By Mary Alice Murphy
[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a two-part series of articles on the candidate forum on Sept. 18, 2018]
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.
This article covers the second part of the forum, which featured candidates for Grant County sheriff, Republican Ray Tavizon and Democrat Frank Gomez; state representatives for District 38, incumbent Republican Rebecca Dow and her challenger Democrat Karen Whitlock: state representatives for District 39, Republican Lee Cotter (who did not attend) and incumbent Democrat Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez.
Tavizon gave the first opening statement. "I have 33 years in law enforcement. I'm running because it is important to me as a family man. I have concerns about property crime and the areas that rarely see law enforcement, such as Hachita and Redrock. I'm tired of the drug situation. I believe Grant County needs to re-implement MOUs with the neighboring counties to provide law enforcement. I will work hard with the County Commission and the county manager to upgrade the equipment of our Sheriff's department. A person in the position needs to be able to manage budgets, and I know how to do that."
Gomez said he was raised in Grant County. "I am a veteran, having spent seven years in the Army. I came back and worked at the smelter. I worked at the Bayard school, and then I got the job in the Sheriff's Department. I am now a patrol sergeant. I also serve in the D.A.R.E, drug education program. We need to show transparency in the department. I will set up a review committee, so people know why we're doing what we're doing."
Dow said she believes the U.S. Constitution is the greatest in the world. "I believe in our God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I love New Mexico and deeply care about its people. It's why at age 26, I founded Appletree, an early childhood education business. I chose early childhood education because I believe if we give children a good start, we set them up for success in school and success in life. It's just one part of attacking our underperforming economy. Some state legislators look at dumping more government money into our broken systems and our broken programs. I believe that approach does not work. New Mexico's regulatory system is crippling small businesses. If we reform the regulations, small businesses can grow and pay more employees. We must make New Mexico attractive to businesses to come in and create more jobs. We must to a better job of keeping government accountable. We don't need new laws. We need to reform policies and procedures."
Whitlock said she is proud to be a candidate for New Mexico House District 38. She said she was raised in North Carolina and Florida. She is a social worker and educator and also worked in environmental compliance at the Freeport corporate office in Phoenix and at Tyrone. "I'm running because what we're doing is not working. The [Gov. Susana] Martinez administration had eight years to fix things and things have only gotten worse. We are 50th in education and highest in unemployment and poverty. I'm excited about how we can improve the state, which is not headed in the right direction. We can create new jobs, improve education, health care and infrastructure. We can make life better. As your representative, I will work every day to accomplish this work with other representatives and government officials."
Martinez said he served District 39 from 2007-14, then took a two-year sabbatical and was re-elected for the 2017-18 term. "It's a privilege and an honor to serve the district and the state of New Mexico. I want to make sure we have accessible health care for all. I want to take care of veterans. We need to take care of education. Being lowest in the nation in taking care of our children is just wrong. I will take care of the state, our residents and most of all our children."
The first question to the sheriff candidates stated that New Mexico ranks as one of the worst states in America for crime. And within those studies, Silver City and Grant County rank as some of the worst locations in the state for crime. Does the Sheriff's Department share its crime statistics with the FBI?
Tavizon said: "Yes, we do provide our statistics to the FBI. However, the system is obsolete. In 2021, the FBI will implement a new databank. We can never totally stop crime in Grant County, but we can educate the community on how to stay safe. We can bring back Neighborhood Watch and encourage calls to Dispatch."
Gomez said the Sheriff's Department issues quarterly reports to the FBI, "but we have no narcotics detectives. We need to get Silver City and other municipalities to take a bold stand. We need to take back the county."
The next question said the sheriff needs to be proficient in managing budgets, employees and resources to lead a successful department. Please explain why you would be a good manager of the Grant County Sheriff's Department.
Gomez said the department has structure to manage these items. "We do have grant writers in the county and can look for outside funding, so we can get better resources and training."
Tavizon said he would make a good manager, because he spent 10 years as a police chief and managed 10 patrol officers. "I've been in supervisory positions for the past 20 years. Yes, we need to fund and utilize grants."
The next question asked what Grant County's most pressing law-enforcement issue is.
Tavizon said it was property crime. "Drugs and alcohol problems lead to people stealing for their dependencies. They also lead to suicide and homicide."
Gomez agreed that drug and alcohol problems need to be resolved. "We need narcotics detectives. Start with alcohol and drugs. They are ruining families and children. We need the public to be educated. That's why I do the drug education in schools."
The next question said people say there isn't enough money and officers need better pay, but current policy does not allow officers to find off-duty jobs. Would you support a change in policy to allow deputies to be hired for off-duty jobs such as security for events around the county?
Gomez agreed there isn't enough money and the policy for no off-duty jobs makes it difficult. "I think the officers are underpaid. We do have a policy that deputies can find a second job if the sheriff approves that there would be no issues with the second job."
Tavizon said the extra job for officers is left to the discretion of the sheriff, as long as the job doesn't impede on the officer's duties. "I would revisit the policy."
Questions were then asked of the District 38 candidates.
The first asked how the candidate felt about using an additional 1 percent from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for education.
Dow said because the land grant fund is made up of money from extractive industries, which is finite, it is also finite in revenue. "Some is also set aside from hunting and fishing for the fund, so we have something when the extractive industry revenues decrease. We did add more to education, but it did not move the needle. I don't think education needs money. We need to talk to the schools and the teachers. I would not support taking more money out of the Permanent Fund."
Whitlock said she would support the 1 percent for early childhood education. "I would not take more money out of taxpayers' pockets. I say we should promote industrial hemp and use it. Our Permanent Fund is the second largest in the nation. We raised the amount we took out of it to 5.8 percent, until 2017, when it was lowered to 5 percent for education."
The next question said multiple gun-control bills have been proposed in the upcoming session, including a red flag bill. Do you support or oppose the draft red flag bill?
Whitlock explained the red flag bill means that a red flag goes up for a person with a mental health issue. "This bill would not allow them to have a gun."
Dow said not even the household could have firearms.
Whitlock said she has guns at home because her husband is an avid hunter. "I support removing guns from a home where there is domestic violence or person with suicidal thoughts. There are almost always red flags if you know what to look for."
Dow said she has concerns with the drafts because they have included households. "In the drafts I've seen, and I've seen several, anyone who can harm themselves or others can be reported by anyone in or out of the household. In New Mexico, in order to receive available resources, you must receive a diagnosis. Law enforcement is to confiscate the weapons. Also, in the bill is to consider those who have served at least four years in the armed forces as potentially dangerous. There is no appropriation in the bill and nothing about returning the weapon to the lawful owner."
The next question addressed New Mexico's laws on liquor licensing. Do you believe these laws need to be reformed?
Dow said she thinks the laws need safe reforms. "New Mexico liquor laws are unfair to rural communities. There is a cap on the number of licenses available, which shifts licenses to metropolitan areas. It costs $350,000 to upwards of $1 million to own one. Some are willing to work for those in rural areas. I want to see more micro-breweries, not less, in small towns."
Whitlock said the two of them agree on the issue that the state's liquor laws are antiquated. "They benefit big owners. There needs to be a permit fee. I support the doubling of the number of licenses."
The next question did not ask anything, but requested the candidates make a brief statement regarding their thoughts about an increase in the statewide minimum wage/living wage law for New Mexico.
Whitlock said she is in strong support of an increase in the minimum wage. "My proposal increases the minimum wage by $1 an hour immediately and then over time incrementally up to $15 an hour. Opponents say it hurt businesses. Studies have found that the raises have not impacted businesses, but that they help everyone."
Dow said she would support a modest raise in the minimum wage, only if impacts to rural areas were minimized. "If we diversify the economy, it will make it easier to do business without mandates by government."
District 39 candidate Martinez answered three questions. The first asked his stand on healthcare for rural communities.
"There is a high need for health care for rural communities," Martinez said. "Without health care, children don't get the care they need. For a lot of people, it's hard to have to drive more than 100 miles to get to services. HMS (Hidalgo Medical Services) has a residency program for physicians. We need to expand these programs. We need to expand mental health programs. We saw what happened when mental health services were taken away several years ago. We must have health care across the state. The state needs to invest in health care."
The liquor laws were addressed next.
"The liquor laws need to be reformed," Martinez said. "In 2013-14, I worked on the laws to keep licenses in the community. They can be moved within the community, but not outside, so as not to move them all to big cities. I am also working on beer and wine licenses, as well as the availability to lease a license. It was proposed that the state purchase all the licenses and sell them back at lower prices."
He said, on the gun-control issue, that he supports the Second Amendment. "If individuals are identified as red flags, we have to make sure their rights are not being violated. One issue would be to train law enforcement to recognize PTSD. For veterans not to be able to purchase a gun is not right. We have to make sure such a bill is crafted in a direct way, so that judges can temporarily remove weapons, but only as long as an order is in effect."
Closing statements began with Tavizon. "In 1985, I started my law enforcement career. I spent 10 years in management. I believe I am the correct individual to lead the Sheriff's Department. I will do my best to fight drugs and property crime."
Gomez said he believes he has the experience because of his time in the military and in law enforcement. "I have had to lead by example, with accountability and consistency. There should be transparency between the sheriff and the public."
Dow said she has invested time and energy in improving the state. "On every bill, I ask myself if it aligns with the U.S. Constitution. I ask how the bill impacts the residents of District 38. I reach out to the residents impacted by the bill and ask them how they feel about it. I make an informed decision for the best for the citizens of New Mexico and the district. As long as I am your representative, you can count on me to be your voice in Santa Fe, as a common-sense legislator, for less regulation, for improving our schools, for combatting crime and ending poverty."
Whitlock said the community and the district "mean the world to me. I don't think the way we are headed is in the right direction. I see so many things that need to be changed. My heart is in this district to make it a better place for all of us to live in. I consider Rebecca Dow a friend. We get along great, but tonight showed our differences and how we would treat the district differently. Think about who you would like representing your district."
Martinez said he has spent 16 years in local government. "My background from serving as mayor, councilor and county commissioner has opened my eyes to needs across district 39 and the state. We still have areas in the state where people have no running water, no wastewater treatment facilities. We need to look at the small communities to help improve the infrastructure. It is important for us to move ahead."