Thursday, May 19, 2016

Candidates Present Themselves at Blue Moon Bar Forum

Left to right:  Kim Hakes, Craig Buckingham, Bill Standridge, Maria Rodriguez, Dickie Apodaca, Scott Krahling, and John Vasquez

The District 5 Commissioner taking office next January will be a fresh face, and possibly not very controversial.  I was hoping a Donald Trump- or Bernie Sanders-type challenge would emerge to liven things up, and clarify voting choices, possibly about the sheriff, but alas, it did not.  The candidates do have ideas and opinions, but most minimized risk at the expense of generating excitement.  The next commissioner in District 5 is likely, if last night was an indication, to hold his cards closely to the vest, at least at the beginning, and keep his ideas to himself.  Hold me to this prediction, I may be wrong.

The Blue Moon Bar was a great venue for the forum, which was organized by Arturo Uribe, of the Southwest Organizing Project Action Fund (SWOPAF?  Would be nicer if it was SWOPAction Systems and Services)

On the Democratic side are candidates Dickie Apodaca, John Vasquez, and Bill Standridge.

Dickie Apodaca (who was a student of mine in the 1980s) is an engineer, emphasizing the role of the county commission in creating accountability.  He spoke most passionately about taking his father, a World War II disabled vet, to El Paso, where they would wait all day to see the doctor.  His feelings run deep, but they are under solid control, and he appears to have a quiet self-assurance.

John Vasquez has an unusual profile as a candidate for a Dona Ana County office.  He is proud of his American Indian heritage.  He attended the United World College in Las Vegas, NM, a British-based prep school with an elite student body from around the world.  Can probably play rugby.  He was also an operational planner in the army at Ft. Carson, Colorado, a job that exposed him to various key aspects of organizational planning.  Currently, he is also Vice Chair of the Dona Ana County Democratic Party.

Bill Standridge, wearing a black cowboy hat, is a small business owner who has also been president of a labor organization managing 15 labor unions across the state.  He is clearly the most traditional Democrat running for this seat, and he would probably feel very much at home in the up-front or behind-the-scenes hustle-bustle of county politics.  He spoke with conviction about the lack of transparency in a recent decision of the Commission to approve a bus service after it was voted down twice, and wondered aloud how 63 lawsuits of various kinds have somehow accumulated against the county.

On the Republican side, Craig Buckingham is a police officer with the county who served in Desert Storm.  He advocated beefing up public security, modifying the county comprehensive plan, and the need for commissioners to exercise leadership especially in dissecting the budget.  He seems comfortable and self-assured as a public speaker, familiar with the art of soundbites, and he had a reasonably clear notion of how to make sense out of the organizational machinery of the county.

Kim Hakes is a retired banker with many years of experience in Las Cruces.  As an example of the dysfunction of the county he cited the creation of a bus route to Anthony that apparently cost $1.5 million to set up and $750,000 to maintain, that very few people use--he and his wife took the bus on the complete routes twice, to make sure about the volume of traffic.  This prompted the only true discussion among the candidates, with various candidates finding their own lessons in this anecdote about what needs fixing in the county.  Candidates emphasized getting better processes in place to evaluate the expense, rather than simply shutting it down--an example of the cautiousness of the group last night.  Hakes is highly articulate, well prepared, and would challenge others to improve the clarity and sharpness of language used in debating issues.

My Take:  There is a lot of raw talent here:  none of these candidates are slouches and each would bring a solid base of experience and perspective to the job.  Each is intelligent.  The question I have is whether the entrenched machinery of the county with all it's departments and standard operating procedures, and the constant flow of egos among elected officials, and given the handcuffs of the Open Meetings Act (which guarantees either a lack of communication among commissioners or else un-transparent flows of communications), is manageable:  these guys are each talented enough to be deeply frustrated by the way things are.  Under such circumstances it is hard to predict whether an effective coalition among commissioners can be created to give the county a positive, consistent, direction.

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