FARMINGTON — One of the candidates for San Juan County Commission District 4 is proud of his wealth of experience and supporters.

His challenger touts his lack of political experience as an advantage.

Jack Fortner, the Republican candidate, has been active in New Mexico politics and has amassed a war chest of $40,000, compared with his opponent, Sam Lasater, who has collected $850 for the race.

Fortner is a Farmington defense attorney, alternate municipal judge, a former county commissioner and the president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.

Lasater, 71, the Democrat candidate, is a retired pipe fitter who worked at both of San Juan County's coal-fired power plants before he retired in December 2007.

Fortner, 57, accrued much of the money during a fundraiser Gov. Susana Martinez hosted in May.

Lasater donated $500 to his campaign himself and $300 came from the San Juan County chapter of a pipe fitters union, according to the secretary of state's website.

Lasater says he's proud that he's ran an inexpensive campaign. His lack of contributors shows he won't feel pressured by special interest groups if elected to the commission, he said.

"I'm not out looking for dollars," he said. "That's the whole point."

Fortner is the founder of Fortner Law Office in Farmington and has a long history in New Mexico and San Juan County politics.

He served as county commissioner from 1996 to 2004.


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He is currently serving his second term as the president of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.

As president of the regents, Fortner was a member of the search committees that hired UNM president Robert Frank and football coach Bob Davie.

Fortner points top his bipartisan support base in San Juan County and the state shows he can work with people from both political parties. Each of New Mexico's last four governor's appointed Fortner to a board or committee.

The responsibilities during his appointments ranged from hiring a football coach to evaluating the state's prison system for former Gov. Gary Johnson.

Fortner has received support from Martinez and prominent San Juan County leaders such as county commissioners Jim Henderson and Tony Atkinson, state senators Bill Sharer and Steven Neville and former Farmington Mayor Bob Culpepper.

Sunray Gaming also contributed nearly $5,000 to Fortner through multiple donations, making the race track and casino one of Fortner's biggest contributors, according to the secretary of state's website.

Fortner said he'll fight for fair competition between SunRay Park and Casino and Northern Edge Navajo Casino — both a short drive from Farmington. SunRay pays taxes to the county but Northern Edge profits go to the tribe.

"The number one is issue is the future of our economy," Fortner said. "Something has to be done. Something means diversity (in the economy)."

Fortner said he'll do what he can on the commission to bring a 600-bed prison to the area. A facility of that size is needed in the state, he said.

"The idea is to bring in high-paying jobs, not minimum-wage jobs," he said. "A 600-bed prison brings about 200 jobs, and none of those are minimum-wage jobs."

A health-care clinic that focuses on disease management for chronic conditions like diabetes is also needed in the Four Corners region, he said. The facility could create high-paying jobs. The commission could support a health clinic in several ways, such as sharing building cost or offering land, he said.

District 4 is the smallest district by land and it includes most of Farmington. The district encompasses most of Farmington city limits north of 20th Street, including San Juan College and the Foothills neighborhood. It stretches east to include Flora Vista subdivisions.

The seat is currently held by James Henderson, the commission chairman. He will reach his eight-year term limit at the end of the year.

If Fortner is elected, he will be president of UNM Board of Regents and he'll represent the district that includes San Juan College on the county commission.

He is hosting a fundraiser at his Farmington home on Thursday night to raise money for a scholarship program for San Juan College honors graduates to go to UNM and another scholarship for San Juan County students to go to UNM School of Law.

The presidents of the college and the university will attend the fundraiser, Fortner said.

Fortner said UNM recently held a successful symposium in Albuquerque that brought together elected officials, business owners and the university to brainstorm how UNM could help the Albuquerque economy.

Creating a similar symposium in San Juan County with San Juan College is one Fortner's plans, he said.

"San Juan College is a hidden jewel," he said.

Lasater said if he's elected he'll work to create on-campus housing to make it easier for American Indians to attend San Juan College.

Lasater, like many of the self-proclaimed "blue-collar" candidates that strived for San Juan County Commission seats this year - other candidates included Ron Lyman and Carl Bannowsky - said he became interested in local politics when the county introduced an ordinance that would restrict how many junked vehicles a property owner could store in plain site.

Protecting property rights is the cornerstone of his campaign, Lasater said.

Lasater said he would use his spot on the county commission to better serve the car-oriented county residents. The county should build a drag strip to keep racers off the streets and better use McGee Park for different types of car races, he said.

"This county is about more than just baseball," Lasater said the Connie Mack World Series held in Farmington each summer. "We need a better racing facility which will bring a lot of commerce into this town."

Lasater said he would work to protect outdoor recreation areas which he said would help business that sell boats, off-highway vehicles and other outdoor equipment.