Redistricting pits two county commissioners against each other
Two of three Democratic candidates for the District 5 seat on the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners are current commissioners who redistricting has pitted against each other.
By order of state statute, each of New Mexico’s 33 counties is required to “redraw district boundaries” after each decennial census (every 10 years).
As in all cases of redistricting, government is making an attempt to keep a balance for each of the districts, using, among other things, changes in population as a guide line in order to try and keep a balanced level of constituents for each county commissioner.
Doña Ana County’s redistricting in 2011 was guided by an advisory committee and a consultant based in Albuquerque that made recommendations offering new boundaries, and the changes were approved by the current commissioners after some public hearings.
This has resulted in an interesting paradox for District 5, which is now hosting a Democratic primary election pitting two current commissioners against each other – Scott Krahling, who currently represents District 4, and Leticia Duarte-Benavidez, the current representative for District 5. Both have been in office since 2008.
Roughly speaking, District 5 covers the northwest part of the county, while District 4, similar in size, geographically takes in the northeast section.
Demographically, the population of each district hovers at about 70,000, with a margin of deviation of about 2 percent. Hispanics, according to the 2010 census, far outnumber the total of Anglos and other groups, carrying about 62 percent of the District 5 population.
Who has the advantage?
So, who has the advantage in the primary? Is it Duarte-Benavidez, who has lived her whole life in Doña Ana County and is a retired grant administrator for the county? Is it Krahling, a New Mexico native who attended NMSU and worked to achieve a double major in mass communications and government and has worked locally in marketing and real estate?
Or could it be the third candidate, Benjamin (Benjie) Luchini?
Both Duarte-Benavidez and Krahling have or had spaceport ties. She serves as a district director, while Krahling recently resigned his position on the N.M. Spaceport Authority after butting heads with Gov. Susana Martinez when he wrote an op-ed piece noting some issues concerning the spaceport’s visitor’s centers.
District directors work with the Spaceport America Regional Spaceport District (SARSD), which includes Doña Ana and Sierra counties and oversees and facilitates the use of monies generated by the tax revenues from initiatives that were passed in both counties.
As current sitting county commissioners, neither has been in the news much except for Krahling’s Spaceport resignation and Duarte-Benavidez’s near censure in 2011 for her alleged involvement in county personnel issues involving her husband and a former campaign manager.
In general, the county seems to have been chugging along okay for the last few years, and thus far, the campaigns for all three candidates have remained low-key. Only Krahling has been more active online with a website, several social media links and some online advertising. Any electronica for the other two candidates was not to be found, except for Luchini’s busy Facebook site, which oddly makes no mention of his campaign.
Krahling: ‘It’s like running for the first time’
Krahling’s website has an issues link that covers a wide range of subjects from colonias and “smart growth” to PTSD awareness for veterans and public safety.
“The campaign has been going good,” Krahling said when contacted by phone. “I have a record of accomplishments and have good support.”
When asked about his chances of winning, Krahling admitted that he didn’t know how to gauge this race, but noted, with gentle amusement, “33 percent.”
“There are three candidates, and the people I have spoken to have been responsive, but I don’t want to be overconfident,” he said.
Krahling also noted that it has been a difficult campaign so far, since the redistricting has essentially made him a “first-time” candidate despite his almost four years of experience.
“It’s like running for the first time. I have a responsibility to be working with the residents in the East Mesa (District 4), but have to work to let the people in the north county know who I am,” he said. “I haven’t a record there, as I do on the East Mesa, where I worked on issues such as a new flood control plan.”
Krahling notes that even though they aren’t flashy issues, the next set of county commissioners will need to do a lot of work with comprehensive planning and zoning issues.
Luchini wants ‘to do a good job for the people’
In a brief phone interview, Luchini, a newcomer to the political arena whose father was a county commissioner for 18 years, felt assured that he would win the primary and was running a low-key and small-budget campaign.
“I really think that it is time for a change in county commissioners,” he said. “There are lots of problems in the county from above to below.”
Luchini cited county jail issues along with a lack of viable employment for area residents. He noted the recent loss of the Pegasus project to Hobbs. A truck driver for nearly 40 years, Luchini has some unique ideas that could provide new jobs, including a green house operation that could yield produce year round.
He is also a volunteer football coach for fourth-to-seventh graders, and noted that a “super bowl” game between city and county teams could be a great service to local young people, along with a rodeo arena in Hatch, an idea that is being tossed about.
He acknowledged his underdog status, but felt confident that he could win. Perhaps this being a nod to his membership in a group called Gold Prospectors of America… working hard to find something important and elusive.
He closed the interview with this thought:
“I just want to do a good job for the people.”
Winner will face Evans in general
Duarte-Benavidez did not respond to several phone message and e-mail requests for an interview for this article.
Whichever Democrat wins will be facing a well-known political challenger – former County Commissioner D. Kent Evans, a Republican. That means all four potential winners have some sort of previous link to the commission.
Evans was a commissioner for eight years, but has run unsuccessfully for the PRC and State Senate since then.
Jeff Berg is a Las Cruces-based freelance writer who has written for a number of regional publications. A former U.S. Postal Service employee, he only misses the steady paycheck.
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