Dem chairman wins big

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By David Giuliani

In a landslide, Martin Suazo was re-elected to another term as San Miguel County’s Democratic Party chairman on Saturday, but some protested the credentials of certain delegates.

Suazo, a Las Vegas stove salesman, won with 84 votes to 10 for Ambrose Castellano, the chairman of the Luna Community College Board of Trustees. The vote occurred during a nearly three-hour party convention at West Las Vegas Middle School’s cafeteria, two days after the party conducted precinct meetings in which delegates were elected.

Before the vote, some alleged that Suazo improperly filled vacant delegate positions without consulting precinct chairmen. And they also pointed to a law that barred judges from holding positions in political organizations, noting that Las Vegas’ two magistrates, Philip Romero and Chris Najar, were serving as delegates.

“We feel that precinct chairs were left out of the process or not given the opportunity to fill County Central Committee vacancies in their respective precincts as prescribed by the rules,” former County Democratic Party Chairman Greg Salazar said.

He said that by Suazo’s filling vacancies to the central committee, he was essentially “stacking” votes in his favor.

“We feel this is unfair to other candidates and the party,” he said.

Castellano objected to the participation of the magistrate judges, noting a state law that prohibits their holding any office in a party organization. Before the meeting, both Najar and Romero said in interviews that they had called the magistrate judges association and other judges around the state and they were told that they could serve as delegates, but not in higher party positions.

One issue not raised during the convention was that state law prohibits classified state employees from being officers of political organizations during their employment, although several such employees served as delegates Saturday. An attorney general’s opinion states that the law applies to any office in a party, from the highest to the lowest.

After Salazar and Castellano raised their objections, Suazo took all of the precinct chairmen into the hallway outside the cafeteria, where the two sides could hash out their differences.

In the hallway, Abran Tapia of Rowe told the others that he was at the meeting site for his precinct last week, but he contended that Suazo later added two women as delegates who weren’t at the precinct meeting. Suazo said his understanding was that there was no meeting for the Rowe precinct.

The precinct chairmen then voted to disallow the two women whom Suazo appointed, and permitted Tapia to serve.

Corrine Leger of Las Vegas said she showed up at her precinct meeting site at the PNM building, and no one else was there. But Suazo added two more delegates without consulting her as the precinct chairwoman, she said.

Suazo gave in to Leger, and she picked the other two delegates for her precinct.

As for the issue of the judges, Suazo said the party would let the state handle that matter.

The precinct chairmen then returned to the convention.

Morris Madrid, a delegate and a city councilman, nominated Suazo as chairman. He credited Suazo with making sure that Las Vegas is on the political map, noting the visits of presidential candidates over the last few years.

Madrid said that when he has been in positions of authority in the community, Suazo has never asked him to do anything unethical or immoral.

“He’s never asked me to cross the line,” Madrid said.

He said when he was fired as city manager in 2005, he was “pretty disgusted” with the political arena. But he said that Suazo told him that if he didn’t like local politics, he should get involved and try to change it.

Jerry Maestas, a Luna trustee, nominated Castellano, calling him a close personal friend.

Castellano told the crowd that he had “nothing personal” against Suazo, but he said the Democrats weren’t as unified as they could be and that he wanted more involvement.

Suazo, who started as chairman in 2000, responded that he got irritated when people said the party wasn’t united. He said that the county has seen five visits from presidential candidates in recent years and that it is among the top three strongest counties for Democrats every election.

“That’s unity,” he said.

After he won the election, Suazo said it wasn’t an issue of personalities. He said he and Castellano have been the best of friends and will continue to be. The two men embraced.

Suazo said he would keep the current leadership of the county party, consisting of Lisa Vigil as vice chairman, Isabel Lucero as secretary and Cleo Romo-Rogers as treasurer.