One candidate, Raúl Torrez, is Bernalillo County District Attorney. His opponent says he’s a failed prosecutor.
The other candidate, Brian Colón, is New Mexico’s state auditor, but his rival derisively calls him a career politician.
The Attorney General’s Democratic primary between Torrez and Colón is among the most contentious on the June 7 electoral roll – a battle for a top office that has 200 staff, a $35 million budget and in a state where crime is high. a huge problem, the bully pulpit.
The winner of the primary will face Republican Jeremy Gay, who is unopposed, next month.
Torrez and Colón have some similarities – both are lawyers and grew up in New Mexico; the two have become familiar to voters over the course of their careers – but their backgrounds and outlook for office are vastly different.
Colón: Struggles and Triumph
Colón, 52, said he grew up in Los Lunas in Section 8 housing and noted in a recent interview that “it didn’t get much better from there”.
His father and mother, Rafael and Shelly Colón, moved the family to Florida when Colón was still a teenager in hopes that a lower altitude would benefit his father’s muscular dystrophy. But Colón stayed because he had already been accepted to New Mexico State University, where he became the first in his family to attend college.
“I was living my dad’s dream even though he died right after I started college,” he said. ” It was not easy. I fought.
He worked his way through college via a series of odd jobs, including working at a car wash and selling newspaper advertising. He sometimes slept on friends’ couches, had his car taken over once, and had to take several breaks from school before he could complete a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1998.
After earning a law degree from the University of New Mexico in 2001, Colón was named Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year by the New Mexico State Bar in 2004 and served as president of the Democratic Party of the state from 2007 to 2009. Over the past decade, moreover, Colón’s quest for public office has been constant: he unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Albuquerque in 2017. A year later, he was elected to head the state auditor’s office.
His legal career has been spent practicing civil law — primarily as a partner at the law firm Robles, Rael and Anaya, where Colón said he focused primarily on personal injury and wrongful death cases.
The company has obtained several contracts from the Attorney General’s office, headed by its current occupant, Hector Balderas.
This has drawn the attention of critics who question the role that the personal relationship between Marcus Rael Jr. and Balderas – Colón’s two law school classmates at UNM – played in the awarding of these contracts.
The practice of contracting with outside companies has drawn scathing criticism of Balderas – and by extension, Colón, who makes no secret of his support for the current AG. In a race questionnaire provided to The New Mexican, he wrote, “Balderas has been a role model for attorneys general across the country.”
Asked what he would do differently, Colón said he would respond to the current air, water and natural resource crises by dedicating additional resources to the environmental division of the AG office and by centering it within the organization, giving it an “autonomous capacity”.
Colón said he believed socioeconomic status and substance abuse were the sources of violent crime.
“I think drugs are a driver of violent crime, and the fact that we have communities that are severely impacted by drug addiction without any behavioral health and mental health services to treat those people,” he said. .
“Let’s be real. The Attorney General doesn’t get a cap, but what he does have is the ability to have a bully pulpit to bring those stakeholders to the table to talk about the resources needed and then do advance this agenda in the Legislative Assembly and with the executive.”
Torrez: marked by “bookends”
Torrez, 45, was born and raised in Albuquerque – his mother, Mary Butler, was a teacher; his father, Presiliano Torrez, is a federal prosecutor, who is set to retire after 45 years with the US Attorney’s office.
Both parents, he said, helped him understand the causes and consequences of crime – lessons that have stuck with him throughout his career.
“The biggest long-term driver of … most crime, but particularly violent crime, is the extraordinarily high rate of negative early childhood experiences,” Torrez said. “When people ask me for my diagnosis of our public safety programs and what we need to do, in many ways [my] mom’s work in class and [my] Dad’s job in the courtroom is kind of a bookend in the same story.
He attended Tony Sandia Preparatory School before leaving New Mexico for about a decade to continue his studies at some of the best universities in the world: Harvard, the London School of Economics, Stanford.
When he returned to New Mexico and pursued a career in law, however, he started from scratch, doing stints as assistant district attorney in Valencia County, assistant state attorney general, and state attorney. at the U.S. Attorney’s Office before opening his own practice. in 2013.
He was elected district attorney for Bernalillo County’s second judicial district — which has the most criminal cases in the state — in 2016 and again in 2020, when he was unopposed.
Asked to assess the current attorney general’s office and its effectiveness, Torrez wrote that Balderas’ administration was “too reluctant to support local prosecutors in assessing the shootings of officers involved and too willing to contract out the consumer protection cases to out-of-state contributors,” noting that Colón received campaign donations from out-of-state law firms.
Torrez said his career as a prosecutor was marked by what he saw in many New Mexico homes where poverty and violence collided, often with terrible results.
Although diversion and law enforcement can have short-term effects on the crime rate, he said, “the long-term solution to the public safety challenge lies in heavy and heavy investment in traumatized children and destabilized families”.
Torrez said he would become more involved in shaping criminal policy in New Mexico — taking an active role in ongoing debates about remand reform and examining alternatives to incarceration. Both are burning issues.
Dealing with crime
The thorny issue of bail reform, a contentious topic on both ends of the law-and-order debate in New Mexico, looms for the next attorney general, and possibly politicians across the state. .
Torrez has been candid about the state’s pretrial detention system, saying it still needs fine-tuning. It was amended several years ago to eliminate monetary obligations for low-level criminals without the means to post bail. It also ended the practice of allowing judges to detain dangerous defendants indefinitely, regardless of their ability to post bail.
“Based on my review of the data, there are too many violent repeat offenders being released into communities,” Torrez said.
His conclusion is disputed by members of the criminal defense bar, who cite a 2021 UNM study which showed that only 15% of defendants released pending trial out of custody are charged with a new offense.
Torrez pushed unsuccessfully in the last legislative session for a solution that would have adopted a method used federally and elsewhere, in which defendants charged with certain crimes would automatically be held without bond unless their lawyer could prove that they are not dangerous to the community.
New Mexico’s current system requires prosecutors to demonstrate with clear and compelling evidence that a defendant is so dangerous that no release conditions could protect the community from it.
Torrez said if a system similar to the federal method were implemented, he would support rules requiring cases involving defendants held without bail to be resolved within specific time frames, as is the case in federal courts.
“If the legislature doesn’t think that’s an appropriate solution, I’m willing and willing to engage with them on what would be a more appropriate solution,” Torrez said. “What I don’t accept is that the current system is working.”
Colón said he also thinks “it’s time to reevaluate and see what’s not working and make adjustments” to the pretrial detention system, but said he doesn’t support the legislative push to Torrez because he didn’t think there had been a solid enough discussion of all the variables.
“When you talk about shifting the burden off people and affecting civil rights and not making sure they’re protected in the system — especially communities of color and communities on the margins economically — I think you have to pump the brakes and make sure we’re delivering a system that works for everyone,” he said. “Both [for those] who have power and those who don’t.
The nomination battle was costly: Colón and Torrez both raised more than $1 million while campaigning for a job that pays $95,000 a year.
According to the Secretary of State’s website, Colón overvalued Torrez, taking about $1.4 million to his opponent’s $1 million. Much of Colón’s money comes from larger contributions, some from out-of-state law firms. Torrez contributors — which also included out-of-state donors — donated in smaller amounts. It’s unclear where the majority of his money was spent, most of it is categorized as “other” on the website.