Voters enter the Doña Ana County Government Center to cast their vote for the local 2023 elections on Nov. 7. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)
Voters across the state said school boards were a draw for this year’s local election.
Eric Ahner, 54, left his work as the executive director at J. Paul Taylor Academy in Las Cruces a little early to make it to the polls just before 4 p.m.
“Local elections are particularly important, it’s where we can make the most change,” Ahner said.
Molly Wagoner, a Santa Fe resident and mother of two, voted during the lunch hour on Tuesday in the gymnasium at Carlos Gilbert Elementary School.
“My kids go to school here, so they wanted me to come vote here,” Wagoner said. “Plus, they don’t have school today, so I knew I could come, and I like to bring them — they come with me when we vote.”
Public education issues on the ballot are a big reason she came out on Election Day, including a need for good facilities and the right environment for children to learn.
All election results posted on Nov. 7 are unofficial until a canvass can be completed later this month.
Two races in Gallup-McKinley schools were called Tuesday night based on unofficial election results.
In District 1, incumbent Kevin Mitchell, won reelection to the seat for a fourth term with 48% of the vote. That was a margin of 76 votes over challenger Leonard Notah. A second challenger, Genevieve Jackson, received 158 votes, or 9% of the 1,764 votes cast in that election. Mitchell first won election to the school board in 2011.
In District 3, incumbent Priscilla Benally was unopposed, winning another term.
Las Cruces Schools
Two of the three races in Las Cruces were called for the incumbents on Tuesday night, while another may be too close to call, according to unofficial election results.
In the first district, Patrick Nolan, who ran for the seat after his appointment in April, received 57% of the 3,715 votes cast in the race. Nolan beat challenger Joseph Sousa by a 491-vote margin.
Incumbent Teresa Tenorio, the current board president, is expected to keep her seat, winning 39% of the vote in a three-way race. She held a 143-vote lead over challenger Julia Ruiz. Edward Howell recieved 991 votes, or 27% of the 3,736 cast in the district.
There may be a potential recount in the four-way race for the District 5 seat, meaning there may not be answers until Wednesday afternoon or later. Incumbent Carol Cooper and challenger Edward Frank both received 31% of the vote. Frank is reported to have 1,299 votes to Cooper’s 1,271 votes. The race was marked by officials with a banner noting a possible recount.
Jose Aranda received 24% of the votes, with 1,015. Ernest Carlson IV received 568 votes, or just 14% in the race.
Gadsden Independent School District
In District 1, challenger Christian Lira received 60% of 342 votes cast, beating out incumbent Armando Cano by a 66-vote margin.
Incumbent for District 3, Claudia Rodriguez, was unopposed in her race, winning another term.
For District 4, incumbent Daniel Castillo won over challenger Hector Giron by a 35-vote margin, taking 352 votes out of 669 cast in the election.
Albuquerque Public Schools
School board races in northern New Mexico’s largest school districts provided several tight races Tuesday night, including one that ended in defeat for an incumbent who’s sat on the Albuquerque Public Schools board since 2015.
Ronalda K. Tome narrowly defeated District 2 incumbent Peggy Muller-Aragón, the current vice president of the board. Fewer than 300 votes separated the two, according to unofficial results from the New Mexico Secretary of State.
Muller-Aragón, who ran an unsuccessful 2022 primary bid to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of New Mexico, had received public support from Sarah Jane Allen, the co-founder and chair of the Bernalillo County chapter of Moms for Liberty.
Muller-Aragón was the only APS board member seeking reelection this year.
In District 1, Janelle J. Astorga edged out Robert T. Trujillo for the seat held by current school board president Yolanda Montoya-Cordova.
Astorga boasted an endorsement from Democratic Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, and the LiUNA Laborers Local 16 union.
Trujillo had endorsements from state Sen. Michael Padilla, a Democrat, along with endorsements from several unions, including the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico.
The District 4 race was one of the few landslide victories within school board races within the three cities. Heather R. Benavidez defeated Stephen J. Cecco by a margin of 82% to 18%. Benavidez will replace outgoing board member Barbara Petersen.
Benavidez previously ran an unsuccessful 2022 primary bid to be the Democratic nominee for New Mexico treasurer.
Cecco ran an unsuccessful 2020 bid as a Republican candidate for New Mexico House of Representatives District 19. Cecco also received support from the cofounder and chair of the Bernalillo County chapter of Moms for Liberty.
Founded in 2021 by former Florida school board members, the national organization of Moms for Liberty is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-government extremist group that advocates for book bans in school libraries and spreads hateful imagery and rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community.
Tome, conversely, was endorsed by Moms Demand Action Gun Sense along with several unions, including the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico.
Santa Fe Schools
Current Santa Fe Public Schools board President Sarah Boses won another term in District 2 with 71% of the vote, defeating Patricia Vigil-Stockton and John T. Mckenna.
Stockton had received an official endorsement from the Santa Fe County Republican Party, and like Muller-Aragón and Cecco, the founder of the Bernalillo County chapter of Moms for Liberty had publicly expressed her support for Stockton.
District 1 incumbent Carmen L. Gonzales and District 4 incumbent Roman “Tiger” Abeyta both ran unopposed and were reelected.
Rio Rancho Schools
Elizabeth L. Miller, a 30-year educator, defeated Ramon “Swoops” Montaño for the District 4 seat currently held by board secretary Noreen Scott. Scott initially indicated she planned to seek reelection; however, she withdrew from the race in August.
Montaño previously held a District 2 seat on the board from 2015 to 2019. Montaño now lives in District 4 following a recent shift in district boundaries.
Current Rio Rancho Public Schools board President Amanda Galbraith ran unopposed in District 2 and won another term.
Austin Fisher contributed reporting to this story.
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