A new political action committee of unknown origins inserted itself into a hotly-contested Bernalillo County Commission race with a decidedly nasty mailer the day before the primary election. The mailer, from a PAC called “Committee for the Truth District #2,” aggressively attacks candidates Adrián Pedroza and Steven Michael Quezada while ending with the phrase, “MAY THE LORD GUIDE YOUR VOTE!!!”
Pedroza and Quezada are vying, along with Robert Chavez, in this week’s primary for the Democratic Party nomination for the seat currently held by Art De La Cruz, who is term-limited and cannot run again. It’s unclear who is behind “Committee for the Truth District #2.” The mailer lists John Davis as treasurer. NM Political Report is choosing to not run pictures of the mailer because of at least two demonstrably false claims written on it, which we will not publish here. When NM Political Report called the phone number that the PAC left with the business that printed the mailer, a person on the other line said, “Wrong number,” and quickly hung up.
A Bernalillo County commissioner wants the county attorney to investigate donations to a political action committee supporting two candidates for county commission. New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC recently drew controversy for its donors’ affiliations with the Santolina planned development, a project on Albuquerque’s westside whose developers are asking the county to approve 80 subsidies for the next several decades. The PAC sent mailers supporting District 2 candidates Steven Michael Quezada and Robert Chavez and has repeatedly targeted Adrián Pedroza, the candidate most outspokenly critical of Santolina. The PAC also funded billboards for Quezada touting his “Breaking Bad” credits. Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, a supporter of Pedroza, wants an investigation into whether certain donations to the PAC violate county campaign finance rules.
As Bernalillo County Commission District 2 candidate Adrián Pedroza recently put it, the issue of Santolina became “front and center” when lawyers and developers behind the controversial planned community inserted themselves into the race by creating a political action committee. Pedroza, one of three candidates running to fill the term-limited Art De La Cruz’s seat, is vocally opposed to the development. Of the more than 1,000 people in the district that Pedroza says he’s talked to since beginning his campaign last year, he contends only one of them voiced support for Santolina. “They can’t imagine how the county would be supporting and thinking about putting public resources towards a new city with 40,000 homes in an area that doesn’t exist,” Pedroza, a development director at the South Valley-based Partnership for Community Action, said. “When people try to get sold on, ‘This is jobs for the district,’ they say, ‘Well, we want jobs in our existing communities, not jobs in a community that doesn’t exist.’”
Robert Chavez, one of Pedroza’s opponents in the upcoming Democratic primary, argues this type of outspokenness by Pedroza might bar him from actually voting on Santolina issues as a commissioner.
New Mexico candidates and political action committees filed reports Monday of contributions and spending from April 5 through May 2. Here’s a quick look at that month’s worth of reporting. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth. Candidates for secretary of state top the list of fundraisers for the reporting period, with Republican Nora Espinoza leading Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, followed by several legislative candidates. Here are the top 15 candidates:
Toulouse Oliver leads all candidates in spending for the past month at nearly $31,000.
A political action committee’s support of Steven Michael Quezada for Bernalillo County Commission is leading to questions because of the donors behind it—including from Quezada himself. Last month, the New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC paid for billboards that reference the actor and comedian’s most well-known credential—his supporting role as DEA Agent Steven Gomez in the cable TV drama “Breaking Bad.”
“Elect Breaking Bad’s good guy,” read the billboards, which also feature a picture of smiling Quezada and his name written in a font reminiscent of the opening credits of the popular TV series. The funders behind New Mexicans for New Mexico PAC, which is independent of Quezada’s campaign, are developers and lawyers with ties to Santolina, a controversial planned development of residences that the county commission approved zoning changes for last year. Santolina’s backers say the planned development could be home to as many as 90,000 people over the next 40 to 50 years. But the issue has sparked outrage from critics who call it sprawl development and point to British-based multinational bank Barclays, which owns the land Santolina is set to be built on, as the corporate driver behind it.
A response by an Albuquerque school board member to a candidate questionnaire appears to be directly lifted from a website without any attribution. And after speaking to those involved, it’s unclear who exactly copied the answer. When Steven Michael Quezada ran for his current spot on the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education in late 2012 and early 2013, he submitted answers to a candidate questionnaire with information ranging from basic personal information to his overall thoughts about education. Quezada’s answer in response to a question regarding the role of individual board members is identical to language from the National School Boards Association. Quezada, who is now a candidate for Bernalillo County Commission, told NM Political Report he wasn’t the one who copied the information but that he is ultimately responsible for the final result.
“At the end of the day, I signed off on it,” Quezada said.
Dozens of emails sent to Albuquerque school board members opposing a proposed change in rights for transgender students appear to have come from the same source. Last month, Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member Peggy Muller-Aragon publicly stated her opposition to a school directive expanding rights for transgender students. After arguing that some parents may not be comfortable with their children sharing bathrooms and locker rooms with transgender students, Muller-Aragon said she received hundreds of emails from constituents who didn’t want to see the directive go forward. In fact, Muller-Aragon received close to 100 emails about the matter on her public school board account, according to records obtained by NM Political Report. Most of these appeared to copy language from an email from one source—a local Republican Party official
The proposed directive, for which the school board heard public comment last month, would comply with a section of federal law affirming rights for transgender students in public schools.
After an hour of passionate public comment on transgender rights, a Wednesday Albuquerque Public School Board of Education meeting ended with the district’s superintendent requesting further work. A majority of public comment was regarding whether transgender students’ rights should be protected under a federal law that also protects students rights based on gender. The Department of Education said in 2014 the law, known as Title IX, included protections on the basis of gender identity. Board member Peggy Muller-Aragón who was the only member who spoke against the measure, said she had received hundreds of emails in opposition. “The loudest side is not always the right side,” she said of the large number of people who spoke in favor of the measure.
With another superintendent out after a buyout and a new acting superintendent at Albuquerque Public Schools, it’s still unclear what the future holds for the position. Earlier this week, Luis Valentino resigned from his position as superintendent, the APS board announced Raquel M. Reedy as his replacement, at least in an acting superintendent capacity. After previous superintendent Winston Brooks resigned, the board hired Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter to fill the spot. Winter was interim superintendent for ten months. Brooks resigned last year after a board member hired a private attorney to look into a personnel matter.
Luis Valentino is still in charge of the school district, at least for now. A grueling five-hour special Albuquerque Public Schools board meeting over “a limited personnel matter relating to the superintendent” didn’t result in any immediate decision on Valentino’s position as superintendent of APS. Instead, another special school board meeting will take place Thursday at 7 am. Nearly the entire meeting occurred in executive, closed-door session. At the end of the meeting, school board President Don Duran read a statement saying the board had a “very thorough and rigorous discussion of the facts” with Valentino.