Tuesday, January 26, 2010

GOP recruits Chavez for state auditor's race

Updated 6p

After putting 53,000 miles on his truck campaigning around the state for
commissioner of public lands, Errol Chavez is switching races and will run for state auditor in 2010.

Chavez, 60, told us he was recruited by Republican State Party Chairman Harvey Yates because of his 36 years in law enforcement and his “ability to stop corruption in the state of New Mexico.”

The retired DEA agent, who lives in Las Cruces, said if he’s elected he will implement a priority targeting system, which he learned in classes at War College and used to root out criminals when he was assigned to manage High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDA).

For now, Chavez is the only Republican candidate vying for the auditor’s office. His website for land commissioner has been removed while it is being redesigned for the new campaign.

But, James Flores, a spokesman at the Secretary of State’s office in Santa Fe, told us that because Chavez is switching races he will have to collect a new round of qualifying petition signatures, and signatures he collected for the land commissioner’s campaign are not transferable.

Chavez, who grew up in EspaƱola, spent 31 years with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration before moving to Las Cruces in 2004 to be director of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program for the state. The program seeks to improve efforts by local, state and federal officials to stop drug trafficking through coordination and providing equipment, technology and other resources.

'I know how to prepare a case for a prosecution'

Chavez said he wants to “save the money the state is losing by going after people who are corrupt.”

“We’ve seen case after case recently of how people have gotten away with the crime because no one checked on them. And if they did check on them they couldn’t identify what was going on,” Chavez said. “I’m going to come in and I can evaluate the information that is there. I can develop a case and I know how to prepare a case for a prosecution. An effective prosecution means a success, and that’s the direction that I’m going.”

He wants people who are corrupt to "be fearful of being caught and prosecuted."

Corruption in New Mexico, he said “has become an acceptable practice. I want to stop that practice.”

Chavez would not say if he would support forensic audits on every state project with a budget over a certain dollar amount. Instead, he said there “are many ways to conduct an investigation.”

Chavez wants financial reports to be required from both public officials and state employees.

“As a Federal agent I had to routinely submit my financial disclosure reports to the attorney general’s office for review,” Chavez said. “We were monitored on the amount of money we made aside from our salaries and questioned every time there was a significant increase in our bank accounts. I think state employees should do the same thing.”

And Chavez didn’t waste anytime criticizing incumbent Auditor Hector Balderas.

“From my perspective there is a lot that could have been done that was not done, and that includes the state investment council,” Chavez said. “We had to be told from another state that we had a problem. Where was the state auditor on this?”

Chavez said he is pleased the party urged him to switch races.

“I’m in my element.”

Still two races without a candidate

At last check the Republican party did not have a candidate for state treasurer or secretary of state, but five people are running for governor, four are campaigning for lieutenant governor, and now three men are vying for commissioner of public lands.

Update 6p

Chavez said in the release, which was sent after we posted, that he's running for auditor "to ensure that government officials are using state taxpayer dollars wisely, not spending them in a wasteful, fraudulent or abusive manner.

“I am well equipped to perform the duties of this position and I pledge to use my experience to target criminal activity and expose any and all corruption revealed during the auditing process—for the good of the people of New Mexico.”

According to the release, Chavez has served as president of both the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association and the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association, an international law enforcement organization with 12,000 members.

Note: We have audio from our interview with Chavez and will update this post shortly. Come back and hear why he disagrees, as a former DEA agent, with former Gov. Gary Johnson about the war on drugs.

Photo: MG Bralley
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