Election 2020: Incumbent County Commissioner faces retired teacher, coach in Republican primary
AZTEC — Incumbent James “Jim” Crowley, 65, seeks reelection to his second term as a county commissioner, but faces a political newcomer — Steve Lanier, 54.
Crowley and Lanier are both seeking the Republican Party nomination for the District 3 County Commission seat, which represents the northeastern part of the county including Aztec, Bloomfield and Cedar Hill.
Early and absentee voting is currently underway. New Mexicans are encouraged to vote absentee if possible due to the coronavirus. The primary election is June 2 and the deadline for submitting an absentee ballot request is May 28. People who go to the polls will need to wear masks and follow social distancing measures put in place at the various locations.
Lanier’s name won’t be unfamiliar for people in district three. He taught for nearly three decades at Aztec High School and was the head track coach for many years.
"I've lived in Aztec my whole life and I've always served Aztec and its citizens through the high school," he said.
Meanwhile, Crowley’s public service as an elected official includes two terms on the Aztec City Commission and on the Aztec Municipal School District Board of Education for four years.
"It is really important to me to make sure that we protect our way of life, our freedoms," he said. "And the way best to do that is to be in a leadership role where you can protect what we have and move forward with things that we need to do to continue to make our quality of life great.'
Crowley said the biggest difference between him and Lanier is experience.
"You can be a nice guy and liked and have good name recognition as a retired teacher and coach, but if you have no experience to deal with the $122 million budget, I don't know how well you'll function other than being rubber stamped," Crowley said.
If Crowley wins this election, he will serve a four year term and then be forced to step away from the commission for at least four years due to term limits. He said he would be happy to mentor a successor.
Lanier also agreed that political experience was the biggest thing setting him apart from Lanier, although he saw this as a strength.
"I think I'm very energetic, I'm very outgoing, I'm going to have some fresh eyes, I think I can bring some new ideas to the table," Lanier said. "I'm not going to just do the status quo. I believe in doing my homework."
He added that if someone said, "this is the way we should do this," he would go and do his own homework to determine if that is really the case.
He said he did not get into the race because he disapproved of Crowley’s record. Instead, he entered the race because he wants to give back to the community.
In his time as a county commissioner, Crowley has pushed for increased resources for behavioral health care. His efforts led to the behavioral health gap analysis, and the county has hired a behavioral health coordinator called for in that analysis. He was also instrumental in finding grants like the Stepping Up initiative that provided support to people who frequently end up incarcerated due to behavioral health challenges.
In addition, Crowley frequented Santa Fe during the 2019 legislative session in opposition to various proposals in the Energy Transition Act and he has been a vocal proponent of keeping the San Juan Generating Station open.
He has also traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with elected officials like U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, to discuss the importance of oil and gas development near Chaco Culture National Historical Park to some of the allottees who rely on extractive industries for income.
Meanwhile, Lanier became inspired to run for office after seeing the way the community responded and came together after the Aztec High School shooting in December 2017.
Lanier said his priority if elected would be to represent District 3. One of the biggest challenges he said the district faces is its economy. Lanier said the county government needs to do what it can to support locally-owned, small businesses.
Crowley said the budget is going to be one of the big challenges whoever is elected will have to face. The coronavirus pandemic crippled the economy and the extent of its impact on the county’s budget is still unclear.
Both Lanier and Crowley said businesses need to be allowed to reopen in a safe manner.
The winner of the Republican primary will likely win a term on the County Commission because there are no Democratic or Libertarian party candidates.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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