Editor's Note: This will be the first of a three-part series on a candidate forum, which was recently held.
The Grant County Democratic Party, in conjunction with Western New Mexico University students, including the MEChA Club and the Criminal Justice Club, hosted a candidate forum Thursday, Oct. 18, at the university. It was the final of eight forums sponsored by the Democratic Party.
Chelsea Crespin, President of the Native American Club, Esperanza Camunez, President of the MEChA Club, and Gabrielle Begay, Vice-President of the Criminal Justice Club gave welcoming remarks.
Sen. Howie Morales welcomed those participating and attending the forum. "I am confident these candidates will stand strong in their convictions and will respect others," Morales said. He recognized deceased state representatives and senators, Manny Herrera, Tommy Foy and Benny Altamirano.
Then he read a proclamation from the New Mexico Senate honoring former Rep. Murray Ryan on his 90th birthday.
Alexander Sebastian Buck, Kyle Maberry, Shauntae Jim, Arely Flores, and Gabrielle Begay read a similar proclamation from the New Mexico House.
"I am surprised by these proclamations," Ryan said. "I made so many friends and learned so much at the Legislature. I was a bit of a rebel. I thought I should represent my constituents and not necessarily agree with my party."
Edna Reyes, moderator, introduced each pair of candidates. She explained each candidate would have five minutes to speak about their qualifications and why they were running. After one question for the candidates from an audience member, each candidate had 1½ minutes to respond.
The first to speak was Lucy Whitmarsh, running for Grant County Clerk.
She talked about her 20 years experience in Riverside, Calif., as an assessor, clerk, and recorder in a larger office than that of the Grant County Clerk. She became supervising assessor and then supervising clerk.
"You need to be a really, really accurate record keeper," Whitmarsh said. "Each record needs to be correctly indexed, or it may be lost forever. I enjoy the integrity of recording and maintaining them."
She said it is also important to preserve archives, while making them available to the public.
"Another goal is to go to a higher standard," Whitmarsh said. "A lot of addresses are not correct, but it is the responsibility of the citizen to make sure they are accurate."
County Clerk Robert Zamarripa said he was appointed deputy clerk by the previous clerk, who is the present senator, Morales.
"I have reduced the budget each year by 5 percent, have saved $200,000, while always increasing services," Zamarripa said. "We are converting public records to a Windows-based system from a DOS-based system. With the new system, we make sure records are not lost. A citizen can search records online from home."
He said the biggest thing he has accomplished is the establishment of convenience centers for voting. "Since I was running, I could have played it safe, but this is the vision of the future."
An audience member asked why Silver City has only two convenience centers, which "creates lines and confusion among voters."
Whitmarsh explained the Legislature had introduced the concept as a local option. Grant County commissioners accepted the premise on the recommendation of the clerk.
"What worries me is there is no evaluation of the process," she said. "It will be difficult to measure the convenience. We haven't seen it yet."
Zamarripa said Rio Rancho had used the system for four elections and "it works."
"At each convenience center, we will have three systems with three printers to print the necessary ballot for the voter's precinct," Zamarripa said. "You will have much more time to vote than to get the ballot in your hand. We will have many voting booths for the voter to take time with a long ballot, including on the back."
He explained that the reason for only two centers for this election is the cost of technology. "Once the system is proved, prices will come down and we will have more convenience centers."
The next position to field two candidates was County Commissioner, District 3.
Ron Hall said he arrived in Silver City to attend WNMU, and in 2011 was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"I spent 25 years as a Silver City police officer, was an adjunct professor at Western and served four terms as magistrate judge, where I was also a mentor for new judges," Hall said.
He was one of the founders of El Refugio Inc. domestic violence shelter.
The issues of concern for him are water, roads, jobs and the economy. He is also very concerned about abuse and violence against children and domestic abuse of adults.
"Most abuse is to residents younger than 18 years of age, and way too many below the age of 14. Grant County is No. 6 in the state in domestic battery, and No. 2 in drug-induced violence. We need to address the issues with our time and our money. We have to be part of the solution."
When he retired as a police officer, his badge number was retired, and the year he retired as magistrate judge, he was named Citizen of the Year. "I want to continue to serve you."
Trent Petty said he is a product of the Southwest, with his wife's mother being Hispanic and his grandmother being a citizen of Mexico before becoming a U.S. citizen.
He served in the military, and now serves as president of the Silver School Board and of Community Access Television Silver City. He is also vice president of the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce.
"Commissioners pass resolutions that deal with the health, safety, welfare and prosperity of the citizens," Petty said. "It should never happen that people lose their houses because of property taxes. The state has mandated full payment of taxes in arrears. I don't agree."
He also said he wants to take to the Commission that a property tax rebate is available for senior citizens and low-income residents.
Before Petty ran for school board, he spoke with Supt. Dick Pool, and told him he wanted to push for a vocational-technical school. Pool told him it had been tried before. "I said: 'Let's not try; let's do it.'"
He thanked Sen. Morales for "standing with us and passing the memorial supporting it. We will use the Canadian model, which starts with students in junior high. Canada has the fifth best education system in the world. Our greatest natural resource is people. They need jobs, so I will encourage bringing in more businesses."
A questioner, in reference to the comment about natural resources being people, asked what the candidates would do to protect natural resources.
Petty said he is a strong advocate for keeping all of the water the state has legally been given.
Hall said litter drives him crazy. "Let's clean up our community by cleaning up our trash. Then businesses will come in. Form groups in your neighborhood where you walk around the block and pick up trash."
The next article will address the 6th Judicial Distract Attorney race and the candidates for 6th Judicial District Court judge.