Fresh choices in new Senate District 35

The Colorado Statesman

One of only four Democratic legislative primary contests this year will take place in the newly drawn Senate District 35, where voters will have the choice between two energetic political newcomers.

Third-year Costilla County Commissioner Crestina Martinez won the top-line at the SD 35 assembly with 59.2 percent of the vote, or 42 out of the 71 delegates supporting her candidacy.

The remaining 29 delegates went to Armando Valdez, a Capulin farmer and rancher, as well as professor of business at Adams State College. Valdez ended up with 40.8 of the vote, well clearing the 30 percent threshold required to make the June 26 primary ballot.

In an interview with The Colorado Statesman, Martinez said that winning the top-line at the assembly was “just the beginning.” She was enthusiastic about the new district, which is the largest geographical district in the state, encompassing 16 rural counties in southern and southeastern Colorado.

Candidate Crestina Martinez speaks to the delegates before the vote at the SD 35 assembly.
Photo by Ben Conarck/The Colorado Statesman

“This is a brand new opportunity for southern Colorado to have their own voice and to be loud and proud at the state Capitol,” Martinez said.

The sentiment of a new opportunity for a unified voice was echoed by Valdez.

“In Spanish, we call it, ‘mi gente,’ which means ‘my people,’” Valdez said. “That’s what I believe, there are a lot of ‘mi gente’ across the district.”

Valdez emphasized that the district is diverse, both racially and economically, but said that agricultural values are its cornerstone. He said one of the biggest issues facing rural southern Colorado is the “talent drain,” where young people leave the area in search of better economic opportunities elsewhere, resulting in an aging population.

San Luis Councilwoman Gabrielle Aragon, who is endorsing Valdez in the primary, also spoke about the importance of a unified voice at the Capitol to advocate for southern Coloradans.

“We’ve been forgotten unless someone is after our land or our water, and that’s what we need to fight for,” Aragon said.

State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, currently represents the San Luis Valley, which makes up a sizeable portion of the new SD 35. She thanked her soon-to-be former constituents and their two newly minted candidates at the assembly.

“I want to thank these young people for stepping up,” Schwartz said. “Democrats have got to keep this seat, which is a critical seat for a critical majority.”

Armando Valdez greets SD 35 delegates prior to the nominating assembly vote.
Photo by Ben Conarck/The Colorado Statesman

Schwartz told The Statesman that she would not be endorsing either candidate in the primary. She described the new district borders as “bittersweet,” and vowed to continue advocating for southern Colorado’s interests at the Capitol.

Former U.S. Rep for the 3rd Congressional District, John Salazar, spoke to the assembly crowd about why he is endorsing Martinez, who he says won his respect when she turned down a position in his D.C. congressional office to continue serving as county commissioner.

“She could have climbed up the ladder, gone on to a bigger and better life, but she cared about community,” Salazar said.

Jolene Moreno Hyatt, a retired kindergarten teacher from La Junta Primary School, said she has been involved with the Democratic Party for 45 years and has been to 22 national conventions. She supported Martinez at the assembly because she believes Martinez has a uniquely driven personality.

“The day that I met Crestina, I felt like I was 25 years old again,” Hyatt said. “She has charisma and integrity of a person far beyond her years.”

Grace Sena, who owns a hair salon in Las Animas, based her support on personality as well, but she is backing Valdez.

Sena said that she supports Valdez because he has a deep “love for the land,” and described Martinez as being more self-focused.

Forty percent of active voters in the district are registered Democrats, compared to the Republicans’ 38 percent. Unaffiliated voters account for 21 percent, and one percent of voters belong to minor parties, according to the latest numbers from the secretary of state’s office.

At the Republican state assembly in Denver on Friday, former Alamosa County Republican Party Chair Larry Crowder was unanimously nominated as the GOP candidate for the new SD 35 seat after former candidate, Pueblo businessman Alexander Mugatu, dropped out of the race.

Crowder made remarks about the intrusiveness of government and the economic difficulties facing southeastern Coloradans before accepting the nomination.

Ben@coloradostatesman.com