attorney, we have little ethical issues that pop up every day. For instance, in writing a contract, the other party has no attorney. Sometimes, there is a temptation to slip things in to make it beneficial for one party. But you write a fair contract that is fair to both. The ethics of getting along with people. You write an email, but it's not fair, so you hit delete. Yes, attorneys in court are adversaries, but we don't have to be disagreeable."
Stewart said he had trouble with the question, because as he practices criminal law, if he talked about it, he would be violating the rule of confidentiality. He said he decided to talk about how he would approach such a challenge. "I would take stock of my own internal compass and decide what is the right thing to do. The next thing is to look at the professional rules of conduct that tell us what to do. Third, I talk to other attorneys I trust to make sure I understand the rules. So, I make sure I'm ethical in everything I do. I pledge to continue to do so as a judge."
The next question asked what the candidates believed were the root causes for the high numbers of juvenile offenders? What changes can the court system make to reduce those numbers?
Stewart said the root cause of juvenile delinquency is an even bigger problem. "It's parental neglect, drug abuse, violence in the home, substance abuse in the home, only one parent in the home. When they get involved in the justice system, they are acting out. We need to recognize this. The Children's Code of New Mexico recognizes this. Those children who are neglected or abused are 11 times more apt to move into the juvenile justice system. The courts need to recognize that the public needs to be kept safe, but so do the children. The children need to have treatment and assistance to help them grow up and become productive citizens. It's smart, it's the moral thing to do and it's the right thing to do."
Perkins agreed that the majority of the problems start in the home. "By the time they are in front of a judge, the problems are already there. The parents should be held responsible together with the children. They have to realize there are consequences for their behavior. Programs are available for the families. A judge can help instill in the juveniles that they have the potential to do things, the potential to become a better person. It's going to take some effort. A judge also has to reinforce that."
The next question asked the candidates to describe the temperament they expect of a judge. "Do you believe you have that temperament?"
Perkins said the judge is in control and sets the tone for the courtroom. "The judge has to control the litigants, the attorneys and the audience, and he has to control himself. He has to assure the parties before him receive a fair trial, so he has to set the tone. I think a good sense of humor helps to ease the tension. The judge has to let people know there are rules of conduct in the courtroom and that everyone will be treated with dignity and be treated fairly. The judge has to enforce the rules in the courtroom and on himself. He has to show that he will treat everyone fairly and he expects everyone else to treat one another fairly. The judge has to show humility. It is not the opposite of strength. It is not weakness, but the recognition of who you are and what position you hold. I think I have those qualities."
Stewart said there was not much to rebut for temperament. The requirements for a judge have not changed. "Be impartial, be fair, have the intelligence to understand the case, be able to listen and treat people with respect. Be able to reach out to people, have compassion." He quoted Socrates as saying a judge should consider things soberly and impartially, "which means you may have to put aside compassion and emotion and you have to decide a case based on the facts and the law."
The next question was: "What are the pros and cons of going to the bench as compared to practicing law?"
Stewart said: "It's something a person has to think about long and hard. By the time you can consider becoming a judge, you should have been a lawyer for a long time. I've been a lawyer for about 32 years. I have had the privilege and enjoyment of practicing many different kinds of law. I have found the most pleasurable rgw medical malpractice cases and personal injury cases and by seeing the high caliber of opposing attorneys on the other side. Being an attorney is, frankly, a fun and interesting job. I learned a lot about medical care, metal fatigue, different kinds of surgery. Being a judge, you get to learn new things. You don't have to worry about arguing a case and taking my client's position. It gives me the opportunity to decide the legal implications of the case."
Perkins said: "On both sides of the coin, whether as an attorney or a judge what has driven me is the concept of service. As an attorney, you get to help someone. As a judge, sometimes, you have to set aside the compassion. I feel bad for you, but the law dictates that this is what will happen."
County commissioner District 1 candidates answered questions. The first question said several New Mexico counties have approved local Right to Work ordinances giving employees the right to hire into jobs without being forced to pay dues to a union as a precondition of employment. "Would you be willing to support a Grant County Right to Work ordinance?"
Hudman said she would be willing to support a Right to Work ordinance, "as long as the employee is qualified. Some who are qualified are not willing to pay union dues. We need the qualified people in the jobs, not the unqualified, who are willing to pay the dues."
Ponce said he would not support a Right to Work ordinance. "The unions don't benefit just the members. It will weaken the efforts for reforms. "
The next question went to Ponce first. "As a county commissioner, how do you envision Grant County's working relationship with municipal governments, rural areas and federal land management agencies.
"One of my biggest things is to be an advocate of all the municipalities," Ponce said. "If we work together, we succeed tighter. We need to keep communications open among us. We need to keep communications open with the federal agencies. We need to get what the citizens want. We also need to reach out to the rural communities. If we all pull together, we will make Grant County a better place."
Hudman said she believes Grant County and the municipalities should all work together. "I, since I've been clerk, have worked with all the municipalities and with the Forest Service. We have to create economic development working together. We work with AmeriCorps and the Youth Conservation Coalition. We have to pull MOUs and MOAs together with the federal agencies."
The next question asked what concrete actions Grant County could take to improve the well-being of families and children who are struggling with economic and social issues.
Hudman said she would make decisions the best she could. "We, in Santa Clara, have employed more than 50 youths over the past three years. We make them proud of their accomplishments."
Ponce said the main focus should be on social issues, such as domestic violence and abuse and drug issues. "We must create a safe, protective place with programs to get children ready for jobs. We need people to learn trades. The economy is only going to grow if we educate our children."
The next question asked about the recent deaths of two young people while incarcerated at the Grant County Detention Center. The question asked the opinions of the candidates on the implementation of a medical clearance form/certificate program between the Detention Center and Gila Regional Medical Center to prevent detention of someone who needs detoxification or is mentally ill.
Ponce said he supports it, although "I would have to look at it more closely. It's not just physical medical issues, but whether there are mental illness issues. We need to work with Border Area Mental Health Services and Tu Casa to address the issues. The commissioners need to visit the jail more than twice a year. Not everything can be prevented. We need real training and an open line of communication between the Board of Trustees and the citizens. Mental illness is a sad thing."
Hudman said she is not a lawyer nor medical expert. "Cases need to be reviewed. It should be left to an attorney or a physician. It needs to be worked out there."
The Candidates from District 1 received the same questions in different order.
The first asked about working with the municipalities, rural communities and federal land management agencies.
Bays said: "Yes, we should work with all the municipalities and rural areas. The rural areas are just as important. Working with the federal land management agencies is key, because a good part of Grant County is federally owned. Their management of these lands has a large impact. They closed roads that we have used for generations. The new forest plan can have an impact on our way of life. I will put up a phenomenal battle to protect our rights. We can't cut wood; there's no more logging; we watch the forests burn. We have to work with them."
Salas agreed. "It is our recreation. We want a good working relationship with the federal agencies. In the rural areas, we should have cooperative meetings. We will be more powerful working together."
The next question addressed the well-being of families struggling with social issues.
Salas said the issues have to be identified. "Let people know where they can find resources. We need one center to find answers. We need to get people training and look for companies to employ those who are trained. If jobs are not there, the training is useless. We need community centers that provide day care, so people can work. In the Mining District there is nothing. We have to determine how we can provide domestic violence and drug abuse help."
Bays said the best way to provide jobs is to protect the industries. "We have to get back the industries we have lost, in logging, for instance. Good jobs bring a better economy, which also provides us the opportunity for better work on social issues. I will advocate to be pro-business."
The next question addressed the recent deaths at the jail and a proposed program between the hospital and Detention Center.
Bays said bringing such persons into Gila Regional exposes the people there to trouble, but so does taking them to jail. "We have issues at the Detention Center we need to address. When we incarcerate people, we are responsible for them. We need to train people to recognize if someone is suicidal."
Salas said he knows there are problems with suicide and depression. "They often follow drug use or domestic violence. We need to put them on suicide watch. We need to delve into the issues and realize that something is wrong. Maybe we need changes in policy and procedures. Or an independent survey."
On Right to work, Salas said he did not support it. "I struggled with this. The whole issue is between a closed shop and an open shop. That's where I had trouble—forcing someone to do something they didn't want to. But, if you don't belong to the union, you water down the power of the union. Hopefully, the need for the union won't come back, but we need unity. New workers don't understand what we have fought for, where they got the good wages and benefits and fairness in the workplace."
Bays said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled no to forced payment to unions. "We need to ensure those in a union shop that they don't have to pay to support the unions. We have a long history of unions in Grant County. I believe there was a time and a place for them, but now Freeport treats its people well. They are the best paying jobs in Grant County."
Closing statements began with Perkins.
"The key is what qualities you are going to look for in a judge," Perkins said. "I will follow the law and I will provide fairness and make sure everyone is treated equally."
Stewart said the joys of campaigning are talking to people and telling them "why they should vote for me. There is nothing bad about Will. But I have twice as much exposure to complicated cases. Other attorneys have made me a better attorney."
Hudman said: "I think from my heart and my mind. Ultimately, it's not my point of view, but that of those who voted for me. I take that all into account. I want education. I had two candidates for deputy clerk, but they had no training. I told them to get some training and come back and apply again. Training is very important."
Ponce listed his training. "I have 30 years of working in Grant County. I have the experience as a public servant to continue serving the people of Grant County."
Bays asked voters to look at them as candidates and their qualities. "Who fits what you want? I want to protect Grant County and continue what we have. I will work hard; I am open-minded and will drill down into issues and get the facts. I will make financially sound decisions. I'm not a politician. I am running and doing this for my own family's sanctity."
Salas said he didn't think there was a candidate that the citizens wouldn't benefit from. "Get to know us. Get to know what we stand for. I have experience in personnel management, in budgets. It's my true desire to leave this county better than when I came into it. I want to leave a true, sincere legacy for future generations."
The next article will cover the sheriff candidates and the candidates for New Mexico state representatives for districts 38 and 39.