2020 Election: Meet the candidates vying for the District 1 seat on Aztec City Commission
FARMINGTON — A trio of Aztec residents — including incumbent Austin Randall — are vying for the District 1 seat on Aztec City Commission.
Randall faces Aztec High School science teacher David Porter and retired nurse Mary Ellan LaRue Hunter. Both Porter and Hunter have been active in the community and have attended the City Commission meetings to provide input on topics.
While candidates run in districts, neither the candidates nor the voters are required to live in those districts. That means Aztec registered voters can cast ballots for District 1 and District 3 candidates.
The election is March 3. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Candidates can cast ballots in the commission chambers at Aztec City Hall, 201 W. Chaco St.
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Early voting is currently underway during business hours through the end of the month at the Aztec City Clerk's office at Aztec City Hall. Voters can also cast ballots from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 29.
Austin Randall has served one term on City Commission after defeating former Commissioner Roberta Locke in the 2016 election. He previously worked for the City of Aztec for more than four years after completing a degree in business management at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
The dynamics on the City Commission changed following the 2018 election when three newcomers were elected. He anticipates those dynamics will continue through the next two years. While he may disagree with some of his fellow commissioners’ viewpoints, he said that does not mean they aren’t valid points of view.
“We’re all elected officials,” he said. “We do all represent the community.”
However, Randall said there is not much compromising or negotiating.
“It’s about sticking to what I think is right,” he said.
This has gained him attention in the last two years for often breaking from the majority on the commission when voting on controversial topics. While he often votes in the minority, he said he believes his views align with the majority of Aztec residents.
One example he gave of this was when he initially voted against curbside recycling.
Despite his concerns, curbside recycling passed the commission and went into effect last year.
“Even though they’re paying for it, only a quarter are actually using the service,” Randall said.
He said he is one of the customers who does have a curbside recycling bin, which he got because of the mandatory charge.
Aztec had a recycling center prior to the curbside recycling and residents continue to pay for the recycling center as well as curbside recycling.
Randall said he is proud of the work the commission has done to move projects like the East Aztec Arterial Route and North Main Avenue extension forward. He said the two projects will help with economic development by opening up more property and making downtown safer and more pedestrian friendly.
Randall encouraged voters to cast ballots for whichever candidate they feel best represents their views and is the best candidate for the city.
“They need to have a voice and stand up for themselves,” he said.
Mary LaRue Hunter
Mary LaRue Hunter grew up as a farm girl in Portales, but moved to Aztec in 1970 where her late husband had grown up and had family. She worked in the community as a nurse, including in-home health. After her husband died in 2003, she remained in Aztec and later remarried.
Over the years, she has actively followed the city's politics and attended City Commission meetings to speak up against policies she opposed.
She describes herself as a Christian constitutionalist conservative.
"I'm tired of the way the city's being ran," she said. "I'm tired of money being spent on flowers when we need our streets repaired."
She said she is also upset about how the city handled the Second Amendment Sanctuary City resolution last year. The resolution would have stated the city police would not have enforced gun laws deemed unconstitutional. It failed on a 3-2 vote.
If elected, Hunter said her focus would be on getting rid of what she described as unconstitutional laws and statutes added over the years.
She said these statutes include the current city ordinances that allow charges to be brought against people if they do not keep their property clean.
Hunter said older Aztec residents don't necessarily have the means or physical ability to maintain the weeds.
"City laws and regulations put them in a very bad situation," she said.
Instead of fining them or taking them to court, Hunter said the city should reach out to community organizations and churches to find volunteers who can help clean up properties.
She opposed city ownership of golf courses. Hunter described golf courses as businesses and said the city should not get into businesses with the exception of utilities, which benefit everyone.
"A golf course only serves less than 10 percent of the population," she said.
She said she would advocate for a rifle range for the community, which would help increase safety for people recreating. She said it can be hard for target shooters to find a place where there won't be motorcyclists or mountain bikers riding over hills.
In terms of economic development, she said the city should not encourage a business to locate in Aztec if that need is already met by other existing businesses. Hunter gave the example of AutoZone and O'Reilly Auto Parts, which located in Aztec despite there already being two auto parts stores. In addition, she said the city should also make it easier for private businesses to display their signs.
David Porter moved to San Juan County in 1991 after taking a job as a science teacher in the Farmington Municipal School District. He saw the position listed while he was working in geology in Denver, Colorado.
When he had the opportunity to move to Aztec, he took a job teaching science at Aztec High School in 2008.
But Porter has not limited his community involvement to the schools.
“I’ve been working off and on with city activities for many years,” Porter said.
He has served on city committees, including the planning and zoning committee. He has also been active in Aztec Trails and Open Spaces and Sustainable San Juan. Community members may also recognize him from when he was the head brewer at Three Rivers Brewery in Farmington.
Porter said the city needs to attract a greater variety of businesses, although he does not necessarily want large box stores. He would also like to see better signs to help visitors find restaurants.
He said the city should “try to make Aztec a place to stop at rather than just drive through.”
The biggest challenges he sees facing Aztec is the lack of revenue and the number of businesses closing.
He said there are a lot of empty buildings in the historic district and the city needs to work with owners to make it more affordable for entrepreneurs to rent business space downtown.
He attended a community college in Minnesota before transferring to the Minnesota State University in Mankato. After moving to New Mexico, he completed two masters' degrees at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Those degrees were in teaching and administration.
While he has a science degree from the University of Minnesota, he also minored in history and in language and English skills.
“I’ve always been well-versed in how American politics works,” Porter said.
He said his political views are neither conservative nor liberal and described himself as easy going and diplomatic.
Porter is a proponent of developing outdoor recreation opportunities in Aztec and the region. He said he is a very outdoors-oriented person and enjoys recreation.
“You’re supposed to live in life, not just survive,” he said.
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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