Four Republican candidates attending Friday’s candidates’ forum hosted by the Republican Party of Los Alamos at the Church of Christ are, from left, Nickole Aguilar Garcia, Rick Mooday, David Hampton and Paul Jaramillo, Sr. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Only four candidates out of the 15 running for seats on the Los Alamos Public Schools Board and the UNM-LA Advisory Board attended a candidates’ forum at 10 a.m. Friday at the Church of Christ hosted by the Republican Party of Los Alamos:
- David Hampton, candidate for UNM-LA Advisory Board, Position 5
- Nickole Aguilar Garcia, candidate for LAPS Board, District 4
- Paul Jaramillo, Sr., candidate for LAPS Board, District 2, and
- Rick Mooday, candidate for LAPS Board, District 5
RPLA chair Bill McKerley noted his disappointment that there wasn’t broader attendance at the forum.
“It speaks to the polarization, to the animosity that seems to be part and parcel to a lot of public life today. It’s sad but it’s a situation that we need to be aware of. We need to treat one another with kindness, gentleness and respect. We need to be able to debate issues and positions but not attack people and individuals,” he said.
McKerley told the Los Alamos Reporter that he had only heard from one other candidate, Melanie Colgan, that she was unable to attend.
Before introducing candidates, McKerley noted the governor’s order that when people are in large groups masks are required.
“That’s what the governor has told us. We listen to the governor. We hear her. The other part of that is I’m not in the mask enforcement business. What I will tell you is what the governor has told us, what we try to do as citizens, but as far as being a mask policeman, I didn’t sign up for that so we’ll leave it up to your good graces to figure out how you want to respond to that,” he said.
At the end of the forum, the candidates were asked about reports that they would not be participating in the upcoming League of Women Voters virtual candidates’ forum.
Jaramillo was the first to respond stating that he is a pastor and that Wednesday nights are his church’s prayer and service nights.
“I contacted them and let them know the reason I wasn’t going to me there. Some of you may be sitting out there saying why can’t you have someone else cover your church service and you be there. I promised myself before I got into the campaign that I will not compromise my ministry and I will put it before the campaign. I really believe that God will bless that and acknowledge my decision,” Jaramillo said. “I will be submitting a written statement to them at their request and of course if it was not on Wednesday night, I would definitely be on.”
Hampton said he would be to be speaking at the League of Women Voters forum.
“I made an agreement when I started doing the political thing and running for office that I would never turn down an opportunity to talk about myself and what I do,” he said.
Aguilar Garcia said she has a previous commitment with the Los Alamos High School volleyball team.
“This is my daughter’s senior year and her senior season and so that is something that I made a priority and they are counting on me to be there for that event, so unfortunately that is why I couldn’t make it,” she said.
Mooday said he also has a conflict but that his work is a little up in the air so there’s still an opportunity for him to be there if there is a change.
“These forums, I don’t know much about them, but I was originally going to be sending a statement but there is a chance I will be able to attend,” he said.
The Los Alamos Reporter is covering all four candidates but Mooday, who was the first to speak will be featured below, with the other three candidates to follow.
Mooday noted that he is a small town product of the public education system. He said he has lived in Los Alamos for 20 years and that he and his wife, Teddie Sue, have four children, three of whom have gone through LAPS and one who us a junior at Los Alamos High School. Mooday spent 10 years in the U.S. Navy and obtained a PhD in chemical engineerinf before working at Los Alamos National Laboratory for about 20 years
“I’ve been here quite a while and the Topper school system has served my family well,” he said. “Public education is vital to all communities. There’s a lot of political discussion about charter schools and choices. I’m an advocate for those as I think our founders believed that the public system is really a foundation for us and needs to be strong. I think that it is. In my life at this time, it’s a good time for me to give back I think, and when I look at our system with the rest of my kids, there’s been a trend that I’m not super happy with.”
Mooday said he believes 20 years ago Los Alamos was the top school in the state with a margin.
“It is the top public school, I believe, but I believe charter schools in New Mexico have exceeded its performance a little bit. I don’t believe the trend is a positive trend for the school system here. We’ve had COVID which has challenged everyone. We also changed our school testing system and it’s difficult to track the impact of COVID on learning and kids,” he said. “I think parents and kids both agree that they want to be in school face-to-face with teachers in the public scenario. It’s good not only for their learning skills but for their social development, their interaction and their development in general.”
He added that he will follow the law on this issue. Mooday said one of the most important things on the docket right now is the selection of a new LAPS superintendent, which he said is really the most important job if the school board because priorities and strategies will be affected. He noted his total confidence in Interim Supt. Jennifer Guy, saying she does “an extremely great job”.
Mooday noted that there are some “really insidious ideas” that are reaching into the LAPS curriculum.
“They’re gaining credibility nationwide and they need to be addressed. I’ve personally been quiet long enough. I’m not going to be quiet about what critical race theory is. It’s an idea from the 70s the basis of the theory it’s part of is that whenever you live in a hierarchy all of those people live by – any statistical differences in performance – if you look at the bottom group and you attribute those differences in performance to racial differences. So if any group underperforms other groups, you automatically conclude that it’s because of systemic racism so this is one aspect of critical race theory. The outcome of it is it revises history and it creates a tainted world,” he said.
Mooday said it’s important that these issues are addressed honestly and that room is made for other opinions.
“I’m going to attack ideas. I’m not going to attack people. It’s not productive,” he said.
Mooday said another issue he has is educating boys.
“I think we need to do a better job. Boys are not good rule followers; they’re not good listeners sometimes. They love to take a little bit more risk and break things and throw food. I’m not looking to come in and say everybody can’t teach boys but I really want to do a better job for our boys in our system. It would be something I would approach gently because I need to see to listen,” he said.
He said the way boys were handled in the older days was a more direct way that he agrees with and went on to discuss punishment used with one of his sons.
“I don’t know ways to explicitly come in and change the policy but I’m not as educated about each school’s policy – their playground practices which I think are vital to how kids socially interact and athletically play together. It’s a challenge. All I can say is I think they deserve some attention,” Mooday said, adding that he agreed that the progress that has been made with educating girls should not be destroyed.
Asked about his use of the phrase “critical era”, Mooday noted that he “used the word critical as an intentional reach out to “this critical theory which is exceptionally destructive”.
“It can go anywhere in society not just schools – this division that it is wreaking on society, in all aspects of society – it’s so important for people to recognize. It’s pointing out a real disparity of the fact that society distributes itself across performance parameters educationally and socioeconomically”, he said.
He said it should not be surprising because in America choices are important. He said that young people “who finish school, don’t go to prison, get a job, don’t have a child before they’re married, chances are they’re going to make the middle class” and that any race, any person in America” can make those four choices and is “going to have a pretty good chance of succeeding”.
“We can dive in and attack vulnerable people together and not say they’re vulnerable because other races hate them,” Mooday said.
Mooday said when he reads the school board’s strategic plan, the top item on every page is about safety
“That’s the number one thing they believe and I believe safety is important but I believe Melanie’s (Colgan) appointment of seats on the (board) – I don’t think they’ve been the best. This trend should be addressed by the school board and I believe the school board is very focused on peripheral issues and less on performance of students,” he said. “Part of it is not their fault but this COVID shutdown has been an assault on kids. Most people want to be responsible for the mental health of their children and they seem not to realize now that we’re back at school, that’s a 95 percent answer for the students’ wellbeing just to be in a social environment with their peers.”
Mooday said he is not anti-safety.
“If you talk to kids every day, morning noon and night about safety, you’re going to raise people that don’t feel safe. I think we should raise kids whose vision is on life-long learning. I want my kids to be learners but I want them to leave school with abilities to do things not just be learners,” he said.
Asked about his position on the proposed North Mesa Housing Project, Mooday said he knew about the other aspects of the project but not the housing aspect. He said projects are started in the County where they are to be lower-income housing.
“If they can maintain it as lower income housing, I’m an advocate for that. The other expenditures for athletic and common areas, I’m not such an advocate for. There are many places in Los Alamos that deserve better use of those funds. There are people that have horses at the stables; very little money is spent out there. There has been recent public comment about dilapidated tennis courts. I know several kids that have injuries from running on baseball fields that are not maintained… If it’s housing and it’s low income I’m an advocate for it,” he said.