Rio Arriba County Commission Chair Leo Jaramillo is in the race for State Senate District 5. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
At a time when traditional political campaigning is next to impossible, Espanola native and Rio Arriba County Commission Chair Leo Jaramillo is in the race for the State Senate District 5 seat currently held by Sen. Richard C. Martinez.
District 5 includes parts of Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Santa Fe Counties.
A chief of staff/administrative officer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Jaramillo told the Los Alamos Reporter in an interview earlier this week that he was approached by several constituents in late spring of 2019 to consider running for the senate seat.
“When I started to explore the possibility of running, it happened to be the same time that the Los Alamos National Laboratory stopped it’s ‘servant’s pay’ as I called it, which was a charge code where employees who hold elected office could use a charge code for a certain number of hours when they attended meetings for the entity they represent. When that code got taken away, the commitment to run for senate would have been burdensome on me financially, so I had made the decision at that time that I wouldn’t run,” Jaramillo said.
But the seed was planted and the more people urged him to run, the more he considered it.
“When I sat down and laid out how much money I would lose both by taking leave without pay and having to reimburse the Laboratory for time off to keep my benefits, the real benefit of helping my community outweighed the financial burden I would take on,” Jaramillo said.
Growing up in the San Pedro area of Espanola, he noted that he will always be grateful for everything the community provided for him.
“I’ve always had my heart in the community and always wanted to give back in any way that I could. We were raised to always help. We weren’t raised with much money but we were raised with a lot of commitment to help in any way that we could,” Jaramillo said.
Serving as a Rio Arriba County Commissioner, Jaramillo said he started to notice things that needed attention in Northern New Mexico. He realized that many people in the region need someone to step up and speak on their behalf. One of the examples he gave was when the community of San Pedro opposed the effort by the Sonic Corporation to move their business into a residential area despite concerns that the Ortega and Garcia acequias could end up being contaminated.
“I want to see the people in District 5 empowered so that their voice is heard,” Jaramillo said.
He noted that while serving as County Commissioner, he has poured his energy into recovery, homelessness and housing issues in Rio Arriba County adding that great strides are being made in the community and that he wants to be part of keeping that momentum going.
Jaramillo also discussed the North Railroad Avenue Plume Superfund Site close to the Espanola Plaza on the City’s west side and the concerns that were raised with the Environmental Protection Agency at community meetings in December. He particularly voiced concern about a second plume that was identified 10 years ago.
“These types of issues need to be championed at a higher level than the County Commission and I want to be the person to do that,” Jaramillo said. “There’s ongoing work and I’m ready to do it.”
He said while visiting with people in Los Alamos, he was disturbed to find people who were born and raised in the community concerned that they are going to be pushed out of there.
“One of the conversations I had was with two women who work in retail and rent homes. At any given time, their landlords can increase their rent. They don’t make the kind of money Lab employees make and they don’t want to have to leave their community,” Jaramillo said. “When we look at the numbers of employees LANL is planning to hire, we need to come up with a solution for affordable housing both for Los Alamos County and Rio Arriba County.”
Jaramillo said Rio Arriba County is in a particularly bad place in the sense that there’s no available housing there.
“We’re having a hard time attracting professionals into the area such as teachers who are certified. Right now, there’s a large percentage of teachers at the Espanola Valley High School who are full-time substitutes and I think that affordable housing would help in attracting teachers and other professionals into the Valley while also helping to alleviate the housing strain in Los Alamos,” he said.
As a former educator, Jaramillo said he realizes how important it is that students have everything they need in the classroom, especially students with special needs or language barriers.
“Early childhood education is particularly important. Equally important is ensuring that our early childhood educators are paid like our k-12 educators. That will mean we will have people who are certified coming to work into early childhood education. It will also mean that we are not just offering early childhood education, but that we have trained teachers in those positions,” he said.
Jaramillo is extremely concerned with the effect the COVID-19 emergency will have on children in Northern New Mexico who find themselves without access to a computer while they are trying to learn at home.
“Some kids don’t have access to a computer, or if there is a home computer, there’s no access to Wi-fi. There’s a huge disconnect. We’re going to see that many of those kids will be left behind because they don’t have the resources to ensure that they stay connected during the time they’re at home,” he said. “Also there’s a large percentage of our kids that are being raised by grandparents that will be affected. Grandparents might not be technologically savvy to help out their students or may not have the resources of a computer or Wi-fi.”
Jaramillo said he has grave concerns about the recovery of the economy in District 5 following the emergency health situation.
“In large states with large populations like California, they typically leap out quicker than we do. The need for economic recovery is going to be huge. How that will happen, right now I don’t know. It’s certainly going to be the hot topic for the state not only for Northern New Mexico but for the entire state. I am ready to be part of that discussion and hard work it will take on behalf of our communities,” he said.
Jaramillo said he is disappointed that he will not be able to have the interaction he would have liked with people throughout District 5 before the June election.
“I was looking forward to going door-to-door and holding functions where people could chat with me one-on-one or in a group setting. Instead of having a traditional campaign, I am trying to shuffle things to a digital format and spending a great deal of time communicating with people by phone and by email so that I can answer their questions and they can learn where I stand on the issues,” he said. “COVID-19 is affecting all candidates this year and it makes me sad that I can’t reach all the folks I had hoped to reach.”
Jaramillo graduated from Espanola Valley High School and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications and Journalism from the University of New Mexico. He later obtained a Master of Arts in Education/Curriculum Design and Instructional Leadership from the College of Santa Fe.
He went on to work as a news writer/producer for KRQE News in Albuquerque and a middle school teacher in Belen before returning to the Espanola Valley. He has been employed by Los Alamos National Laboratory since 2003 in various positions involving communications, recruiting, training and financial analysis. He currently serves as a LANL chief of staff/administrative officer responsible for staff development, human resources and strategic planning.
Jaramillo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling (505) 620-0800, or at P.O. Box 1014, Espanola, NM 87532. His website is www.LeoJaramillo.com and he also has a Facebook page – Leo Jaramillo for New Mexico Senate.