FARMINGTON — San Juan County's three candidates for sheriff say they would not enforce federal laws that threaten to take away resident's firearms.
"I believe that if you're going to be in a public office of any kind at any level and if you swear a solemn oath, then you should stand behind that oath, in the face of whatever criticism may come," said Sheriff Ken Christesen, who is running for re-election.
The county's sheriff is sworn to uphold the U.S. and New Mexico constitution, Christesen and his opponents, Bloomfield Police Chief Mike Kovacs and businessman Daniel Goldberg, agreed.
The primary elections are June 3, and no Democratic candidates are running, which means the winner will become the new sheriff.
Kovacs is retiring from the Bloomfield Police Department next week. Goldberg owns the New Mexico Fugitive Apprehension Bureau, which is not a state agency.
Christesen has collected more campaign contributions than his opponents, netting as of his second finance report almost $18,070 and spending about $17,110, according to his reports. Kovacs has earned $11,625 and spent nearly $6,730, according to his reports. Goldberg has raised almost $10,945 and spent about $10,915, according to his reports.
The three candidates support active-shooter and officer-involved shooting training in the Sheriff's Office, and all three propose changes they believe are possible within the office's current budget. Active-shooter training is designed to minimize the loss of life in mass shooting events by putting law enforcement officers on the scene, where they can quickly intervene.
The three also support the Oath Keepers, a national organization of current and former military, police and first responder personnel who swear to defend the U.S. Constitution.
Christesen said he is a life-long member of the National Rifle Association, and during a Farmington gun rally in February 2013 he said, "The liberals in this country are sheep, and they're afraid of guns. And I look out here and I see sheep dogs, and you're not afraid of them."
He said Friday that he still believes liberals are sheep, a reference from a book he read on the need for personal protection, but he explained the statement. "Sheep" are people who do not intervene when they see people being hurt. "Sheep dogs" are those who arm themselves for their protection and others. And wolves, he said, are the predators, those who hurt people.
Kovacs said he will uphold both the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions, and he won't enforce any contradictory laws, he said.
As sheriff, Kovacs said, he will protect, with county law enforcement partners, all law-abiding citizens from federal laws that would remove their firearms.
He doubts any local federal agents would even enforce federal firearm restrictions, he said. Many of the agents are his friends, and they have told him they won't enforce those laws. He said they are area residents, too.
Goldberg, a Christian, said Nazi Germany disarmed its citizens before the Holocaust, and in America civilians' ability to protect themselves is a "God given right."
As sheriff, he said he would not have the right to decide which federal laws to uphold, but he added that he would scrutinize those laws to ensure they are constitutional.
"The Constitution is the law of the land," he said.
Christesen said a sheriff is sworn to uphold only the U.S. and New Mexico constitutions and New Mexico laws — not federal laws.
However, the three candidates have different ideas about changes they would make at the Sheriff's Office.
Goldberg said he would try to remove corruption from the office.
"When I am elected sheriff, I am going to establish a seven-member review board," Goldberg said.
His board would eliminate "good-old-boy" attitudes from the Sheriff's Office's decisions by objectively assessing all department disciplinary action and producing final reviews, he said. Aztec District Court would handle appeals, he said.
The county is small, and Sheriff's Office employees who are friends with each other can make biased decisions when discipline is necessary, he said.
Kovacs said he would offer protection to oil field businesses.
He said he wants to assign deputies to guard or patrol oil fields to thwart theft. He said he would like to see which deputy positions he could assign to a oil-field protection taskforce.
"But I'm not talking about expanding," he said. As Bloomfield's police chief, he said he has learned to adapt to personnel shortages. The Bloomfield Police Department has 20 positions, but it should have more, he said. "There's a way you can do it," he said of his plans to protect the oil fields.
Christesen said he would improve every day on his achievements in the Sheriff's Office, and when he implements a community service program for low-level criminals who have been released from jail on drug charges, he hopes to have deputies and other law enforcement officials monitor them.
"We've already met with a couple judges on this," he said, "and we think this program could save taxpayers over the course of several years several hundred thousand dollars."
All three say they could achieve their changes without additional funds.