2018 Election

Incumbents take near sweep in Taos County primary

Hogrefe, Ortega, Shannon, Fambro, Gallegos, O'Donnell head to general election; Dimas takes assessor's primary race

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In Tuesday's primary election, Taos County incumbents largely came away unscathed, even in hotly contested races.

With all 36 precincts reporting, Jerry Hogrefe retained spot as Democratic choice for sheriff in the primary. He will face Republican Jani Davis in November's general election. Both incumbent  magistrate judges, Ernest Ortega and Jeff Shannon, won their races and face no challenger in November.

Jim Fambro and Mark Gallegos handily defeated their opponents to keep their county commission seats while District 5 commissioner Candyce O'Donnell narrowly won her three-way race.

Longtime Taos County appraiser Maria Dimas bested two of her male colleagues in the office, including incumbent Abel Montoya, to become the next Taos County assessor.

Canvassing to certify votes will take place 9 a.m., Friday (June 8) at the Taos County Commission chambers.

Taos County Sheriff

Incumbent Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe handily beat out four fellow Democrats and will move onto to the November general election when he will face off against Republican darkhorse Jani Davis, a former sergeant with the Taos Police Department.

Hogrefe received 2,588 votes. His closest competitor was longtime law enforcement officer and veteran Ricky Medina with 1,388 votes.

The 2018 primary race for Taos County Sheriff has seen five Democrats and one Republican go head-to-head on lingering concerns ranging from lack of staffing, lengthy call times and a long-held desire to open satellite offices in Taos County's far reaches.

Much of the conversation echoed the slightly larger race from four years ago, when current Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe of Red River took on seven challengers to succeed term-limited Sheriff Miguel Romero.

While Hogrefe, a native of Cushing, Oklahoma, has made progress during his first term as sheriff, adding training opportunities at the office, creating a SWAT-modeled special operations team for high-risk calls and, this year, persuading the Taos County Commission to add payroll for two additional deputies, call times still remain a concern among voters leading into the second round of voting later this year.

Candidate Jake Cordova, who won the third most votes said, "It was a good clean race. Obviously the people made their choice."

In November, Hogrefe and Republican Jani Davis will face the challenge of taking the conversation in a new direction. Voters will likely look for realistic goals to be set by the candidates, rather than the lofty promises made in years past.

County Commission, District 1

In one of the more contentious Taos County Commissioner races, incumbent Jim Fambro easily defeated Daniel Cordova and retained his commission seat in a district representing a large portion of the town of Taos. He won 71 percent of the votes in the race – 836 to Cordova's 336 votes.

Fambro, a retired firefighter with the town of Taos, said he ran again to finish major infrastructure projects the county commission has been working on. He was first elected in 2014 and won 71 percent of the vote in that race.

Cordova, a businessman whose brother was mayor and who is politically well-connected, pushed his background as a bilingual, born and raised Taoseño. He believed his connections could help bring revenue in to beef up the county's coffers.

County Commission, District 2

In a race where few surprises were expected, none occurred. Incumbent commissioner for the district that represents the northwestern portion of the county up to the Colorado border, incumbent Mark L. Gallegos bested his fellow Questeño Julian J. Cisneros, 756 votes to 381 votes. Gallegos, who is also mayor of Questa and a former village councilor, will be serving his second term on the county commission.

"I appreciate the opportunity to serve another four years for sure," said Gallegos after the election was called. "The plan is to to make ourselves economically strong and to get ourselves a treatment center that can be provided for our youth. I'd like to get our hospital contract in good order and in good standing.

"I'd like to continue to get support from our senior centers and to provide our community with new modern fire departments. Our goal is to provide the right tools to staff to get projects done," he added. "You know that you're going to be termed out, and you want to keep the county in good working order for the next round of commissioners."

County Commission, District 5

In a largely congenial, but still hotly contested three-way race, incumbent Candyce O'Donnell bested her two opponents. O'Donnell, who won by 28 votes over second place finisher Ronald Mascareñas, will serve her second term as commissioner.

O'Donnell believes road repair issues were among the most important with District 5 voters. She believes the current commission works well together even when they disagree. She said during the race that if elected, one of her priorities will be to push for funding to build a juvenile treatment center.

Mascareñas, a Peñasco-born rancher and retired industry contractor, ran in part on a platform of better connecting with people in the district, expanding the outdoor recreation industry and "fixing" Holy Cross hospital. He also said he would put more money toward senior services and less to the animal shelter.

Mascarenas said he was disappointed with the voter turnout and the outcome, but said he feels it was a good race. "I was happy to get out there, meet with voters and give the people an option," he said, noting he'll focus now on ranching and spending time with his family.

Jerry Yeargin ran as a long-shot progressive candidate pushing for taxes on corporations and second-home owners as ways to bring in much-needed revenue to the county.

O'Donnell received 598 votes, Mascareñas had 570 and Yeargin got 86 votes.

Taos Magistrate Judge (Div. 1)

Ernest Ortega has retained his seat on the bench as Taos Magistrate Judge in Division 1 over former magistrate judge and one time sheriff candidate Betty Martinez-Gonzales. Ortega won 3,331 votes to Gonzales' 3,088 votes.

"I've been there for almost 13 years and I haven't finished the job, so I'm going back to work. I'm going to finish the job," Ortega said after his victory was announced. "This court, before I leave, is going to be the best court in New Mexico, with the most highly skilled clerks, professional clerks and we're going to do a good job for the people of Taos.

"This campaign was a deeply, hard fought in the trenches campaign, and this has been going on for a year," he added. "So all I can say about that is this victory is worth celebrating."

In what turned out to be perhaps the most impassioned races in the 2018 Taos County primary election, Gonzales took shots at Ortega for staff cuts, the closure of a circuit court in Questa and a shared space for handling misdemeanor offenses in Peñasco, attributing the losses to what she described as Ortega's poor management and leadership.

Ortega responded throughout his campaign by pointing to widely publicized cuts to the New Mexico judiciary budget last year, part of a sweeping range of cuts signed by Gov. Susana Martinez during the 2017 legislative sessions at the roundhouse in Santa Fe.

The three-term judge characterized Martinez's accusations of poor leadership as a classic strategy of a desperate candidate, digging for dirt for fear of losing support.

Taos Magistrate Judge (Div. 2)

Current Division 2 Taos Magistrate Judge Jeff Shannon will keep his seat on the bench for another term.

The race for Division 2 saw law school graduate Jeff Shannon face off against Dominic Martinez, a candidate with 25 years of public safety experience who has spent the last nine as director of Taos Central Dispatch.

Martinez promised to work more closely with the chief clerk at the courthouse to move a growing caseload through the judicial process more efficiently. He also said he would work with law enforcement to ensure officers and deputies would not be required to come in for cases on their days off.

As with prior elections, Shannon based his platform on his experience practicing law. He is the only candidate in this year's race in either division to hold a law degree and began his career as a public defender in Taos in the early 2000s. From 2004 until his first election in 2012, Shannon ran a private law practice, which specialized in child abuse and neglect cases.

County Assessor

In a race among three people from the assessor's office, county appraiser Maria Dimas unseated incumbent county assessor Abel L. Montoya.

Dimas said the loss of agricultural status on their property has hurt many Taoseños, but that the assessor must abide by state law in appraisals. She said during the campaign that what really ought to happen is connecting people who have unworked acres with eager farmers and would-be ranchers. Dimas said she could help transform old-fashioned connections into opportunities to keep land irrigated.

The assessor's office oversees property valuations on which county property tax collections and revenues are based.

Probate Judge

Running unopposed in both the primary and general election, Paloma G. Romo, a Democrat, will retain her position. She garnered a healthy 5,112 votes in the primary.

State Representative District #42

Roberto "Bobby" Jesse Gonzales, a Democrat and the lone primary election contender for the seat he has held since 1995, faces no challenger in the general election. The 67-year-old businessman and retired educator is a member of the critical Taxation and Revenue Committee among others. Gonzales received 4,665 votes in the primary.

In other federal and statewide races, here's who Taos County voters chose:

U.S. Senate: Incumbent Martin Heinrich

U.S. Rep., District 3: Ben Ray Lujan

Governor: Michelle Lujan Grisham

Lt. Governor: Howie C. Morales

Secretary of State: Maggie Toulouse Oliver

State Auditor: Brian S. Colón

State treasurer: Tim Eichenberg

Attorney general: Hector Balderas

Commissioner of Public Lands: Garrett O. VeneKlasen

State Rep. Dist. 41: Susan K. Herrera

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