From the presidential race down to county offices, Valencia County went overwhelmingly red in last week’s General Election.
Out of the 46,111 registered voters in the county, Democrats are the majority with 18,959 followed by the Republicans with 16,798. Both parties showed up this year, along with a healthy dose of voters who have no party affiliation or are registered with other parties.
In total, 13,632 Democrats voted this year, only slightly more than the 13,245 Republicans who cast ballots. Of the 9,364 voters without a party, 4,758 of them participated in the General Election.
Almost 65 percent of the registered Libertarians in Valencia County voted — 254 out of 392; and of those registered to other parties, 298 of 598 people voted.
As predicted, Democrats turned in high numbers of absentee ballots — 6,871 — compared to 3,262 from Republicans. In early voting, the Republican party outpaced the Democrats by nearly 2-to-1, with 8,108 voters to their 4,980.
On election day, the Republicans again put up higher numbers versus the Democrats — 1,879 to 1,281 ballots cast.
The voters who declined to state a party also participated heavily, with 1,783 absentee ballots, 1,934 people at early voting and 1,041 on Election Day. Libertarians had 73 absentees, 130 early voted and 51 ballots cast on the day of the election, while those registered to other parties turned in 104 absentee ballots, 129 people voted early and 65 turned up to the polls on Nov. 3.
Overall, voter turnout for Valencia County was 69.58 percent, slightly better than the 67.51 percent turnout statewide. There were 5,070 ballots cast on Nov. 3, 15,289 early ballots and 11,728 absentee ballots, for a total of 32,087 ballots cast this year.
Voter turnout in Valencia County for the 2016 general election hit 64.6 percent of the then nearly 44,000 registered voters.
There were 9,835 ballots cast on Election Day in 2016 and a comparatively small number of absentee ballots — only 2,769. The majority of people voted early, with 15,218 ballots cast, which swung local races into the red.
That year, four out of the five county offices on the ballot — three county commission seats, clerk and treasurer — were either retained or won by Republican candidates. Charles Eaton, the Democratic incumbent for county commission District 4, held on to his seat for a second term.
This year, Eaton could not run again, and his seat went to Republican Joseph Bizzell. He will be joined on the commission by Troy Richardson, District 2, and incumbent Jhonathan Aragon, District 5, who has been elected to his final term.
When the commission candidates are sworn in on Jan. 1, 2021, the board will be all Republican and entirely men.
Republican incumbent Treasurer Deseri Sichler won her race, and Mike Milam, her brother and the Republican candidate in the county clerk race, also won his election.
“Since voter registration has currently experienced heavy scrutiny, my first priority is to assure that the voter roll and registration are accurate,” Milam said in a statement to the News-Bulletin.
“I want to thank all Valencia County voters that supported and helped me throughout my campaign. I greatly appreciate their votes,” he said. “I also want to thank (Valencia County Clerk) Peggy Carbajal and all the poll watchers, challengers and polling judges for a job well done.”
Sichler didn’t return calls for comment.
The Valencia County Commissioners meet as the county canvassing board on Friday, Nov. 13, to certify the official election results.
Valencia County Commission
Richardson said he wants to keep the hospital project moving forward now that it looks like most of the legal hurdles have been cleared.
“From what I can tell, they’re ready to start with a feasibility study again to get some companies to bid to build it,” Richardson said. “That looks likes it’s probably priority No. 1 to everyone.”
Other priorities include additional funding for the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, road improvements throughout the district and supporting planned growth in the county to increase gross receipts and property tax revenues.
Bizzell said his priorities include roads, and he would like to see funding in place for the state-mandated body cameras VCSO deputies must wear.
“I would like to see more collaboration among different first responders in the county. The rural fire departments are an example,” Bizzell said. “When you have a call, you usually have multiple districts responding.
“I would like to see that among the police departments as well. If there’s a call in Los Chavez or Tomé, and there is a Belen officer nearby … I’d like to see that officer respond and help control the situation until a deputy is able to arrive.”
Bizzell is also hoping to see more collaboration between the county and local municipalities.
Aragon said his No. 1 priority is also the hospital, and the county is putting out a request for proposal and a request for services to find out what the most important medical services are for county residents.
“We have built up a nice little nest egg over the last few years and I’d like to start putting that to use,” Aragon said.
He said he wanted to add recreation services at the county level to help provide youth with more to do and increase programming across the county, rolling the idea into the county’s comprehensive plan to set it up for success in coming years.
Valencia County Magistrate Division 1 will have a new judge in January — Republican Miles Tafoya. With a background in drug court, Tafoya said he is a proponent of specialty courts and problem-solving courts.
His primary goal is to help the public understand what judges can and cannot do, and what the rules and parameters they have to abide by are.
“I’m not saying we’re perfect but there are statutes, rules, things like mandatory minimums (for sentences) that we have to follow,” Tafoya said. “Judges have a small window of things they can do and I want to help people understand how they can get involved to make a change and to make the community better.”
Republican incumbent Sen. Greg Baca, District 29, retained his seat. Baca said his priority for the 2021 legislative session is the safe reopening of New Mexico businesses and the economy.
“My first priority would be to safely reopen New Mexico, including schools and youth activities,” Baca said. “This could be accomplished by passing legislation that replaces the current unilateral mandates with the more balanced approach of allowing the people of our state to be involved in the decision-making process of when and what businesses and institutions should be reopened.”
Senate District 30 Senator-elect Republican Joshua Sanchez said his first priority will be addressing education.
“We are not getting a good return on our state’s investments into education. We are at the bottom of every educational rating and this is just not acceptable,” Sanchez said. “I believe kids need to be career ready when they graduate high school if they are not going to choose to go to college. I would like to see investments in vocational learning which would benefit New Mexico because we need to attract new businesses and industries to New Mexico and to do this we must create a workforce that makes them want to invest in New Mexico …”
Republican Kelly Fajardo, District 7, was also re-elected and said she has several priorities for the session, including reform of the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department.
“I’ve been working with CYFD and CYFD reform for the past eight years. There’s no accountability inside of CYFD; it’s a government black hole,” Fajardo said. “I’ve been working with the courts and different organizations to create an ombudsman bill. It would create oversight within CYFD so instead of CYFD regulating themselves and investigating themselves, you’d have an outside entity to do that.”
Like Sen. Baca, Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, the incumbent Republican representing District 8, said his priority will be to safely reopen the state’s economy.
“The longer we are shut down the harder this recovery will be,” said Baldonado, who won his re-election bid. “It is critical that we reopen schools and businesses in order for New Mexico to be competitive.”
Rep. Gail Armstrong, a Republican, is the incumbent for District 49 and ran unopposed for the seat.
Armstrong said during the special legislative session in June, legislators “didn’t really fix what needed to be fixed” in terms of the budget. There is still some work to do.
“The other big priority is getting the economy back up. There are so many different facets of that,” Armstrong said. “We are trying to remove barriers for keeping our community safe while at the same time get our businesses able to reopen 100 percent. If we don’t, it’s going to be detrimental.
“The last report I saw, we were down $31 million in (gross receipts tax) as a state. What the governor is asking for is every entity to make 5 percent cuts across the board for their budget requests.”
After the numbers shook out, there were only three Democrats left standing in the Legislative districts representing Valencia County — incumbents Sen. Liz Stefanics, who represents District 39, Rep. Matthew McQueen, representing District 50, and Rep. Harry Garcia, District 69.
“Since we do not yet know the format of the 2021 legislative session — whether we meet in person or abbreviate it — it is hard to project,” Stefanics said. “Our first responsibility is the state’s budget.”
Garcia echoed Stefanics, saying the highest priority for the Legislature as a whole will be balancing the budget.
“The biggest issue is oil prices went down so our revenue went way down,” Garcia said. “It might get better but that’s yet to be seen. There’s no way I will raise taxes and that’s going to come up. We have to balance out somehow, and we can only cut so much.
“When we cut there isn’t a target. It’s something that has to happen and people are not going to be happy, but we have to balance the budget.”
McQueen didn’t return calls for comment before News-Bulletin press time.
13th Judicial District Attorney
As of Tuesday, Nov. 10, the race for the 13th Judicial District Attorney, which represents Valencia, Cibola and Sandoval counties, is still up in the air and may go to an automatic recount.
Earlier this week, the lead in the race for district attorney had shifted from Republican Joshua Jimenez to Democrat Barbara Romo by only 59 votes — 56,355 for Romo and 56,296 for Jimenez.
Because the totals are within a half a percentage point, the race is subject to an automatic recount under state law. No recount will be ordered until after the official election results are certified by the state canvassing board on Nov. 24.
Cibola County will hold its canvassing meeting on Thursday, Nov. 12, while Valencia and Sandoval counties will hold their canvassing meetings on Friday, Nov. 13.
Neither candidate is the incumbent since current District Attorney Lemuel Martinez decided not to run for a sixth term.
In Valencia County, Jimenez took 56 percent of the 30,715 votes cast, while in Sandoval County, Romo had 52 percent of 73,433 votes and 53 percent of the 8,503 votes cast in Cibola County.
Last week, Jimenez ended Election Day with 55,911 votes to Romo’s 55,642, a difference of 269 votes.
13th Judicial District Court Judges
Three appointed, Democratic judges in the 13th Judicial District ran unopposed, including Amanda Sanchez Villalobos, Div. 4, in Cibola County; James Noel, Div. 5, and Chris Perez, Div. 7, both in Sandoval County.
The remaining five judges were all retained to the bench, including James Lawrence Sanchez (R), Div. 1, Valencia County; George Eichwald (D), Div. 2, Sandoval County; Allen Smith (R), Div. 3, Valencia County; Cindy Mercer (D), Div. 6, Valencia County; and Cheryl Johnston (R), Div. 8; Sandoval County.