Goodman: A Big Election For Las Cruces And The Nation

Nov 12, 2017

Commentary: Tuesday was eventful for local governments here.

The Doña Ana County Commission announced a four-year contract with Fernando Macias to be the new county manager.

Then moderate to progressive candidates swept the city elections.

Gabe Vasquez got 70% of the vote in District 3; Yvonne Flores got a surprising 57% in District 6, beating incumbent Ceil Levatino; and District 5 incumbent Gill Sorg got 51% in a three-way race. Meanwhile Joy Goldbaum, the most progressive candidate in the Municipal Judge II race, got 51% against incumbent Kent Yalkut (29%) and Nelson Goodin (21%). 


These results reflect both relative contentment with the City Council's present course and strong discontent with the national political situation.

The Council has been generally progressive. Voters, knowing that, re-elected Sorg, booted Levatino (the most frequent dissenting vote), and added Vasquez, who was endorsed by retiring District 3 councilor Olga Pedroza. 


Businesses have voiced complaints in the past about permit processes and the like. The council and new City Manager Stuart Ed have taken steps to address such complaints. I hope those efforts continue. (Vasquez's business editor and Hispanic Chamber experience may prove useful.) Business is an important aspect of our community. It shouldn't dominate city politics, as it once did; but it deserves respect and fair treatment. Entrepreneurship deserves even more. 


The results were clearly a victory for shoe-leather. Progressive candidates and their supporters did a lot of canvassing. “We touched every door in the district, some of them three times,” one campaign manager said Friday. But there seemed to be a lot more newspaper and radio ads for Levatino and Montañez. Goldbaum walked a lot, and many people walked for her; but incumbent Yalkut bought many more (and much bigger) signs and newspaper ads. (Goodin spent nothing! Governor Martinez may well appoint him district judge, replacing Macias. He'd face another election next November.)

Some of the energy moving those shoes along our streets was generated by Donald Trump. His election, and his absurd and dangerous post-election conduct, awakened many people who can't do much about him but can try to keep local government sane, sensible, and caring. In Virginia, Washington State, and elsewhere, distaste for Trump fueled Democratic wins.

Some motivation was purely local. Many of Levatino's constituents were angry. That, plus the strong effort by and for Flores, turned a swing district strongly progressive. Voters know and respect Sorg, a decent man who really cares about water and quality-of-life issues, while Steve Montañez didn't inspire widespread affection. Vasquez's extremly strong qualifications and Bev Courtney's extreme politics and limited knowledge and experience made the District 3 race a mismatch. Gabe – just an outstanding candidate – had many more people walking the streets for him. He also had more money than Courtney, who didn't receive nearly as much funding from conservative and business interests as Levatino and Montañez. 


Meanwhile Macias is a promising choice as county manager – a post he's held before. (He was student body president when I was still around campus in the 1970's.) I liked what I saw of him as judge. Other judges weren't so keen, and replaced him as Presiding Judge in the Third Judicial District; but he certainly has the tools and the perspective to excel in his new post – and the four-year contract he wisely negotiated should help. 

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard, and hats off to all the winning and losing candidates.


[A Sun-News story carried comments on the "small" increase in turnout from eight to 11 per cent of eligible voters.  While that increase may have disappointed Scott Krahling and Delores Connor and others involved in trying to increase voter turnout here, a jump from eight to 11% is actually a 37.5% increase.  In any case, no one should use the voter turnout as an excuse to denigrate the city, the results, or the winners.  A lot of people just don't care.  Many who follow national elections really don't care much who runs the city or the county.  That's their right.  (As a young man here, I didn't have a clue who was on the county or city commission -- until suddenly I was hired as a local reporter for the El Paso Times.)  Everyone who wanted to vote in this election, or run in this election, or speak up for or against candidates had abundant opportunities to do so.   The races came out as they did.  The low turnout means little; and if it means anything at all, it means that the vast silent body of citizens obviously isn't desperately unhappy with the city government's direction.  At the same time, while Gill Sorg's win over Steve Montañez looks like a rout when you say 51% to 41%,  a difference of 121 votes doesn't sound huge, and progressives shouldn't rest on their laurels.]

[i have a couple more random observations:

1. Ceil Levatino will be missed.  As I've said elsewhere, I'd have voted for Yvonne Flores.  And I know Ms. Levatino irritated some constituents.  On the other hand, my interactions with her were always quite pleasant; and a couple of the councilors  who served with her, but generally disagreed with her, both say she was always been courteous and respectful in their conversations, and that they'll miss her.  She deserves credit for that, and for taking her work as councilor seriously.

2. It'll be interesting to watch Monday evening's city council discussion of when the cost-of-living increase in the minimum wage should kick in.  Appears councilors or staff made a mistake in hastily [and wrongfully, under the City Charter] rewriting the ordinance from the original petition-induced version.  A legal purist might be inclined to go back to the CAFe version for guidance.  On the other hand, after an election that removed the council's most conservative councilor, I'd be tempted to vote to delay the increase to show concerned small-business owners some concern.   The issue also reminds one of another important and as-yet-unaddressed issue, changing the charter provisions regarding ordinance petitions and possibly recall provisions.  (Not to eliminate either, but to bring the ordinance provision into line with what was intended and perhaps make the recall provision more like the statewide provision.)  Hope we'll see action on that early in the new year.

3. "Que Tal Community Radio" [KTAL-LP 101.5 FMnow has live streaming.  That's of general interest, because some folks can't get it so well and a few friends and readers are far away.  I should also note that by some accident I'll be on both at 9 a.m. and at 10 a.m. [New Mexico time] this morning, with my regular Sunday Show at 9 [discussing religions and the arguments against them with secular humanist Dr. Richard Hempstead] and at 10 a.m. [getting interviewed by Sandhi Scott on her show.  The Hempstead discussion is interesting.   On Sandhi's show, I'm sure she'll do her usual good job, but she's stuck with a somewhat dull interviewee, so no promises!]

4. Saw Macias's predecessor, Julia Brown, Saturday morning at Senator Martin Heinrich's "Coffee Talk" event at Salud.  Reminds me to note that although she seems to have been too-hastily fired and probably for the wrong reasons, about which we may learn more in a court trial, But Macias seems a solid choice -- though Interim County Manager Chuck McMahon, whom we saw last night at the opening of Four Corners Gallery, gave him tough competition for the "permanent" job.