David Coss views the dual roles of mayor and representative as complementary. Carl Trujillo says people have complained to him about Coss trying to do two jobs, and one political science professor says it would be ‘fundamentally problematic.’
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Both Democratic primary candidates Coss and Trujillo grew up in Northern New Mexico, graduated from public high schools and raised their children here. Trujillo, 45, has four sons; Coss, 57, has three grown children.
That’s where the similarities between the two candidates diverge.
Trujillo, who lives in a house he built in Nambé Valley, has coached sports teams, led cub scouts, and serves on the board of the Santa Fe Humane Society. As a homebuilder and technologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Trujillo said he has worked in material science for 27 years and has analytical experience. As a small, local business owner at one time, he has business sense.
He came close to beating House Speaker Ben Luján in the 2010 election for this district and believes he will be motivated to work harder as an outsider to government.
“I am a citizen,” Trujillo said. “The state Constitution states that the Legislature should be a citizen legislature, a person who is part of a community, who works within the community and cares. I feel I fit that.”
Coss attends school graduations and local basketball games, rides his bike throughout the city, and was a 15-year-old page for the New Mexico Legislature. He became a Santa Fe city councilor in 2002 and has served as mayor since 2006. Prior to holding elected office, Coss worked as a surface water scientist for the state, a union leader and the city’s director of public works.
Coss shrugs off any suggestion that the two full-time jobs as state legislator and Santa Fe’s mayor could be challenging for one person. Instead, he points to his experience collaborating with a regional focus and creating respectful relationships.
He’s developed strong ties to area pueblos, partly due to his outreach to Tesuque Pueblo government over the construction of Santa Fe’s convention center on land that included artifacts from pueblo ancestors. As an example of his ability to collaborate, Coss cites his work creating the Buckman Direct Diversion Board, a city-county board that oversees a water-diversion project for the Santa Fe region.
“I’ve been a leader in making the city more integrated with the region,” he said.
This will be the first time someone new has held the House seat since Luján was elected in 1975. The speaker announced this year that he wouldn’t seek re-election because he has advanced-stage lung cancer.
Would dual roles be complementary or problematic?
Coss said he views the dual roles of mayor and representative as complementary. If the Legislature considers the issue of gross receipts taxes and the amount local governments have to contribute, Coss knows the issue well since he is intimate with Santa Fe’s city budget and understands the effects of state decisions.
The jobs might complement each other, but if there’s a conflict, there is an issue of ethical representation, said UNM Political Science Professor Lonna Atkeson. Atkeson is the director of Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy.
“How do you balance the needs of the state over the needs of your city and your residents?” Atkeson questioned. “I don’t see how you can balance that. I think it overwhelms any complementary perspective.”
Atkeson isn’t sure how voters will perceive Coss’ interest in being a legislator and mayor, and it may be a bigger issue for people outside of House District 46.
“What if I use my mayoral office to benefit my district, leveraging one branch of government to benefit my self-interest in another political arena?” Atkeson asked. “You might look at it as a plus, but it’s not fair to other constituents that don’t have that power. It’s fundamentally problematic because your institutional powers are crossing different branches of government.”
Trujillo said people have complained to him about Coss trying to do two jobs, and about the way politics is conducted in New Mexico. Trujillo calls himself a lifelong Democrat who stands for Democratic values – supporting education, working families, the environment, veterans and health-insurance benefits. Yet he also seems to want to distance himself from those in power, referring to “a Democratic machine” and “an outdated, unresponsive political system.”
To make politics more accessible in New Mexico, Trujillo is making ethics reform and transparency a part of his campaign. His one specific proposal is to create and maintain a website that provides information and a chance to give feedback about issues that concern people.
In his campaign, Coss’ focuses include education, jobs and supporting veterans and Los Alamos National Laboratory. He said if Santa Fe can put programs in place to help workers, provide more affordable housing and encourage green jobs, so can the state.
Coss plans to continue his support of working people by linking the state’s minimum wage to the federal cost-of-living index. Santa Fe’s living wage law has received mostly favorable reviews, but companies have complained that the $10.29-an-hour requirement hurts their business. Coss knows it will take time and the support of others to pass a state law.
“I didn’t convince anyone,” he said of Santa Fe’s living wage law. “The workers convinced their city councilors.”
Trujillo said he consciously avoids listing specific initiatives he wants to work on in the Legislature because his campaign is about listening, not his own political agenda. This is the reason, he said, he won’t debate Coss.
“It shouldn’t matter what I think,” Trujillo said. “It should matter what they think. I need to listen to my constituents, and I need to know what the majority believe is the right idea.”
Atkeson: Name recognition will decide race
In the end, the primary election on June 5 will be about whose name is recognized the most, Atkeson said.
“If he gets elected in the primary, he’ll be elected in the general because of the Democratic history in that district,” Atkeson said.
There’s no Republican in the race, but an independent or minor-party candidate could file in late June to appear on the November ballot.
Deborah Busemeyer is a freelance writer living in Santa Fe. Previously she was the communications director at the New Mexico Department of Health. She can be reached at email@example.com.