New Mexico House Dist. 43 Republican candidate Geoff Rodgers and Democratic incumbent Stephanie Garcia Richard at Tuesday’s Kiwanis Club meeting. Photo by Don Casperson
The two General Election candidates for New Mexico House of Representatives District 43—Geoff Rodgers, a Republican, and incumbent Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat—both spoke at Kiwanis on Oct. 21, emphasizing the issues they believe are most important. For Rodgers, the No. 1 issue is increasing private-sector investment in the state; for Garcia Richard, it’s providing raises for teachers.
Rodgers, whose literature identifies him as a “husband and father, Los Alamos County Councilor, (and) former director of transportation (for the) Los Alamos Public Schools” with “five years active duty and eight years reserve as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot,” said, in a five-minute summary to Kiwanis, that, “New Mexico is on the wrong end of just about every list that matters,” from poverty to achievement in education. He said New Mexico must attract private capital to improve conditions, and to do that, it needs “a stable and balanced regulatory environment so that the private sector can thrive here.” He noted that New Mexico has one of the highest ratios of public-sector to private-sector jobs in the country, and he said, “We need to increase the private-sector jobs.” There are good jobs in government here, he said, but the state needs to attract more good jobs from the private sector as well.
Educational reform is “a very complex problem,” he said. There are “no easy answers.” He added, “We need to find a way to get effective teachers in every classroom.” Evaluations should be based on professional development, he said, not on testing after testing after testing of students. Administrators, teachers, and parents should be able to find a way to identify and reward excellent teachers. They also should be able to identify those who need help and find a way to coach them. His literature, made available at the meeting, says, “As a father … he is concerned about education in New Mexico, and he knows we can’t settle for being last in the country. He’ll support meaningful education reforms that benefit students, teachers, and parents.”
Garcia Richard, a third-grade school teacher in Pojoaque who has been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the National Education Association New Mexico, began her five-minute summary by expressing frustration at having her voting record misrepresented. She said, however, that the experience caused her to ask herself, “Why does it matter how I vote?” The answer, she said, is that she is “bringing to bear the voices of 28,000 people I represent.” “That,” she said, “is a responsibility I take seriously.” She said she breaks ranks with the Democratic Party when necessary to represent her constituents, and she cited her “record as an independent who tries her best to represent this very unique district.” She told Kiwanis that if she is re-elected, she will seek money for county and school projects and work to bring in more jobs.
Garcia Richard’s literature says that she “is standing up against Republican Secretary of Education-Designate Hanna Skandera’s failed policy—imported from Florida—of forcing teachers to spend more time testing students than teaching them how to think and solve problems….” On the subject of jobs, it says, she “believes innovative thinking is the key to creating jobs.” It also says that she has “worked with businesses and Los Alamos National Laboratory to create energy-based partnerships, sponsored bills that put New Mexico businesses first for state contracts, and worked to make sure women get equal pay for equal work.”
During the question-and-answer session at Kiwanis, both candidates were asked what they would like to do FIRST if elected. Garcia Richard said she would reintroduce a bill to give a raise to teachers. It has been 11 years, she said, since they got a raise. Rodgers stressed the importance of “private-sector investment” and said he would “support bills that make us competitive.”
Both candidates were also asked how they stand on the power of teachers’ unions in New Mexico. Garcia Richard said unions “play a role in moving us forward,” but she believes that what we really need is stronger individual teacher voices addressing “how we achieve reform.”
Rodgers said that during his time as director of transportation for the Los Alamos Public Schools, he dealt with teachers’ unions in “very collaborative” bargaining. He felt, however, that sometimes there was a problem in “applying the rules,” and he spoke of one case in which he felt the union supported a person whose “wrongness” was “egregious.” He indicated that he backs “right-to-work.”
Candidates running for Los Alamos County positions include from left, Democrat Paul Martinez for Municipal Judge, Democratic incumbent Marco Lucero for sheriff, Democratic incumbent Pat Casados for Magistrate Judge, Republican Jaret McDonald for sheriff, Democratic incumbent Chris Chandler for Probate Judge, Republican incumbent Alan Kirk for Municipal Judge and Democrat Ken Midler for Assessor. Photo by Don Casperson
Seven other candidates for Los Alamos County positions also spoke during the Oct. 21 Kiwanis meeting. Following are brief summaries of their remarks.
- Ken Milder, a Democrat running for county assessor, noted that he spent 12 years on the County Council and 12 years on the Utilities Board, and has also served on “numerous ad hoc government committees.” He said, “I currently serve on the board of Los Alamos Retirement Community,” and he spent “three years as president.” He said, “LARC is the non-profit that owns and operates Sombrillo Nursing Home and Aspen Ridge Lodge. I’m proud that we just completed a $9.4 million HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) financing that, in part, will allow us to complete renovations of Sombrillo.” He said, “…What’s really important for an elected assessor in Los Alamos is to ensure that the office maintains a qualified staff of professionals who are trained and certified to perform fair, equitable, and impartial valuations of real and personal property.”
- Milder’s opponent, Abraham C. Dispennette, a Republican, was invited to the meeting but did not attend.
- Jaret J. McDonald, a Republican running for sheriff, said, “I’m going to follow the (County) Charter.” He stressed that he has a law-enforcement background, and he said he will do “a regular report to the media” and the public on what the office is doing. He said that if elected, he will put major effort into youth programs.
- Marco Valentino Lucero, the incumbent Democrat seeking re-election as sheriff, said some people say he is competing with the Los Alamos Police Department, but, in fact, everything he has done is “with the cooperation of the local police.” He worked for the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department for 22 years before retiring. Locally, he coached at the high school for 10 years, and he is active in the Sheriff’s Posse and the Knights of Columbus. He said his goal is “to promote public safety in Los Alamos.”
- Christine Chandler, a Democrat who is unopposed for probate judge, is a former County Councilor who was appointed probate judge about a year ago when the post fell vacant. She said the position deals with probate cases in which there is “no dispute among heirs.” If a conflict arises, she said, the case moves to District Court. The probate judge isn’t required to have a law degree, but Chandler is a lawyer. She said, “I do my best to make it easy for people.” She said she has improved the probate court website, created an informational booklet on the office, established office hours, which are 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays, and, “I will make appointments.”
- Pat Casados, a Democrat who has been magistrate judge in Los Alamos for almost 12 years, is seeking re-election to the office. She said she does her best to uphold the laws and rules of the office and the state’s Code of Conduct, and, “I will continue to do that.” She commented that she believes in “integrity,” which can be defined as “doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.”
- Casados’ opponent, Blair Redmond, a Republican running for magistrate judge, was invited to the meeting but did not attend.
- Alan Kirk, a Republican incumbent seeking re-election as municipal judge, noted that he has served 16 years in the office and officiated in “probably 25,000 cases.” “I do bring experience to the bench,” he said, and he added that he has a history of “engagement with the community.” A former local police chief and high school coach, he has been active in youth programs. He noted, for example, his support for Teen Court. In the past, he said, most teen offenders had to go to court in Santa Fe, but now, 90 percent of young people charged can see their cases handled in Los Alamos. As a result, they don’t miss school, and they can be served through local programs.
- Paul Martinez, a Democrat running for municipal judge, has been a resident of Los Alamos since 1981. He said he reared four children here, and now he has a grandchild growing up here. He has racked up local experience as a coach, manager, and family man. He has 32 years as director of the Youth Activities Center on his resumé, and he has been involved in Los Alamos hockey, Little League, and Casa Mesita Group Home. He said he thinks the Teen Court and other local programs that Kirk supports are “great.” He ran, he said, because, “No one else was going to run against Judge Kirk,” and he is a strong believer in term limits. If elected, he promised, he will continue the good programs that Kirk has created and supported.