October 5, 2015

ABQ voters to decide city council makeup, BioPark funding

There’s an election tomorrow in New Mexico’s biggest city.

register-to-voteVoters who did not vote early or absentee will head to the polls in what is expected to be a light-turnout election, although one that will decide the makeup of the city council and a tax to help fund improvements at Albuquerque’s BioPark.

Also on the ballot are changes to the city charter and a number of bond questions to fund infrastructure, parks and more.

Voters can cast their ballots at any voting location; it doesn’t have to be your local precinct. The University of New Mexico even has a map that tells you the length of waits at each location if you want to stop off at lunch or take off early from work to vote.

The polls open at 7:00 a.m. and will close at 7:00 p.m. While long lines aren’t expected, anyone who is in line at 7:00 p.m. will be allowed to vote.

Yes, you will need photo ID to vote. Unlike statewide elections, Albuquerque city elections require an identification.

From the city of Albuquerque website on acceptable identifications:

  • Government-issued card containing the voter’s name and photo
  • Driver’s license
  • Student identification card
  • Credit or debit card
  • Insurance card
  • Union membership card
  • Professional association card
  • City Clerk-issued identification
  • Other membership cards with the voter’s name and photo

City council elections

There are four city council districts up for grabs, this time in the even numbered districts (2, 4, 6, 8). In two years, the mayor and the odd-numbered districts will be up for election.

The races are officially non-partisan, but like most things in politics, votes in the city council tend to fall along party lines. Right now, Democrats control five of the seats in the council and Republicans hold four.

Voters in two districts don’t have much of a choice; their candidates are running unopposed.

Isaac Benton in District 2 gets a free ride, as does Trudy Jones in District 8. Both are incumbents who will be back on the council. Benton is a Democrat while Jones is a Republican.

The two contested districts are those that could have Republicans taking back the majority that they lost two years ago or give Democrats enough seats to overturn mayor Richard Berry’s vetoes.

What is likely the most interesting race is in District 6, which is an open seat thanks to the retirement of Albuquerque City Council President Rey Garduño, a Democrat.

Three candidates are vying to represent the seat; ProgressNow New Mexico executive director Pat Davis*, University of New Mexico student Samuel Kerwin and former city attorney Hess “Hessito” Yntema. Yntema is a Republican while the other two are Democrats.

The race has received the most media attention running up to election day.

The other contested race is in District 4, where incumbent Brad Winter, a Republican, takes on Israel Chavez, a Democrat. Winter was recently the interim superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools while Chavez works for Equality New Mexico, a LGBT advocacy organization.

Biopark funding

Though only four districts will have a say on their city councilor this year, everyone in the city can cast a vote on a gross receipts tax increase to fund improvements for the Albuquerque BioPark.

The proposal would add one-eight of one cent gross receipts tax increase (that is, 12.5 cents for every $100 you spend) to the city’s gross receipts tax. Food and prescription drugs are exempt from gross receipts taxes in New Mexico.

The funding would go toward upkeep and new exhibits at the BioPark, such as more parking and a penguin exhibit.

Estimates say the gross receipts tax increase would bring $240 million to the BioPark over 15 years.

Charter amendments

A proposed charter amendment would require future direct changes to the city charter to take place at the next general election or municipal election. These are questions such as the 20-week abortion ban that failed and the minimum wage increase which passed.

Critics have said the questions are too expensive, about half a million of dollars per election, and that constraining them to already existing elections will save the city money.

A related question would not require the complete text of charter amendments to be included on ballots and only require a title and summary. This would save space on the ballot, which was a question during the last election.

Another question would give the city council say in the hiring of the fire department and police chief positions. Currently, the mayor can hire a police chief without any say from the city council.

This would let the city council vote on confirmation as they already do for the Chief Administration Officer and deputy administrative officers.

* ProgressNow New Mexico helps find funding for New Mexico Political Report but neither Pat Davis nor anyone else at ProgressNow New Mexico has any control over or input on the editorial content or story selection of this or any other story.