Salud! de Mesilla co-owner running for Doña Ana County Commission

Michael McDevitt
Las Cruces Sun-News
Christopher Schaljo-Hernandez is seeking the Doña Ana County Commission seat as a Democrat in District 1.

LAS CRUCES - Christopher Schaljo-Hernandez, the co-owner of Salud! de Mesilla and former chair of the Doña Ana County Democratic Party, is running for the Doña Ana County Board of Commissioners in District 1.

Schaljo-Hernandez, 31, is a county resident, though his restaurant, which he co-owns with his husband, Russell, is within the City of Las Cruces. Because of that, Schaljo-Hernandez chaired the city's economic recovery ad hoc board which was started during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Democratic Commissioner Lynn Ellins currently holds the District 1 seat. Ellins told the Sun-News he is currently working on a campaign announcement. Schaljo-Hernandez is running as a Democrat.

Schaljo-Hernandez chaired the county party for two years between 2017 and 2019 and previously served as treasurer for the county party.

District 1 includes Picacho Hills, La Mesa, Mesquite, San Miguel, parts of western and downtown Las Cruces and the Town of Mesilla, plus other communities in the south valley between Mesilla Park and Vado.

Schaljo-Hernandez was born and raised in St. Louis, where he also partly attended college. He said he met Russell, a Mesilla native, online while in college. Soon after, in 2010, Schaljo-Hernandez moved to New Mexico to be with Russell and finished college at New Mexico State University. He graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in government.

Christopher Schaljo-Hernandez and his husband, Russell, are pictured at their restaurant Salud! de Mesilla in Las Cruces on Friday, June 12, 2020.

Schaljo-Hernandez and his husband are new parents, having recently adopted three children at once — so as not to split up an existing family.

He said the experience has made him realize the difficulties of virtual learning, since his children recently had to attend a virtual learning day. The experience has also helped him understand the types of situations in which children can end up in New Mexico.

"I adopted these kids from the state of New Mexico," Schaljo-Hernandez said. "So their environment wasn't the best, and I think that it scares me to know that there's a lot of other people and children out there going through very similar situations."

More:What's next for New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department?

Schaljo-Hernandez said he believed the county government had done a lot of things right, such as the distribution of COVID-19 pandemic assistance, but he said he believed there needs to be more of a focus on the borderplex area around Santa Teresa.

"I think that's really important and vital to Doña Ana (County) because that's a huge economic driver, and it's actually one of the biggest economic drivers in this state," Schaljo-Hernandez said.

The Democratic candidate said the county's response to the flooding in La Union last year could have also been better but was still "done well."

"I think there needs to be a better implementation of resources and communication between the state and local municipality," Schaljo-Hernandez said." So I do know that that was hurting and I know that that was affected. So I think getting that better would be good."

The economic recovery from the pandemic needs to be managed in a way that ensures equity, Schaljo-Hernandez said. He believes as a commissioner he could introduce more equity in the county budget, such as through infrastructure funding for underserved rural areas.

"We're constantly funding larger populated areas, but we're not getting it out there to the south valley, Mesilla, Mesilla Park, Mesquite, Vado, La Union," Schaljo-Hernandez said. "They lack a lot of that infrastructure needs (such as roads and internet access)."

José Rey walks though waist deep water after heavy rain and flooding in La Union on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.

If elected, he'd also advocate for raising the pay of county employees. In a news release, Schaljo-Hernandez said he also wants to fight for land use and planning "that promotes growth but maintains our unique and treasured qualities."

In addition to his work for the county Democratic Party, Schaljo-Hernandez said he serves on the board for the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico and the Southern New Mexico Pride board.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, Schaljo-Hernandez said he's never felt unwelcome in southern New Mexico.

More:Las Cruces Public Schools passes gender inclusion policy following intense public discussion

"I felt amazing from the moment I arrived, and I felt like I could always be myself," he said. "I don't think anyone ever blinked two eyes and if they did, I never was told to my face. But it is here. There is bigotry. There's racism here. There's weird hatred here. I've just been fortunate in my life not to have seen it down here towards me and my husband and/or my family.

"But that's not to say that it one day won't happen," Schaljo-Hernandez said.

Candidates for the county commission must file for office at the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. March 8, though write-in candidates must file on March 15.

The primary election for New Mexico's three major parties will be held June 7. Doña Ana County Commission seats in districts 1 and 3 will be up for election this fall.

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.