Eight Republicans Speak To Kiwanis Club

These Republican candidates spoke at Kiwanis May 17, introducing themselves and outlining what they believe are the most important issues in the Primary Election. Candidates from left, Patrick Brenner for County Council; Steve Girrens for Council; Naomi Maestas for County Clerk; (at back) Michael Romero for Congress, Sharon Stover (in blue sweater) for House Dist. 43, Jaret McDonald (at far back) for Council, Judith Nakamura for New Mexico Supreme Court and Yvonne Chicoine for district attorney. Photo by Don Casperson
 
By CHARMIAN SCHALLER
Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos

Eight Republican candidates running in the June GOP Primary Election spoke at Kiwanis May 17, introducing themselves and describing what they thought were the most important issues in their upcoming contest.

Only one of the candidates—Michael Romero, who is running for Congress—has an opponent in the primary, Michael Lucero, but Lucero was unable to attend the meeting. All of the uncontested candidates spoke with intensity, building a platform for their General Election races in November.

State and National Candidates

Sharon Stover, a member of Kiwanis and a candidate for New Mexico House of Representatives District 43, was the first speaker. She was born and raised in the Pojoaque Valley, where her family still has a restaurant, and she has now lived in Los Alamos for 33 years and raised a son and a daughter here. She set up a screen that showed hundreds of photos of her past activities with the people in the district. It ran, quietly, throughout the meeting. She also laid out cards inviting people to help with her campaign by holding gatherings, inviting her to speak, posting yard signs, or volunteering to campaign. She also made available “Comments for Sharon” cards.

Stover is a past member of the Los Alamos County Council. (Her husband, Steve Girrens, is serving on the council now and seeking re-election.) She noted in her literature that she “helped guide our communities through two catastrophic wildfires: Las Conchas in 2011 and Cerro Grande in 2000.” She is currently finishing up a term as Los Alamos County Clerk, and while serving in that post, she has also served as the president of the New Mexico Association of Counties. She says in her literature that she has “traveled to meet with elected officials and citizens in each of our state’s 33 counties, listening firsthand to their ideas on improving education and encouraging job growth.” She has also become acquainted with specialized local concerns such as the maintenance and management of acequias.

She is deeply involved in the Los Alamos County community. “I love Kiwanis,” she commented. She said she is a “champion of non-profits,” including the YMCA. She is serving as the chairwoman of the statewide Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee. She was the first president of Leadership Los Alamos, and she is currently raising money for the Historical Society. All of these experiences, she said, would help her to have a “good perspective” in the Legislature. She said she is a “community-focused problem solver” a “proven leader,” and a “skilled collaborator.”

Her top priority, she said, is to see that our “kids get a first-class education so that they can achieve their dreams.”

She concluded, “I have the time, the dedication, the passion to be your state representative.”

Michael Romero, a candidate for U.S. representative in the Third Congressional District, noted that he served in the U.S. Air Force and worked as a police officer for 24 years. He said he is a “Christian first, then a Republican.”

He commented, “Our debt is ridiculously out of sight,” and he said we must find a way to “fix it.”

Many of our people are out of work, he said, and he added that too many of our children “don’t want to work” and expect handouts. This situation has contributed to an “influx of illegal immigrants,” he said.

“I’m not a career politician,” he said, and he added that he believes we need to impose term limits.

He said he is a student of history, and he knows how our country was established. We need to see that it continues as our forefathers intended, he said.

His literature has a list of ways that his election would impact New Mexico. It says that he would:

  • “Immediately withdraw (the) Pecos Wilderness Expansion Bill;
  • “Make quarterly accountability visits to federal agencies;
  • “Provide a mobile office to tour all towns in District 3;
  • “Work to support right to life at every stage;
  • “Apply common sense to environmental issues;
  • “Work to return federal lands to state jurisdiction and control;
  • “Support right-to-work legislation at al levels;
  • “Work to remove penalty fine burdens on business imposed by executive order; (and)
  • “Hold the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) accountable for the Animas spill.”

He is opposed in the primary by Michael Lucero, who was unable to attend the Kiwanis candidate forum.

Judith Nakamura, who was appointed to the State Supreme Court by Gov. Susana Martinez, wants to be elected now in her own right. She is a University of New Mexico (UNM) graduate who had more than 26 years of legal experience in private practice, government, and corporate law, and more than 17 years of judicial experience in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court and District Court before she was appointed to the Supreme Court. She had been recommended for the appointment by the bipartisan Judicial Nominating Commission.

She told Kiwanis that at one point, after almost 10 years in law, she considered leaving the profession. However, she said, “I realized I didn’t like law because of judges.” And she decided to do something about it. She ran for Metro Court judge in Albuquerque and won. Subsequently, in 2013, she was appointed as a District Court judge. She became a Supreme Court judge on Dec. 4, 2015. Her appointment meant that women held a majority on the court for the first time in history.

Albuquerque Journal stories (which she, herself, provided) show that she has a reputation for resisting defense attorney efforts to delay cases. She can also be tough at sentencing. However, as her literature points out, she is a “proven leader.” She was elected Chief Judge “an unprecedented four times by her Metropolitan Court colleagues.” She is a “past Albuquerque Bar Association Outstanding Judge.” She “received the Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President’s Award for Judge of the Year recognizing her innovative efforts in creating programs to reduce DWI (driving while intoxicated).”

As she sees it, she is “tough but fair.” She says in her literature that she “decides cases based on the law not popular opinion.” She says she “applies the law strictly and consistently using common sense as a guiding principle,” and she “works to keep our families and community safe.”

She’s not all hard work. She is a volunteer and pilot who serves on the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors, and she is also on the UNM Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Yvonne Chicoine is a candidate for district attorney in the First Judicial District, which includes Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Santa Fe Counties. She noted during her talk at Kiwanis that she didn’t become a lawyer until she was 50. Her literature says that she earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations (magna cum laude) from Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., in 1977, and spent almost 20 years in Washington, D.C., and New York City “doing state, national and international public policy work.”  She says that, “In 1988, she led an 11-month effort resulting in congressional adoption of the first revision of U.S. trademark law in more than 40 years.”

Chicoine moved to Santa Fe County after she married Tom Starke in 1995. Subsequently, she earned her law degree from UNM in 2007. She worked in the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office from 2007 to 2011, prosecuting “hundreds of cases including murders, child abuse, domestic violence, DWI, and white collar offenses,” and then served as an assistant attorney general from 2011 until 2016. Her literature notes that she “argued dozens of criminal cases before the NM Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.”

In her literature, she promises to restore respect for the rule of law. She says she will “stand with victims; target repeat offenders and ‘crime drivers’; fight corruption, cronyism and the abuse of power; prosecute economic crimes; (and) support law enforcement.”

She told Kiwanis, “We need to have a district attorney who reads the law and follows it.” She listed two major issues that are vital to her: She wants to prosecute misdemeanor offenses, because, she said, “When we prosecute them, we prevent felonies.” And she wants to prosecute “economic and property and public corruption crimes” because they “cost us all.”

County Clerk Candidate

Naomi Maestas, a native New Mexican with three children, has lived in Los Alamos County for 14 years and has worked 10 years in the Los Alamos County Clerk’s Office. Now she hopes to win election as county clerk.

“We love and appreciate all Los Alamos as offered to us,” she said, and she “would like to give back.” She said she has “a passion” for the work of the County Clerk’s Office—especially the election work.

She noted several recent changes and improvements affecting the Clerk’s Office—notably the establishment of an on-line portal allowing voters to update their statistics for the next election. She said Sharon Stover has poured in countless hours working for improvements, and she would like to keep up that good work. She wants to continue modernization of the office.

And, she said, “I believe in democracy; I believe in fairness; I believe that experience matters.”

“Shape tomorrow,” she added. “Vote today.”

Council Candidates

The Republicans have three people running for the three open positions on the Los Alamos County Council. As a result, all three will have a “free ride” through the Republican Primary Election, but, in the General Election in November, they will face the three winners (among four candidates) in the Democratic Primary. The three Republican County Council candidates, in the order in which they spoke to Kiwanis, are: Steve Girrens, Patrick Brenner and Jaret McDonald.

Steve Girrens is an incumbent running for re-election. He has lived in Los Alamos County for 37 years, and he and his wife, Sharon Stover, raised two children here (Quinn and Craig). He is the associate director for engineering sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

He has been deeply involved in the community for many years, serving on the Board of Education, the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Parks and Recreation Board. He is a member of the United Church and has been an adult leader on its home-building Mexico Mission trips. He has also been a Little League baseball volunteer, and a member of the Leadership New Mexico Core Curriculum Committee.

He told Kiwanis, “There are exciting times ahead for our county … I would like to be a part of them.” He noted that Los Alamos is about to become the gateway to the new Manhattan Project National Park. The role of Los Alamos must be defined and could greatly affect “how we run our tourism” in Los Alamos.

He also noted that, “The laboratory is ramping up hiring” after several years of declining numbers. This change, he said, will fuel the housing market. And, he added, the county is working on “the next batch of capital investments.”

The unfinished council business, he said, includes “benchmarking our county services,” (“We must figure out future strategies for our utilities”), and setting priorities for balanced community investment (“especially infrastructure revitalization”), economic vitality, regional partnerships and collaboration, and “mutually-beneficial collaborations with the schools.”

In his literature, he said, “I am committed to sustaining the quality of life we enjoy—a safe place to live, quality schools, unique recreational and cultural venues, and a ‘no better place’ to raise a family. I will look for and champion practical solutions that responsibly serve to balance our community’s expectations for services with available revenues. I will make decisions to progress effective government.”

Patrick Brenner says he could be “a new voice” on the County Council. Brenner said, “I support youth in politics.” His literature says, “He is a devoted husband and loving father, a graduate of LAHS (Los Alamos High School), and a Los Alamos business owner. He has the energy and vigor to get things done.”

In his talk to Kiwanis, he emphasized his support of small business, and he said the county needs changes in zoning and an attitude of “friendliness” toward small businesses. He noted, “We no longer have a laundromat!” He has a marketing, printing, and advertising company here. It is, he said, his “only source of income.”

Elsewhere, he said, people his age (24) are protesting, but, he said, “I’m here to do something about it.” “Let’s make this country great again,” he said, “one county at a time.”

His literature says, “It is no secret that our small businesses suffer from over-regulation. The future of the lab heavily depends on the appeal of the town. More local business increases (that) appeal. Let’s make it easier for businesses to do business.” He also mentions “accountability,” saying, “The council needs to be accountable to the people. We have the right to know how we are being represented and where our taxes are going. I will work for that transparency.”

And he lists “community,” saying, “We have a great community. Let’s keep it that way: (support) small business development, increase substance abuse awareness, continue to provide great education. We provide our young people with a great place to grow up. Keep it great so they come home.”

Jaret McDonald got a chuckle when he told Kiwanis, “I’m a Rotarian. Don’t think less of me, please.” He said he’s a lifetime resident of Los Alamos County—45 years. He is serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Adjustment. He said he has been both a policeman and fireman.

He kept his remarks on what he supports brief and to the point:

  • He would like to see the county have the drugs necessary to save overdose victims.
  • He wants police and firemen to be well supported.
  • He favors neighborhood revitalization.
  • He wants to educate the public about the content of the Los Alamos County Charter. He commented that it is his impression that most of the people in town “haven’t read it.” (He said he talked to Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus, however, and Steinhaus was “excited about getting it into classes.”)
  • And, he favors the establishment of “food security for the needy in Los Alamos County.”
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