By Hallie Richwine

The Democratic Candidate Forum for the District Two candidates happened Monday, May 7, 2018 at the Bayard Community Center. The event was sponsored by the Silver City Daily Press and Independent. The candidates for District Two are Cindy Renee Provencio and Javier Salas.

During the candidates’ opening statements, Provencio talked about the influence her grandfather had on her interest in Grant County history and discrimination. Through her graduate research she learned about trauma, triumphs, and overcoming barriers associated with discrimination and segregation. Provencio vowed to listen to the stories of Grant County residents.

Salas was born and raised in Grant County and received his degree in Psychology and criminal justice. He went on to get a Masters’ degree in Psychology and Counseling and Educational Leadership. He worked in the Cobre Consolidated School District as the Director of Special Education. The culmination of this education and experience shows his understanding of business, budgets, and making leadership decisions.

The first question for the evening was from the Daily Press, asking the candidates how they would approach their role as County Commissioner in regard to the hospital.

Salas said that with one member of the County Commission on the board it is up to all of the Commissioners to communicate and advise that individual so the Board itself makes sure the hospital remains viable in the community.

Provencio said she believes privatization is the wrong choice for Grant County and hopes the hospital is still county owned in November. She advocates for fair compensation, so staff remains in the area. Provencio also believes Grant County can research how to keep the hospital, “If there are other hospitals making it work, we can see why that is,” she said.

Moderator Nick Seibel followed up and added that the study being done to analyze the hospital was sparked in part by the County Commission not having more control over the entity. With the control ending at the appointment of the Board of Trustees, would it be wise to advocate change in law to have more control?

Provencio spoke first, saying she believes it is a good idea to advocate for more say in how the hospital is run because there are people on the County Commission that are intelligent and have research skills.

Salas thinks the board needs revamped but that a larger amount of people would be more difficult to control. He doesn’t think there needs to be more than one seat on the board for Commissioners however without enough county funding to support the hospital there needs some way to have control.

A question came from the audience, asking what the candidates’ positions were on the proposed low-level F-16 flights.

Salas said as a veteran he understands the Gila National Forest offers a certain level of training that may be unavailable somewhere else and is in favor of contributing to the safety and support of our troops. Salas also said it is federal land, so we don’t have much say.

Provencio believes the opposite. “The Gila has the world’s first designated wilderness, the first protected area ever. What about the veterans who go into nature for healing, and then there are these flyovers?” Provencio fears people will not want to relocate to our area, which negatively impacts the county.

The next question came from the Daily Press and asked how the prospective commissioners would shape relationships with other entities, should they be chosen to serve.

Provencio said she would like to see a less negative relationship and said she would like to see the community engaged in processes as they happen.

Salas agreed and said good partnerships are essential, especially when working with entities like the Forest Service. He believes if the commission were more unified they could avoid negative press.

The next question came from the audience, “Should the County Commission raise taxes to try to keep the hospital solvent, and can they if they want to?”

Salas said that was attempted by the current commission. “They went for a levy to the hospital, it wasn’t going to be enough. It wasn’t successful. I think there is a possibility for the voters to accept and vote, but we need to educate about the need for the levy,” he said.

Provencio said the previous tax levy attempt was too vague, and the community was not comfortable with and trusting of the hospital’s management staff. She believes budget issues will continue and that the commission may need to help, and to do so responsibly. Provencio especially believes any raises in salary should be among the lowest paid, not the highest paid employees, a concern the public may have had during the past levy.

Ben Fisher of the Daily Press asked the next question, “Grant County is one of the entities on the Grant County Water Commission. It seems this district in particular would be looking closely at the funding for the water project. There has been trouble making a joint powers agreement. What is your position on the water project, and would the county benefit from everyone tying in?”

Provencio said we need to do everything we can to improve water security. She believes funds earmarked for the diversion could be used for other projects. With the appropriate research, efforts can be made for conservation rather than diversion. Her research in her position as Gila Latina Community Organizer at the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance leads her to believe we can stabilize and recharge aquifers, beginning with educating the community to replace fixtures to become water efficient.

Salas fears the JPA cannot be reached. He said while the project allows the use of water in different parts of the system as needed, there has been difficulty in getting the municipalities to agree to the overall project.

Seibel asked the next question, “Having seen a lot of County Commissioners, there seem to be two philosophies, to represent all the people in the district or, with people in municipalities having a voice in their towns, focusing on speaking for those in more rural areas. Which do you agree with more?”

Salas feels all people in the district need representation, and Provencio agrees. “Anyone who comes to me, I will advocate for, even if they are not in my district,” she said.

The audience asked how the candidates plan to better the communities in the district.

Provencio answered first, “By diversifying the economy. Investing in the green industry. I like the term 'green' because that could mean solar farms, we could sell energy to other states.” She also advocates for recycling in the mining district, which would decrease the footprint at the landfill. “Arizona uses plastic in their roads. We could even recycle plastic to make building blocks for affordable housing,” she said.

Salas said he relies on the district that will vote for him to let him know in which direction to go. “I like green energy, the option to harvest the wind and sun, possibly increasing availability to the hospital for power. I’m open minded to what the community thinks and would like to establish a forum for communication to allow constituents to contact me,” he said.

Fisher added to the question, “So often people during forums talk about big ideas for economic development, but how would you use your seat specifically?”

“The mine was approached about green energy to feed the power plant,” said Salas, “I would try to make that viable.” Salas said he would also like to see Grant County advertise to industries that there are workers here.

Provencio said the key is collaboration, specifically with other elected officials, “Candidates, up and down the ballot, are wanting to invest in green energy.” As county commissioner Provencio said she would spend time encouraging industries to invest in Grant County.

Fisher asked another question, this time about Fort Bayard and whether the candidates support Santa Clara’s plan to save what is left.

Provencio said she likes the plan and feels comfortable supporting Santa Clara and said,” That is what I’m talking about when I say working in collaboration.”

Salas also supports using Fort Bayard. “It’s been a part of Grant County since the 1800s and I think it can add to the economy again,” he said. Salas says the whole area is atop the Twin Sisters aquifer, which is another reason to try to hold on to the property.

Seibel asked if the candidates were ready to face the issue of low pay for law enforcement.

Salas said he has spoken with existing sheriffs as well as candidates about the issue. “We need to pay people well or they will leave; they get training here then go get better pay elsewhere,” he said. The budget for the county can be troublesome, there aren’t extra funds. “There is money allocated to different police departments, maybe they can bear some of the burden for training and use grant writing to alleviate other parts of the budget.”

Provencio has said before that she advocates for pay increases, and this includes deputies. “These are academically strong, well-versed deputies. We need to pay what they deserve. We need to pay to keep the workforce here.”

Seibel asked the question the Silver City Daily Press and Independent asks before closing all forums, “Imagine we are sitting in this room four years from now and you’ve just served and are running for re-election. What single accomplishment are you most proud of?”

“I listened to you and I took your input into consideration. I was a strong advocate for you. I would love to work for you again and continue the progress,” said Provencio, who added that she wants to better the county, so the children have a future here.

Salas answered, “It’s funny because many people ask me something similar. In four years I want to come back to you and say I was honest with you. I’m not promising the moon, but I promise I will do my best.”

The forum closed with statements from each candidate.

Salas said he believes he brings a lot to the table, in both years of experience and education. He said he has professionalism and knows how to deal with budgets. Most of all, he wants to be able to communicate with everyone.

Provencio said she also has the necessary experience to be County Commissioner. She has a wide variety of experience and even worked full time as she completed her education. In her ten years at Western New Mexico University’s Miller Library she managed a million-dollar budget. She currently is gaining knowledge about water conservation. Provencio said she is also a researcher and believes in both being knowledgeable about the issues and the budget.

The Primary Election in Grant County takes place June 5, 2018.

Early voting has begun at the County Clerk's officer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, plus Saturday, June 2, same hours. At the Bayard Community Center, early voting will begin from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. May 19 and run from Tuesday through Saturday starting again on May 22 through June 2 at the same hours.