Politics

Questa mayor retains seat in big-turnout election

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Voting in Questa is a truly community affair.

Voters are greeted along the main highway with a line of big, polished trucks and horse trailers with signs for the candidates, who line the one road in and out of the village's one polling place--the municipal offices--shaking hands, leaning on trucks, talking about dogs and dinner. Everyone knows everyone's name.

In the last half hour of voting Tuesday (March 6), as the bitter cold set in and the light faded from the sky, Questeños were still rushing into the office to cast their ballot.

"I'm sunburned and cold," said John Anthony Ortega, the sitting councilor who ran a campaign to unseat Questa Mayor Mark Gallegos.

"Sergeant Sally," or presiding judge Sally Gonzales, yelled out the front door, "The polls are now closed." Within a half-hour, she stood among the small crowd gathered in the village offices and, in an unwavering tradition, read the results aloud.

Gallegos garnered 340 votes, beating Ortega's 275 votes in the race for mayor. Ortega will remain a village councilor.

Two positions were up for grabs on the council. Former councilor Louise Gallegos and all-around Questa politico Charlie I Gonzales won those seats with 392 votes and 329 votes, respectively. Sitting councilor Lawrence Ortega, who was running for a second term, was the lowest vote-getter, with only 268 votes.

The air left the room as Gonzales announced the results, where both Ortegas and a handful of their friends and supporters were gathered.

The early vote in Questa drew 216 people, with more than 350 people turning out to cast ballots on Election Day, enough that, according to Questa village clerk Renee Martinez, the poll captains "haven't had a rest all day."

In Martinez's recollection, this was the busiest municipal election she's presided over in the past 10 years. Indeed, 615 votes were cast for mayor this year, compared to 529 votes cast in the 2014 election, when Gallegos won the mayor's race with a 39-vote lead over Esther Garcia.

A week before the election, Gallegos admitted to a crowd of voters at a Questa candidates forum that while his official residence is within the village, he spends almost every night at his girlfriend's house in Llano Quemado. While some people felt that should disqualify Gallegos from running for another term, others in the village appreciated his honesty about a fact of life that's regarded as an open secret.

Gallegos said he was relieved the election was over and is "honored to be able to serve the community again."

"I know now how much more I have to work by the voter turnout, know they wanted to see a difference in our community," he said. "Those concerns that my opponent's platform is based on is what I need to work on in detail. With his help, hopefully we can make that work," Gallegos said.

Louise Gallegos, in the minutes after hearing she won the council race, told The Taos News she, too, is honored and "humbled at the support the community has given me."

Votes results are unofficial until they are canvassed Thursday (March 8). Candidates will be sworn into office Friday and the council will resume business on Tuesday.

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