Candidates Present Views At League’s Second Forum

Democratic candidates for Los Alamos County Council from left, incumbent Pete Sheehey, Chris Chandler and Antonio Maggiore. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
Republican candidates for Los Alamos County Council from left, Jaret McDonald, incumbent Steven Girrens and Patrick Brenner. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

The Community Lab owner Prisca Tiassé Yoder, PhD, right, and her intern Kaylen Pocaterra speak with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján at Thursday’s League of Women Voter’s Forum at UNM-LA. Photo by Carol A. Clark/



Los Alamos Daily Post
The League of Women Voters sponsored its second Election Forum Thursday at UNM-Los Alamos. This round featured candidates for U.S. House Dist. 3, County Cuncil and County Clerk.

The U.S. House Dist. 3 candidates are both native sons of northern New Mexico. Democratic incumbent Ben Ray Lujan grew up on his family’s farm in Nambé. Republican challenger Michael Romero was born in Embudo and lives in Vadito. Politically, they couldn’t be further apart.

Romero favors a small federal government and states’ rights and said private enterprise and hard work can solve most if not all problems the country faces.

“The U.S. provides us with the opportunity to be the best we can be. When the government gives it to you, it’s wrong,” he said.

Romero said he also supports anti-trade union right to work legislation. Although he stresses smaller government, Romero supports increased police presence, “to make us safer.”

“The Federal government has its fingers in everything,” Romero said. He called the Affordable Health Care Act “a mess,” and said health insurance should be handled “like auto insurance.”

Rep. Lujan said government needs to work to build a stronger middle class and stop “giving tax breaks to billionaires.” Lujan said he believes there is a role for government in creating economic opportunity through educational scholarships and support for small business.

“We need to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid,” Lujan said. “The Affordable Health Care Act has insured 20 million people who were previously uninsured.”

Lujan is open to the idea of giving tax credits to small businesses that provide insurance and to allowing small businesses to form pools to buy insurance coverage, he said

Romero said government is “out of control” and would go so far as to privatize the Veteran’s Administration, which he called “broke.”

Lujan said such a move would “endanger the health and well-being of millions of veterans,” adding that he favors reform of the existing system instead.

In their closing statements, Romero urged voters to “go back to simple.”

Lujan stressed solidarity. “We want to welcome people from all over the world,” he said. “We’re all in this together. We can defeat hate and bigotry coming from people like Donald Trump.”

In the Los Alamos County Council race, three Democrats and three Republicans are vying for three seats. The three Republicans spoke first.

Patrick Brenner, a small business owner and father of two daughters, was raised in Los Alamos. He graduated from Los Alamos High School in 2012. “The County Council needs diversity,” Brenner said.

He said he sees his youth (he’s 24) as an asset. Brenner added that he is an advocate for small business.

Jaret McDonald said neighborhood revitalization was an important issue to him. He would urge the County, as well as the populace to “keep it local” by purchasing within Los Alamos County, he said Empowering nonprofits and providing food security for all Los Alamos residents also are goals for McDonald, he said.

Steven Girrens is seeking re-election to the Council. “There are exciting times ahead that I want to be part of,” he said. He pointed to achievements during his term, including building the Teen Center and the Nature Center. Girrens said he sees great opportunities in tourism, and wants to help establish Los Alamos as “the gateway to three national parks.” Housing is an important issue to Girrens as well, he said.

Incumbent Democrat Pete Sheehey said the most important skill he has developed as a Councilor is listening. “The more you listen to everyone, the more chance you have of finding a solution everyone can live with,” Sheehey said. Sheehey said he sees sustainability and building the economy as two of the most important issues for the County in coming years.

Chris Chandler, attorney and small business owner stressed her love of Los Alamos. Revitalizing the town site and White Rock are high on her agenda, she said. Affordable housing and a rental assistance program should be part of plans to provide more housing in Los Alamos, Chandler said. The town needs both “development and redevelopment,” she said.

Los Alamos native Antonio Maggiore returned to Los Alamos 15 years ago. He owns a landscaping business.

“I have strong respect for the Lab and the schools,” he said. “I love this town.”

“It saddens me to see fewer businesses than we had here when I was growing up,” Maggiore said. “As a small business owner, I’m well poised to help bring this business climate back.”

Maggiore said he is strongly committed to green energy. Another goal is to bring “truly affordable housing” to Los Alamos for those who cannot currently afford to live here, he said.

“I want to provide good representation for people that haven’t been represented in the past,” Maggiore said. “I will have a community-based approach.”

All the candidates said they support more sustainable energy production. Maggiore said he would like to see more energy produced locally.

“Let’s use more of the brain power we have here in town to solve our problems,” he said.

When asked how to support local small businesses, Maggiore said controlling rents, workforce training and increasing public transportation were three goals he would work toward.

Chandler said developing a local purchasing preference program for the County, streamlining the licensing and permit process and developing mixed use downtown housing would be her goals.

Sheehey said promoting tourism, improving customer service at the County and reviving vacant housing and commercial spaces were three goals he supports.

Brenner said he thought the Lab should leave downtown to businesses. He supports limiting regulation, he said.

“The County should lead the way in using local small businesses,” Brenner said.

Girrens pointed to the need for housing, especially affordable housing, to bring about the growth he said the County needs.

“Businesses need employees and they need customers,” Girrens said.

McDonald stressed neighborhood revitalization and improved public transportation in his answer.

Candidates for County Clerk, Republican Naomi Maestas and Democrat Amy Woods provided the finale for Thursday’s Forum.

Maestas pointed to her 10 years experience in the Clerk’s Office.

“The part of the job I’m most passionate about is the election process,” Maestas said. “Citizen participation is the heart of democracy.”

Woods said her extensive management and training experience are assets she would bring to the County Clerk post. Woods said good customer service and ensuring proper documentation would be two of her goals.

When asked about using modern technology to improve voter turnout, Maestas said it is important not to move too fast and compromise the integrity of the ballot. Woods suggested looking into using smart phone codes to vote, though she too stressed “we must be careful.”

U.S. House Dist. 3 Republican challenger Michael Romero addresses the crowd at Thursday’s League of Women Voter’s Forum at UNM-LA. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján speaks to the audience as League President Wendee Brunish listens at the podium during Thursday’s League of Women Voter’s Forum at UNM-LA. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Republican candidate for County Clerk Naomi Maestas. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Democratic candidate for County Clerk Amy Woods. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Standing room only at Thursday’s final League of Women’s Forum for this election season. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

The audience spills into the hallway. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Los Alamos resident James Whitehead questions council candidates at Thursday’s Forum about candidate Jaret McDonald texting the police chief during the previous Forum to let him know a citizen was concerned that presenter John Horne was wearing a gun. The candidates didn’t express much interest in discussing the issue. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Los Alamos Chamber Director Nancy Partridge. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Los Alamos resident Carl Newton. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, center, with from left, sister Jachie, girlfriend Dawn, mom Carmen and sister Shirley at Thursday’s League of Women Voter’s Forum at UNM-LA. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Members of the Los Alamos High School Hilltalkers Speech and Debate Team keep time at the Leagues’s Forum Thursday at UNM-LA. Photo by Carol A. Clark/