State senate District No. 35 candidates John Arthur Smith and Russell Allen squared off Tuesday evening as part of the Deming-Luna County Chamber of Commerce's Candidate's Forum, each taking a position on the proposed Fort Sill Apache Casino located off Interstate 10. They followed Luna County Commission candidates and those seeking several judicial positions.

Democrat incumbent Sen. Smith and Republican challenger Allen faced questions on Medicaid, driver's licenses for illegal immigrants - both are against allowing it - and the state budget, but drew a clear divide when asked to take a position on the proposed casino in Luna County.

"I do not support casinos," Allen said, noting he once lived in Farmington where casinos are plentiful. "The activities involved with these is what I believe will keep poor people poor."

He later said he is "not for a casino," but "will occasionally play a casino game."

Sen. Smith said that while the Fort Sill tribe has not complied with all of the federal regulations needed to begin gaming, the "argument over gaming is behind us," arguing that if casino gaming is allowed around the state, the casino in Luna County should be permitted so long as proper federal "hurdles" are cleared.

Both men came across as fiscal conservatives, with Allen saying regulations in the state create an environment that is not business friendly. Smith took a "lower the rates, broaden the base" approach to tax reform.


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"Government should be there to help us do it right," he said on regulations, saying the government should not hover over the shoulders of businesses waiting for mistakes.

When asked about the Arizona Water Settlements Act, the ongoing process to divert waters in Southwestern New Mexico and Southeastern Arizona or fund water-related projects, Allen replied, "I have no idea what you're talking about," with Smith saying the process is "frustrating" to him. Smith proposed revoking funding "for that entire program if they don't move on it."

At the local level, incumbent Democrat Javier Diaz took the stage alongside challengers, Republican Philip Skinner and Independent Martha Long to make their case for being elected to represent Luna County's third commission district.

Each spoke on improving education locally, with Diaz and Skinner make strong statements challenging the Deming Public Schools Board. Skinner said if elected, he would use the "bully pulpit" to publicly pressure the schools, noting he favors the board establishing their own standards, such as graduation rates.

"I was there for 12 years and I don't always agree with the things they do," Diaz said.

Long came out as the lone candidate in favor of increasing the size of the board from three to five members. She was also alone in saying she would push to sell the Starmax facility if elected, adding that it should be owned by a private company.

Thomas Guerra, Republican candidate for state representative District No. 32, capped the evening with his appearance. Incumbent Democrat Dona Irwin was unable to attend the forum because of meetings in Santa Fe, she said earlier in the day.

Guerra cautioned that increasing populations in larger New Mexican cities could drown out the voices of "rural and frontier districts." "All of the money; all of the resources, is going to Northern New Mexico," he said.

He also supports the proposed casino, but said it is not a "be all, end all" to address economic woes in the area.

A candidate and spokesman for a candidate for the NM State Court of Appeals also spoke. Democrat Monica Zamora and Curtis Stevens, who spoke for Republican candidate Miles Hanisee, touched on their judicial experience and why the appeals court is important. Judge Jarod Hofacket, a Republican and Democrat Jennifer DeLaney also pitched why they wish to serve as Sixth Judicial District Court Judge.

Coverage from Wednesday's second round of debates, featuring Sixth Judicial District Attorney candidates and candidates - or stand-ins - for U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress, will be posted online at www.demingheadlight.com.

Matt Robinson can be reached at mrobinson@demingheadlight.com