House Hopefuls Speak At Los Alamos Kiwanis Forum

Republican Sharon Stover, left, and Democratic incumbent Stephanie Garcia Richard, the candidates for District 43 State Representative, both spoke and stood for questions Oct. 18 at the third Kiwanis General Election Forum. Photo by Don Casperson
 
By CHARMIAN SCHALLER
Los Alamos KIWANIS
 
Republican Sharon Stover and Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard shared the spotlight Oct. 18 in the third General Election forum at the Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos.
 
Both are running for the District 43 position in the New Mexico House of Representatives.
 
Stover, a former Los Alamos County councilor, is the current Los Alamos County Clerk. Garcia Richard is the incumbent representative seeking re-election. Each of the candidates was given five minutes to describe her background, her motivation, and her stand on the issues that she considers most important in this race. After both candidates had spoken, Kiwanis devoted about 20 minutes to questions and answers.
 
Stover
 
Sharon Stover spoke first, noting, “My roots are here in Northern New Mexico.” Her parents built a restaurant business in Pojoaque, and she said it was there that she first learned about hard work. She has lived in Los Alamos County for 33 years, serving on county boards and on the council—notably, during both of the fires that forced evacuation of the county. Her husband, Steve Girrens, is now a member of the County Council seeking re-election.
 
As county clerk, she became deeply involved in the New Mexico Association of Counties, eventually serving as the organization’s president and visiting the clerk’s office in every county in the state. In her literature, she says that she “personally met with citizens and elected officials in each of our state’s 33 counties during this past year,” and she “listened firsthand to their views on improving the quality of life for all New Mexicans.”
 
“Our beloved New Mexico is in trouble,” she said. It faces three challenges in the essential task of growing the economy. She listed those challenges as:
  • Reforming the tax structure
  • Modernizing and streamlining the operation of state government.
  • And improving the public education system.
She noted that there are 370 deductions now, and she said the complicated tax structure creates difficulty for businesses. She recommended simplifying the tax structure, making it “fair” and “competitive.”
 
Good schools are essential, she said, in producing a strong foundation for good jobs, and, she said, such jobs are important in making New Mexico a state that is independent rather than reliant on just a few sources of income.
 
“I will pursue every opportunity that moves New Mexico from the bottom up,” she said. “I’m here for the duration,” she added, and she noted in her literature that she has “a record of working with diverse groups to develop practical solutions.”
 
Garcia Richard
 
Garcia Richard, who has been a teacher in Pojoaque for several years and is now curriculum coordinator there, said she wants to be “part of the solution.” She became a “teacher right out of college,” she said, and, she added, “I ran to bring a teacher’s voice to education in New Mexico.”
 
The No. 1 issue in this election, as far as she is concerned, is “the state of our education system,” because, she believes, it is “the root of everything.” She added, “We don’t have an educated work force.” She stressed the importance of early childhood education and said that she would like to use the Land Grant Permanent Fund to fully fund education.
 
She also said (during the question and answer session) that she believes the current teacher evaluation system is “flawed” and is causing low morale in schools. She said she also has heard from many parents who are unhappy with it.
 
Turning to a different topic, she said this House district is very evenly split, and it is in districts such as this that “democracy happens.” The representative from this district must be “accountable, responsive, and visible,” she said. She noted that during her term in the House, she has “sometimes been the only Democrat to vote with the Republicans” because she wanted to support good legislation. “I serve in a House that is not controlled by my party,” she said, but she has still been “successful in passing legislation.”
 
Her literature says that she also wants to mandate equal pay for equal work, guarantee smaller classroom sizes, and close loopholes that hurt small businesses and contractors.
 
In addition, she wants to “expand the Working Families Tax Credit and ensure reproductive health care decisions remain between a woman and her doctor” provide a “quality education for all,” “limiting high stakes testing, increasing teacher salaries, and investing in pre-k education in every school district” end government corruption, passing legislation to guarantee “transparency in where our tax dollars are spent” and pushing for an Independent Ethics Commission” and she wants to increase funding to protect abused children and support "tougher penalties for perpetrators of crimes against children.”
 
Questions and Answers
 
The question-and- answer session held after both candidates had spoken was lively and wide-ranging and revealed agreement on some issues as well as conflict on others.
 
Several of the questions and answers are summarized below. Both candidates were asked how they would vote on a measure to reinstate the death penalty in New Mexico. (Gov. Susana Martinez backed a measure introduced in the recent Special Session that would have established the death penalty for murderers of children and policemen, but the measure never came up for a final vote in a session dominated by budget problems.)
 
Stover said she might support the death penalty “under certain circumstances” to provide a prosecutorial tool. In an e-mail message after the forum, she explained, “I am horrified by the recent acts of violence against our law enforcement officers as well as the most vulnerable among us, our children. I would consider a proposal to reinstate capital punishment for a narrowly-defined set of crimes to give district attorneys more leverage in prosecuting these crimes.”
 
Garcia Richard said she understands the pain of those affected by the recent murders of children and police officers. The people who commit such crimes “should rot in prison” she said, but, “…That disingenuous bill would probably not have resulted in a single execution,” while it would have resulted in “just enormous cost.” In a private conversation after the forum, she said that she is opposed to the death penalty.
 
The candidates were asked how the state can move forward in a time of tight budgets.
 
Garcia Richard said “reliance on one source (of tax revenue) hurts us … We can’t control the glut of oil in the Middle East … Diversify, diversify, diversify … I believe we have the tools to do that.” She spoke of building on tech transfer from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque. We could “Grow New Mexico into a Silicon Valley of tech transfer,” she said. Stover said, “We can’t just fix one thing … The state needs to look at itself,” and we need to work together. We need to evaluate whether “we are really getting bang for our buck.”
 
We need to streamline state government, work on the gross receipts tax, and diversify. We also need to keep in mind that what works in Los Alamos County might not work equally well in Rio Arriba County and elsewhere.
 
And the candidates were asked their opinions about the impact of money on politics—specifically about Political Action Committees (PACs).
 
Stover said, “I cannot believe how much this race is costing.” She mentioned that two PACs from Washington, D.C., have been in touch with her. She said, “I would love to have it be like how we run our County Council races … Everyone is tired of the PACs.”
 
Garcia Richard repeated, “Everyone is tired of the PACs.” She noted that they don’t have to disclose their donors, and, she said, the candidates have “no control” over what they say. She noted that Peter Wirth in the Legislature has repeatedly carried a Super PAC disclosure bill, but, so far, it has failed. She said she will work with him on finding a way to regulate such “dark money.”
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