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Both Democrats running for the state House seat say education and infrastructure in rural communities are paramount

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Editor's note: The Daily Times is publishing stories over the span of three days that profile candidates running for local and state offices. We will focus only on contested races. Primary elections for New Mexico Republicans and Democrats will take place on June 7. Early voting ends June 4. Go to sjcclerk.net for a list of polling locations and hours. The winners of the primaries will compete in the general election on Nov. 8.

FARMINGTON — Education tops the list of important issues for both of the Democratic candidates in the race for the state House of Representatives District 5 seat.

Incumbent Doreen Wonda Johnson is seeking re-election and will face challenger Kevin Mitchell, vice president of the Gallup-McKinley County Schools Board of Education. No Republicans are in the race.

The district encompasses San Juan and McKinley counties, including the Navajo Nation chapter of Crownpoint, Church Rock, Naschitti, Nenahnezad, Newcomb, Sheep Springs, Tohatchi and White Rock.

Johnson, 50, said education is the foundation for a person's quality of life, affecting their employment, business development and other opportunities. The Gallup resident was born and raised in Crownpoint.

"I firmly believe that a high quality education should be one of our highest priorities," she said, adding she supports language and culture integration in schools and communities.

Other issues Johnson said she would like to address are infrastructure, roads and bridges in rural communities.

Johnson said she is seeking re-election because the people she represents "should experience a high quality of life filled with community, economic opportunities, education, art and programs to support their growth."

Mitchell, 52, is serving his sixth year on the Gallup-McKinley County Schools board. He is also the secretary for Region I of the New Mexico School Boards Association Board of Directors. The Tohatchi resident owns Shaggy Dog Pet Grooming in Gallup and has been a small business owner for 30 years.

Mitchell said rural communities need to "fight" for more education funding.

"We need to make sure our children are not left out or left behind," he said.

He added that rural areas also have infrastructure needs that, if elected, he plans to address by advocating for more funding and including chapter officials in the discussion.

"Our people need their fair share of funding," he said.

Johnson said she also brings experience to the position and has worked up from the grassroots level to the congressional level.

"For over 20 years, I've worked to implement and manage programs that improve life skills in rural communities, from gang abatement and prevention to neighborhood revitalization projects," Johnson said.

Mitchell said he has repeatedly heard from the public about the importance of staying in touch with community members. He added that he has heard from Navajo people that they only hear from state officials during election season, which, he said, needs to change.

Mitchell sad he also wants to continue the work started by former state Rep. Sandra Jeff to create a Native American veterans office in Santa Fe.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.

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