Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima and his wife, Rosie, check out the results of the city’s municipal election Tuesday, Nov. 3 at Los Compas restaurant on Compress Drive were he gathered with supporters. Miyagishima was re-elected.
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
For a year with no statewide elections, 2015 was pretty busy politically for New Mexico and Las Cruces.
We got a new secretary of state, a new state representative and a new state senator. Here in Las Cruces, we re-elected our mayor and one city councilor, and elected two new city council members and a new presiding municipal judge.
Also, Las Cruces Public Schools elected two new board members in February.
Former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran, first elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 – and the first Republican to hold the office since 1930 – resigned in October after pleading guilty to embezzlement, money laundering and identity theft in connection with the illegal use of campaign donations for gambling.
Republican Brad Winter, a former member of the Albuquerque City Council, was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to fill Duran’s term until the 2016 general election. He is the first man to hold the office since Manuel Martinez in 1922.
In the House, State Rep. Stephanie Maez, a Democrat representing District 21 in Albuquerque, resigned in early November. Later that same month, the Bernalillo County Commission appointed Democrat Idalia Lechuga-Tena of Albuquerque to replace Maez. Since Maez and Lechuga-Tena are both Democrats, the party split in the House remains at 37 to 33 in favor of the Republicans.
In the state Senate, former Sen. Phil Griego, a Democrat, resigned his District 39 seat in March. His replacement, former Estancia Mayor Ted Barela, a Republican, was appointed in April by Martinez, who is also a Republican. District 39 includes portions of Bernalillo, Lincoln, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Torrance and Valencia counties.
Griego’s replacement was named by the governor rather than a county commission because District 39 includes multiple counties. With the party change, the Democrats’ majority in the state Senate drops to 24 to 18.
In Las Cruces’ non-partisan city election in November, incumbent Mayor Ken Miyagishima was re-elected to a third term, defeating former City Councillor Miguel Silva and Las Cruces business owner Gina Montoya-Ortega.
Miyagishima received more than 51 percent of the vote, while Silva got about 33 percent and Montoya-Ortega received almost 16 percent in her first bid for public office. Miyagishima received more than half the vote despite an intense, negative advertising campaign against him in the final weeks before the election by GOAL West PAC, a political action committee with ties to the oil and gas industry in southeast New Mexico.
Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Smith, who represents District 2, defeated challenger Philip VanVeen to earn his second term on the council.
In District 1, political newcomer Kassandra Gandara defeated Eli Guzman by 18 votes. A third candidate, Steve Calderazzo, received almost six percent of the vote even though he dropped out before election day. Gandara replaced Miguel Silva on the council.
In District 4, another political newcomer, Jack Eakman, won by 11 votes over Richard Hall. Gilbert Vasquez was a distant third. Eakman replaced Nathan Small, who decided not to run for a third term.
Gandara and Eakman are both considered “progressives.” Their final vote margins were confirmed in limited recounts conducted by the city clerk’s office shortly after the election.
The city also elected a new presiding municipal judge in November. Kieran Ryan received almost two thirds of the vote, defeating William Kinsella. Ryan replaces Melissa Miller-Byrnes, who retired after 16 years in the position.
The city clerk’s office said the turnout for the election was 18.6 percent, which means 10,245 of the 54,981 eligible voters cast ballots. That’s just slightly less than the last city election in 2012. All those elected or re-elected will serve four-year terms.
Nearly a year ago, voters chose Maury Castro as the new LCPS board of education member representing District 4. He defeated three other candidates and succeeded Bonnie Votaw, who chose not to seek re-election to a third term on the board. In District 5, two-term incumbent Dr. Connie Phillips lost to Las Cruces newcomer Edward Frank. About 1,600 people voted in the two districts. Both will serve four-year terms.
During that Feb. 3 election, voters also approved a bond issue providing $20 million in capital and operating funds for Doña Ana Community College.