The question of whether a Democrat primary candidate can run for office is going before the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Last month, a district court judge denied a petition brought by Michael Candelaria, a Valencia County voter and the chairman of the Republican Party of Valencia County, challenging the candidacy of Rodney Jones.

Rodney Jones
Democrat primary candidate for Valencia County sheriff

The petition requested Jones be removed from the Democrat primary ticket for Valencia County sheriff. Jones has no opposition in the June primary race.

On the Republican ticket, incumbent Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil is also unchallenged. If Jones is allowed to remain on the ticket, the two will face off for the position in the November General Election.

The petition by Candelaria asserted Jones does not live in Valencia County and should not be allowed to run for the office. During a hearing before 13th Judicial District Court Judge James Lawrence Sanchez last month, the judge and Candelaria’s attorney, Carter B. Harrison IV, discussed whether the question of Jones’ residency was based on state statute or the New Mexico Constitution.

Election code reads that if there is a question of a candidate’s residency, the issue will be resolved in favor of where the person is registered to vote, provided they live on the property.

Candelaria’s petition claims Jones doesn’t live in Valencia County but rather in Bernalillo County.

According to Candelaria’s statement in the petition, Jones has been registered to vote at an address in Valencia County on Tribal Road 28 for more than 20 years, but lives and works at a house on Quail Court in the southern part of Bernalillo County since 2008.

Both properties are on the Pueblo of Isleta, of which both Jones and Candelaria are enrolled members.

Sanchez also said during the hearing that the constitution requires county officials to live in the county in which they hold office. However, in article five, section 13 of the state constitution only county commissioners are specifically mentioned as having to live within the political subdivision or district they serve. County-wide positions, such as the sheriff, aren’t listed in the section.

Sanchez ultimately dismissed the petition on March 28, ruling Jones could remain on the primary ballot as the Democrat candidate in the Valencia County sheriff’s race, but warned if Jones were elected in the fall, the candidate might find himself back in court to establish where he lived in order to take office.

Due to the nature of the petition, Harrison was able to file an appeal on the decision directly to the New Mexico Supreme Court. In his appeal, the attorney argues the courts must be able to look “behind” a candidate’s claimed residence on their voter registration card and assess their actual residency.

“The question for this court on appeal is thus a simple one: Does a candidate for elective office have to actually reside in the district of office at the time of the proclamation of election, or do they merely need to be registered to vote there,” Harrison writes.

The attorney also claims in response to a subpoena for documents in the lead-up to the petition hearing last month, Jones provided federal tax returns, bank statements and vehicle registration, among other documents, showing Quail Court as his home address.

“Mr. Jones obtained a new driver(’s) license showing the Valencia County address on March 19, 2022 — after the filing of the petition …” the appeal to the high court reads.

Candelaria’s petition was filed in district court on March 18.

The appeal closes by saying it makes little sense to put off the challenge to Jones’ candidacy until after the election, when he could potentially have been elected to the office of sheriff.

“The timing of a post-election contest is also problematic, as it results in the electorate being deprived of an officeholder they have already elected,” Harrison concludes.

The members of the New Mexico Supreme Court have ordered Jones’ attorney, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, to submit an expedited response to the appeal by Tuesday, April 19.

Appeal of Candidate Petition Denial

Appeal of Candidacy Petition Denial

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.