November 10, 2015

Here’s who wants to fill the vacancy in House District 21

Bernalillo County Commissioners will decide who will replace Stephanie Maez in House District 21.

RoundhouseThe commission is expected to make a decision Tuesday night, according to the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting. Maez resigned from the position in October.

Bernalillo County provided NM Political Report with the six applications for the position.

Update: The Bernalillo County Commission voted to appoint Lechuga-Tena during Tuesday night’s meeting.

Idalia Lechuga-Tena could be the most high profile, and controversial, of those seeking the position. She worked in the Martin Chavez mayoral administration and was the campaign manager for Pete Dinelli’s unsuccessful mayoral campaign in Albuquerque in 2013. She also sought a position on the Bernalillo County Commission in 2009, but then-governor Bill Richardson chose Maggie Hart Stebbins instead. Hart Stebbins won election in 2010 and reelection in 2014.

Lechuga-Tena is also a controversial figure. State Sen. Mimi Stewart, who represented the district, told blogger Joe Monahan that Lechuga-Tena does not live in the district and that she is not registered to vote in the district. Others have said she cast votes in 2003 before she became a citizen; Lechuga-Tena said she would address this before tonight’s Bernalillo County Commission meeting according to Peter St. Cyr.

Lechuga-Tena told NM Political Report that when she was 18, a group registered her to vote while she was at the University of New Mexico. Her voter registration shows that she was born in 1983 and she cast her ballot in 2003 in municipal elections, when she was 20. She did not vote again until 2007.

She called the allegations that she committed voter fraud “irresponsibly made” and that she didn’t know at the time that she had to be a U.S. citizen in order to vote. She said the mistake was “corrected” when she cancelled her voter registration after she cast her vote.

“I was a complete victim of the process,” Lechuga-Tena said.

As for those who say she does not live in the district, Lechuga-Tena admitted that she moved into House District 21 in order to run, but that she has always lived in the International District. The International District makes up part of House District 21. Lechuga-Tena said she still owns her previous house and intends to keep it in order to help care for her parents next door. She said the attention of her address is starting to take it’s toll.

“Now I have people following me,” Lechuga-Tena said of at least one news reporter. “And I’m frankly a little scared.”

Still, Lechuga-Tena said she is ready to answer any questions or criticism from commissioners.

Other candidates

Debra Sariñana was a medical service specialist in the Air Force Reserves, a computer programmer at White Sands Missile Range and Yuma Proving Ground and is currently a Manzano High School math teacher.

Sariñana wrote in a letter to the commission that her goal “is to extend my community service to a different forum, and to give a voice to families that are struggling.”

Insurance agent Dan Wilkinson, who runs the Dan Wilkinson Agency in Albuquerque, also applied. Wilkinson is the chairman of the Metro Park and Recreation Advisory Board in Albuquerque. In his letter of interest, Wilkinson cited his “passion for community participation and outreach” and his “extensive volunteer experience in school based drug education programs and faith based recidivism prevention now active in the state and county detention facilities.”

Joe Chavez is a retired Albuquerque Police Department officer and current School Resource Officer in Los Lunas Schools who is planning on attending graduate school for a Master’s Degree in Masters of Arts in Management. Chavez is also a softball coach at West Mesa High School.

Chavez said that he specialized in outreach to the mentally ill and helped the homeless in Albuquerque as an APS Crisis Specialist.

John W. Flores wrote for the Albuquerque Journal for a year and before that for the Dallas Morning News. Flores now writes biographies. He formerly worked for U.S. Senator Lloyd Bensten, from Texas. Flores says he got the job after writing a profile about then-Texas State Treasurer Ann Richards—who went on to become governor of Texas—who recommended him for his position with Bentsen. Flores also served for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Former Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office employee Amanda KinKaid also applied for the position. However, her address is listed in Rio Rancho, outside of the district’s borders. Legislators must live in the district which they represent.

KinKaid has worked as legislative staff in the House and in the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office.

Maez announced her resignation from the state House in October to help focus on her son’s trial. Maez’s son, Donovan Maez, was charged with an open count of murder in the driveby shooting of a Manzano High School student at a party. He has pleaded not guilty.

Update: Added conversation with Lechuga-Tena.

Update: Added information about Lechuga-Tena’s age when she voted.