Write-in candidates heat up races

By Robin Fornoff

PROJECTS EDITOR

rfornoff@cnjonline.com

Sheriff races in Roosevelt and De Baca counties got hotter and a fiercely independent candidate turned Curry County’s probate judge race into a three-way contest Thursday during the one day write-in candidates had to file and make the ballot for the November general election.

Former longtime Curry County probate judge Michael Wells filed as an independent for the job again shortly after 9 a.m. at the county clerk’s office, according to Clerk Rosalie Riley.

Wells was the only write-in candidate to file in Curry County. His name will appear on the general election ballot along with Republican primary winner Mark Lansford and Democrat primary winner Charles “Benny” Adams.

In Roosevelt County, retired law enforcement officer Diego L. Lucero made the 5 p.m. deadline to file for sheriff after spending most of the day gathering more than 130 signatures required to petition for a spot on the ballot in the sheriff’s race. He will face Republican and Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Malin Parker and Democrat Charles Perez, an Eastern New Mexico University police officer.

Lucero said he was scrambling at the last minute because he was initially told by the Roosevelt County Clerk’s office he needed just 45 signatures. He was informed by the clerk when attempting to file early Thursday morning that they made an error and he needed 135 signatures, or 3 percent of the total number of registered voters in the county who participated in the last election for governor.

“So it’s been a very tiring day,” said Lucero, who served more than 30 years as an officer in various departments across the state, including the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s office and as a Portales policeman.

Roosevelt County Clerk DeAun Searl acknowledged the error by her staff, noting the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office website indicated only 1 percent of the total number of registered voters needed to sign write-in petitions. She said she was later informed by attorneys with the state county clerk’s association of the 3 percent requirement, “So, yes, it was our mistake.”

In De Baca County, Deputy Kurt Griego filed as an independent for sheriff against Democrat primary winner Mylessa Denny, also a deputy sheriff.
Denny defeated her boss Sheriff Dennis Cleaver in the June 3 primary. Griego said he chose not to run against Cleaver in the primary out of loyalty because “he (Cleaver) hired me when I needed a job.”

In Curry County, Wells described himself as a staunch independent, though he has run as a Republican in past races. He said he deliberately chose not to run in the primary election to avoid partisanship.

Wells served as probate judge in Curry County from 1986 to 1998. He ran again as a Republican in 2006, losing to incumbent and term-limited Probate Judge Kevin Duncan.

“I’m an independent,” said Wells. “I love everything.”

His plan, Wells, said, has been since January to file as an independent on write-in day. He said he believes judicial positions should be non-partisan. Qualifying for write-in day took door-to-door work to collect almost 400 signatures on the nominating petition, Wells said.

“And,” said Wells, “I was surprised to learn doing that just how many people (in Curry County) are now independents.”