Sheriff prevails; commissioners lose

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By David Giuliani

Sheriff Benjie Vigil fended off four rivals in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, while two San Miguel County commissioners lost their bids for re-election.

Vigil took far less than a majority, garnering 35 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, Joseph Santillanes, pulled in 34 percent, while Roy Pacheco got 17 percent. Following were Ben J. Lujan at 9 percent and Clarence Romero at 5 percent.

In the District 1 County Commission race, Highlands University employee Ron Ortega took 30 percent of the vote to 26 percent for county assessor’s employee Joe Lucero, 24 percent for incumbent June Garcia and 19 percent for Rock Ulibarri. And in District 3, county employee Arthur J. Padilla finished with 52 percent, beating incumbent Albert J. Padilla, who got 48 percent.

When the early results came in from city precincts, Santillanes took a consistent lead. But later in the night, Vigil pulled ahead in western San Miguel County precincts such as Villanueva, East Pecos, Rowe and San Juan, all in the area where Vigil comes from.

In his campaign, Santillanes argued that Sheriff Vigil’s department had produced very few citations over the last four years.

But Vigil defended his department, saying it was understaffed and spent much of its time on inmate transportation.

Vigil, with a 35-year career in law enforcement, has had his share of controversies during his four-year term. Last year, one of his deputies, Inez Bolivar, was charged with attacking her boyfriend while on duty, in uniform and armed.

In an interview shortly after, Vigil defended his deputy, saying the state police’s case against her was “false” and “ridiculous.” But a day later, the sheriff fired Bolivar.

A few months ago, his recently retired undersheriff, Robert Urban, was arrested by a state police officer on a charge of drunken driving. A magistrate judge decided to release Urban into the custody of Sheriff Vigil.

During a candidates forum, Santillanes said he had “lost respect” for Vigil after the sheriff had agreed to the arrangement with Urban.

Vigil has also clashed with the County Commission and County Manager Les Montoya, saying they were underfunding his department.

He insisted that he get Tasers, which are electroshock weapons, for his department. But the commission said it wanted to study the issue.

The commission holds the purse strings, but Vigil said a month ago that he would get Tasers for free from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department. He had planned to start using them as early as this month.

No Republicans ran for sheriff, but Rico Giron, an independent, will run against Vigil in the November general election.

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June Garcia’s County Commission seat has been in her family’s hands since 1999. She won the post after her husband, LeRoy Garcia, served for eight years.

In her re-election campaign, she received the endorsement of all of her fellow commissioners. At one point, she and Albert Padilla ran a joint newspaper advertisement criticizing one of her opponents’ ads.

Ortega, meanwhile, ran a populist campaign, promising to fight to reduce the county commissioners’ salaries of $20,000 a year, which is double what City Council members make. He also vowed to propose the the county cut the pay of the county manager and other top officials.

The District 3 race was much more quiet. The two candidates, Albert J. Padilla and Arthur J. Padilla, not only share  nearly identical names, but also a similar tone. Both were cautious and sounded like incumbents.

Indeed, Arthur Padilla, a county employee for nearly seven years, had previously served as a county commissioner for two terms.

Because Garcia faced three relatively vocal opponents, the District 1 race attracted more interest.

Controversy over Garcia’s residency also stung her campaign. The Optic found out a couple of months ago that she had voted in city elections for a decade and a half, even though, by her own admission, she lived outside city limits. She then quickly changed her voter registration to her El Llano home, which is outside the city.

She had been registered to vote at one of her rentals on Delgado Street. She told the Optic that she wanted to move there one day. She cited a state law that allows people to be registered at places where they plan to eventually return. It’s unclear whether that law applies to Garcia’s situation.

The Optic also discovered that Garcia and her husband, LeRoy Garcia, had received a head-of-household tax exemption on their home valued at $706,000 in Rio Rancho, which would indicate that that house was their primary residence.

If that were the case, she wouldn’t be eligible to serve as a commissioner in San Miguel County. But she and her husband argued that they had never requested the exemption in Rio Rancho. They blamed the Sandoval County assessor’s office.

Garcia and Albert Padilla will served through Dec. 31. No Republicans filed for their commission seats.