There will be two candidates on the June primary ballot in the race for Valencia County sheriff after a district court judge denied a petition challenging a Democrat candidate’s residency Monday afternoon.
During the hearing on the petition filed by Michael Candelaria, a Valencia County voter and the chairman of the Republican Party of Valencia County, challenging the candidacy of Democrat Rodney Jones, 13th Judicial District Court Judge James Lawrence Sanchez questioned whether the challenge should be made now or after the November election.
Chavez asked Carter B. Harrison IV, the attorney for Candelaria, whether he was challenging Jones’ residency based on state statute or the New Mexico Constitution, noting the constitution reads county officials “shall” reside in the county in which they hold office, while state election code uses different language.
“Election statute is not worded the same. It says residency will be resolved in favor of the place shown on a person’s certificate of (voter) registration,” Sanchez said. “Maybe it’s poorly worded or are you saying it’s the equivalent of the constitution?”
Harrison acknowledged that Jones was registered to vote in Valencia County but argued that was only sufficient if the registered voter resided on the property, which he and Candelaria say Jones does not.
Jones has been registered to vote at an address in Valencia County on Tribal Road 28 for more than 20 years, but has lived at a house on Quail Court in the southern part of Bernalillo County since 2004. Both properties are on the Pueblo of Isleta, of which both Jones and Candelaria are members.
Sanchez ultimately dismissed the petition, ruling that Jones could remain on the primary ballot as the Democrat candidate in the Valencia County sheriff’s race, but noted Jones would be doing so “at his own risk.”
During the hearing, more than once Sanchez indicated if Jones was trying to make the argument that he currently lives in Valencia County today, he wouldn’t be able to make his case.
“Statute doesn’t say you have to be a resident to be a candidate. There have been a number of people who have said they don’t live where they’re registered and, if they win, they’ll move,” Sanchez said. “It seems to me, ultimately, if he wins, he has to live here, show intent.
“Clearly he doesn’t live there (Tribal Road 28) today. The constitution says if he is elected to the office, he is required to live here. As a candidate, there’s a little grayness.”
When asked by the News-Bulletin after the hearing whether he would physically reside in Valencia County if he wins the November election, Jones said, “Absolutely.”
Candelaria said he will most likely appeal Sanchez’ decision. An appeal of this type of matter is made directly to the New Mexico Supreme Court and once filed, the state’s high court has five days to issue a ruling.
In regards to the judge’s decision, Candelaria said he felt Sanchez intentionally ignored the last seven words in the state election code pertaining to residency.
“‘… provided the person resides on the premises.’ It’s a very specific provision he refused to address or intentionally ignored,” Candelaria said. “The judge clearly recognized Rodney does not reside in Valencia County, more than once. It’s obvious.
“All I really want is a sheriff from Valencia County. Waiting until after the fact? How will voters feel when somebody says, ‘Nope, he doesn’t live here.’ I’ll fight it then, too. It’s the law, the rule. It’s election integrity. The more you stretch laws, the more convoluted everything becomes because what you permit you promote. That’s the whole purpose behind this.”
Response: Rodney Jones candidacy challenge
Candidacy challenge: Rodney Jones
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.