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Voters bring Council back toward center


As a Las Cruces resident of District 2, I was disappointed that my representative on the City Council, Tessa Abeyta, did not win re-election last week. She came into the job four years ago with no political or government experience, and worked hard to learn about the many needs of the district.

But, the competing yard signs told me it would be a close race, and I wasn’t surprised when Abeyta lost to Bill Mattiace, a former mayor.

In a healthy democracy, the tension should always be pulling toward the center. We saw that in not only the race for District 2, but also for mayor, where Eric Enriquez narrowly defeated City Council member Kasandra Gandara.

The 2021 election of Becki Graham and Becky Corran gave Las Cruces an all-female City Council, something so rare that it gained national attention at the time.

“We have so many single mamas raising children in cour community, I think having an all-woman Council will give women hope,” Gandara told KVIA News.

She was right. But the city has more than just single moms. And they vote.

Mayor Ken Miyagishima was left as not only the last man standing, but also the last solid connection to the local business community. His departure after 16 years in office raised legitimate concerns that businesses would be without a voice to protect their interests on the City Council.

The election of Mattiace will ensure that business interests will be heard moving forward. He may be on the short end of numerous votes during the next four years, but at least he’ll be in the room making the argument.

Voters also had legitimate concerns about public safety that they did not believe the city was taking seriously enough. That undoubtedly helps explain how Enriquez, a former chief of the Fire Department who has devoted most of his life to public safety, won in an incredibly close race against Gandara.

The city will still likely be without a permanent police chief when Enriquez takes office. While City Manager Ifo Pili will have the final say, the new mayor and Council should provide clear direction as to what their priorities are.

One of the most promising new developments was the creation of crisis intervention teams in the Fire Department to respond to mental health emergencies.

In other races, incumbent Johana Bencomo retained her seat in District 4 and Cassie McClure won the District 1 seat vacated by Gandara.

This wasn’t the first election where the results proved to be disappointing for me, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Handling disappointment has always been part of the deal.

The losing side is disappointed, but concedes defeat; often with platitudes about both sides working together. They then begin working to mitigate the damage caused by their loss and to figure out what they will need to do differently to win the next election.

Anybody who gets into politics understands that for every winner, there is usually at least one loser, and often many more. There were seven candidates who ran for mayor this year. Six were disappointed with the results.

The ability to accept defeat is critical to our democratic process. Any politician who doesn’t understand that is disrespecting the voters and damaging the foundation of our democracy. 

Walter Rubel's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU. Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel.com