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Political parties identify issues to entice voters

“I think we have a lot of good opportunity in the next 135 days,” says Brian Colon, Democratic candidate for State Auditor, left, during a Saturday event in Roswell for young Democrats. Paul Romero, chair of the Democratic Party of Chaves County, right, was among the people who talked about plans to reach voters for the November general elections. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Republicans outnumber any other group of registered voters in Chaves County by more than 6,000 people, but local leaders of the two other major parties, Libertarian and Democratic, think they can galvanize the public with their top statewide candidates and their messages as they look toward the general elections in November.

“Democrats are enthusiastic and passionate and feel a real call to action,” said Brian Colon, the Democratic nominee for State Auditor. “To me, I think we have a lot of good opportunity in the next 135 days. That is how many days we have until the next election, and we will be working every one of those days.”

Colon was in the company of Zack Quintero, president of the Young Democrats of New Mexico, Saturday morning as they made a stop in Roswell to talk about ideas and strategies for the upcoming elections.

The Young Democrats group, with 18 chapters and 3,500 members statewide, was in the middle of a six-county summer tour to discuss ideas and strategies with local Democrats. Their Roswell visit brought in about six locals, including Paul Romero and Daniel Johnson, leaders with the Democratic Party of Chaves County; Juan Oropesa, Roswell City Councilor; and Tom Jennings, former Roswell mayor and former local Democratic Party chair.

“What we are doing on this tour is talking to folks about what they can do to not only pull out millennial voters but also other independents, Democrats, folks that we can win over by the power of our ideas and the power of having an honest conversation,” said Quintero.

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Locally, only four races are contested in November: a District 1 county commission seat that puts Democrat Michael Trujillo of Roswell against Republican Dara Dana of Dexter; a Division 2 magistrate judge office race between Republican incumbent E.J. Fouratt and Libertian Mayna Myers, both of Roswell; a state District 59 House of Representative contest with Republican incumbent Greg Nibert of Roswell being challenged by Libertarian Carl M. Swinney of Carrizozo; and a Public Regulation Commission District 2 race between Democrat Kevin J. Sanders and Republican Jefferson Byrd, both of Tucumcari.

The state ballot offers some high-stakes races, with local voters able to have a say in two Congressional races and 11 statewide offices.

Colon and Quintero talked about Democrats standing at a historic point in history, with a Native American woman, Xochitl Torres Small, seeking the Congressional District 2 seat as its current occupant, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, runs for governor. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who is taking on Pearce in the bid for the gubernatorial office, is also seen as someone who can help motivate people to go to the polls and “vote blue.”

The group solicited ideas on which upcoming local events will field potential supporters and discussed messages that could encourage Republicans, independents or others to vote for Democrats. Economic development and job growth were seen as among the top priorities for area voters, with other issues including concern over crime, worries about a proposed high-level nuclear waste storage site in Lea County, a desire for increased early childhood education funding, possible restrictions in the use of local air space due to a planned Air Force airspace expansion, student loan forgiveness for millennials, and concern for nationwide social issues such as gun control and health care.

Romero noted that only about half of registered Democrats in the county, which numbered 9,403 as of May 31, typically cast votes in elections, compared to about three-quarters of registered Republicans in the area, so he said the party needs to emphasize those issues that will matter to Chaves County taxpayers and families.

“I think the subject of turnout is a really good there,” said Quintero. “Those numbers show where we have room to grow — with independents and Decline to States — and I think that is when it comes down to the power of the ideas of the statewide ticket, and also what important issues are here that Chaves County sees and feels every single specific day.”

Local Libertarians, now considered a major party for the first time in New Mexico after Gary Johnson’s strong showing in the 2016 presidential elections, also think that a statewide message that offers an alternative to the ideas presented by Republican and Democratic voters will make up for their small party representation, 203 people registered in Chaves County by the end of May.

“We have a convention at the end of this month,” said Krik Myers, head of the Chaves County Libertarians and also the husband of magistrate judge candidate Mayna Myers, “and then we are going full forward.”

He said Chaves County is among the fastest-growing Libertarian areas in the state, and the party intends to hold meet-and-greets and other events to tell them about their candidates, which includes not only Myers and Swinney but also candidates for U.S. senator, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and commissioner of public lands.

“We are just getting out and letting them know who we are and what we stand for,” said Krick Myers. “They are not necessarily going to switch parties.”

The Myers said people often are afraid to switch “tribes,” but can be attracted to the Libertarians’ views about the Second Amendment (they oppose restrictions to individual gun ownership) and civil liberties (they object to government surveillance in many instances and support internet freedom and equal rights for all people).

As with leaders of all parties, the Libertarians have their eyes on the 6,290 registered voters in the county who are listed as independent or Decline to State, as well as the 716 who are registered with minor parties.

Krick Myers say the Dunn family — Aubrey Dunn, who is running for U.S. Senate; wife Robin Dunn, a candidate of lieutenant governor; and their son, A. Blair Dunn, an Attorney General office seeker — are the names most likely to appeal to voters in the county, since the family has its roots in the Dexter area. Aubrey Dunn plans to attend Roswell’s Fourth of July festivities, which is expected to help area Libertarians.

Although the Republicans have a large edge in numbers — 15,518 registered voters on May 31 — the chair of the Chaves County Republican Party said the local candidates won’t be looking at the races as done deals.

“We have a lot of experience in knowing that we cannot take things for granted,” said Caleb Grant, also a Roswell city councilor, “and that our candidates have to get out and work, and the party has to be present and visible in meeting with everyone in the county and reaching out to everyone in the county in relaying the messages of our candidates locally and statewide.”

Grant said the governor’s race, with U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce as the party candidate, and the Congressional District 2 race with state Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo representing the GOP, are expected to motivate local voters. Pearce, a former Hobbs oil field services company owner, is being touted as someone who would bring a strong business background to the state’s top executive post.

Grant said both Pearce and possibly Herrell will be in Roswell Aug. 18 when the party opens its headquarters on North Richardson Avenue. Pearce is also expected at a local event at Pecos Winery on July 5.

Although the party already has the advantage in terms of number for local races, volunteers still will be seeking new registrants in the coming months.

New Mexico Secretary of State data shows that registered Republicans in Chaves County on May 31, 2017, totaled 14,993. The percentage of registered GOP voters in the county remains the same as the previous year at 48 percent. Democrats lost 153, one percent of voters, during the year.

“Over the last year, we have actually had a very large number that have come over to our party from other parties and Decline to State,” he said. “There is still a large number of Decline to State in our county, and we continue to reach out to them and we continue to do voter registrations at all our events during the year.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.