House District 46 challenger Andrea Romero has no voting record, but she has a track record working in Africa and NM that is worth examining. After hours reviewing LANL Coalition board meeting minutes and interviews with many, here is what I found.
Several weeks ago, Retake welcomed Andrea Romero’s entry into the race. We feel she represents the kind of outstanding candidate that is beginning to run in elections across the nation: a smart, young, female, progressive of color. But we did NOT endorse her or even indicate that we were supporting her, just that we welcomed the challenge. We feel strongly that in safe districts where no GOP would venture to run, it is important to have primary contests that focus on issues and where you have incumbents who do not always advance progressive priorities. In Part I of our series on the Dist. 46 primary, Retake examined Rep. Trujillo’s voting record, and while we found much to like, we also found far too many troubling votes and so we welcome Romero’s challenge. Click here to review that post. We like the idea of primaries that force candidates to discuss issues and possibly move more centrist Democrats to the left. In safe districts, the primary is the only framework for this kind of discussion.
Since posting Part I last Saturday, I’ve tried to be responsive to the large number of comments, mostly from Trujillo supporters and focused on Romero’s poorly managed reimbursements for lobbying related expenses. Many expressed incredulity that Retake could even consider a candidate so “flawed by ethical compromise.” A lot has changed since Saturday, and I am not only referring to the sexual harassment accusations leveled against Rep. Trujillo. Click here if somehow you missed this news. I have also come to a more balanced view of Andrea Romero, her qualifications, and her work in Africa, in Washington, D.C., and at the Coalition.
Meet Andrea Romero
Andrea Romero is a 17th-generation Northern New Mexican, born here and raised in Santa Fe, Española, Chimayo, La Mesilla, and Nambé. Her father, the first in her family to graduate college, became an engineer, which created opportunities for her family. She has two brothers; one who is a veteran and now works in the private sector and another who is a State Police Officer.
After attending elementary, middle school, and high school in the Santa Fe Public Schools, Andrea graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Political Science.
Romero’s first job out of college was founding a project in sustainable farming and water harvesting in Mozambique to help bring more diverse, efficient and effective, and sustainable food choices to an area where 80% of people subsistence farmed. The people of the village where she farmed were surprised at the diversity of vegetables, herbs, and fruit they could grow. Everything she learned and taught was compiled into a visually-based guide that she left behind in Mozambique to sustain the work.
After leaving Africa, Romero moved to DC to work for the International Food Policy Research Institute and became a Communications Specialist for the Development Strategy & Governance Division of the Institute. In that capacity she condensed research and data on food security initiatives for stressed areas in the horn of Africa and Middle East, creating digestible media via brochures, tweets, social media, international conference media, etc. After two years in Washington, she returned to New Mexico.
To understand the issues that the LANL Coalition had been involved with and the role Romero played, I reviewed numerous sets of minutes from Coalition Board meetings and several articles about the work of the Coalition. I interviewed James Mountain, former Governor of the San Ildefonso Pueblo; County staff involved in water and easement issues in Dist. 46 (and 41); and former Santa Fe Mayor Gonzales who served on the Coalition board. Our Leadership Team also interviewed Romero for almost two hours. We had interviewed Rep. Trujillo the week prior.
In my conversations with San Ildefonso Pueblo’s former Governor James Mountain, I heard about how divisive Rep. Trujillo has been in working on easement and water issues, pitting non-pueblo and pueblo people against each other. Mountain also spoke of how effective Andrea Romero had been in working with diverse stakeholders while at the Coalition. In fairness to Rep. Trujillo, his supporters would say that rather than being ‘divisive’ he is simply standing up for his constituents. The problem here, reported to me by many people who have attended his Town Halls on water and easement issues, is that his support for some of his constituents is expressed by pitting the non-pueblo community against the pueblos. I will return to this later after discussing Board perceptions of Romero’s work with the Coalition.
From an Albuquerque Journal letter to the editor (4-6-18) from Ron Lovato: “As governor of Ohkay Ohwinge, my community was an early member of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities because we saw the need for a shared community voice on matters pertaining to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. LANL is, after all, the economic engine that drives our economy in the Española Valley. Under Ms. Romero’s leadership, the Coalition has:
- Lobbied successfully for millions of dollars in increased funds for cleanup of nuclear waste at LANL.
- Passed legislation in the 2018 state legislature, preserving the $86 million in GRT from LANL’s prime contractors to the State of New Mexico and Northern New Mexico communities that Governor Martinez had vetoed.
- Created pathways to successful dialogue and relationships between DOE and new LANL contractors to engage in the community’s concerns and opportunities for success.”
I sought amplification on her role at the Coalition from former Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales in a conversation that extended for well over an hour. He provided a good deal more detail about the Coalition and Romero’s role. He began by laying out how, before the Coalition formed, there was no means of developing a regional strategy for collaborating with the Department of Energy or LANL. There was no way to lobby regionally and share regional concerns with our Congressional delegation or to lobby in Washington, D.C. for increased funding for addressing legacy waste at LANL. From the Coalition’s website I learned that: “Formed in 2011, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities is comprised of nine cities, counties, and pueblos surrounding the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Regional Coalition was formed through a Joint Powers Agreement and all of the participating municipalities provide funding for the Regional Coalition’s operating budget. In addition, the Regional Coalition receives funding from the Department of Energy to further its mission of environmental remediation.”
Gonzales told me that in its early years the Coalition operated with no staff and had contracts only with a lobbyist and a media group. Over time, the Board recognized that this was not advancing their goals effectively and so they opted to put out an RFP for a contractor to facilitate a more expansive strategy and Andrea Romero was selected. Gonzales indicated that she immediately began facilitating a strategic planning process to provide the Coalition with a structured plan and set of priorities to guide its work. Prior to her involvement there had been no such framework.
He noted that she had been very adept at working with stakeholders who held diverse perspectives and had led the Coalition during the period when LANL was going through the difficult transition in management of the lab. She led the successful lobbying effort to preserve $69M in Los Alamos County and the State GRT taxes derived from LANL operations. Gov. Martinez vetoed the bill. Romero also led the effort in Washington to increase funding for remediation of LANL’s legacy waste. Lastly, during the transition between operators of LANL, Romero led the effort to protect regional community interests in continuing $3+ million in LANL Community Commitment Investments that serves education, economic development, and community charitable organizations; protects local contractors in order to maintain a 5% preference on contracts at LANL; and ensures regional communities are considered and acted upon as the first customer to Lab activities.
But, according to Gonzales, perhaps the most important thing that was achieved while Romero directed Coalition efforts was the forging of collegial and highly collaborative relations among diverse regional stakeholders. While the focus of board meeting discussion was always on the mission of the Coalition — to expand resources aimed at remediation of legacy waste — the nine member board often discussed ways in which they could align their economic development, transportation and other strategies to create more synergy among groups. Romero had been adept at fostering collegial relations among diverse representatives, a legacy that will sustain their work going forward.
It is also important to examine the mistakes Romero made related to reimbursements. Only days after announcing her candidacy, accusations were leveled against Romero for being reimbursed for extravagant meals, wine, and whiskey while on a successful lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. Members of our Leadership Team were very concerned about Romero’s expenditure reimbursement issues. For me personally, I viewed the reimbursements as an embarrassing mistake but I viewed Romero’s reaction to the accusations as being even worse. She hired an attorney who accused the accusers of being politically motivated, while initially not taking responsibility for the situation. A strongly worded letter from her attorney really tried to shift the blame from her mistake to those who were accusing her of those mistakes. I felt and still feel that she should have acknowledged her mistake and moved on. But as described below, it seems likely that Romero was caught off guard by the accusations and perhaps for good reason. Read on.
When our Leadership Team met with Rep. Trujillo, one of his opening comments was to question how we could support someone being investigated for fraud, and many of the comments from supporters reiterated this point. But talk of fraud and felonies is intentionally overstating the case. The expenditures for wine and whiskey were not her expenditures, they were the expenditures of a whole team of folks from her board that included several elected officials. Itemized receipts were openly turned in by her, and her expenses were approved by the Coalition Treasurer, Henry Roybal, and by Los Alamos County, the fiscal agent for the Coalition. Here is the definition of fraud: “wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.” There was no deception, no financial gain, no fraud. Was it a mistake? Yes. But in conversation with former Mayor Gonzales, I was also told that there were no policies governing travel expenses for the Coalition. In this context it is easy to understand how Romero could have felt singled out for the blame, especially in light of a letter to the RCLC members, from Los Alamos County Deputy Manager Steven Lynne: “In the course of following up on questions related to RCLC travel reimbursements, I have learned that Los Alamos County as fiscal agent has used the wrong standard for payment. We had assumed that the County’s policies were to be followed but the RCLC travel policy is the standard that should have been applied. This appears to be the County’s fault and not that of any RCLC member. I would like to personally apologize for this mistake and let you know how we intend to initiate rectifying the errors.”
When our Leadership Team met with Romero, she expressed a desire to continue to engage all stakeholders in the complex issues facing Dist. 46. Above, I noted that many people living in Dist. 46 and attending Town Halls facilitated by Trujillo had noted his advocacy came at the expense of seeking to engage and involve all communities in the District and frequently pitted non-pueblo constituents against the pueblos. Romero made a point of saying that her approach would be different, more collaborative, and reflect the priorities of all stakeholders, something she has done while at the Coalition.
Romero’s experience in Africa focused on sustainable farming in communities of extraordinary poverty, and her policy work in D.C. on food insecurity are directly related to key issues to NM and Dist. 46. Since her return to NM, she has been working in a highly volatile political environment and has successfully facilitated collaboration among diverse stakeholders. Retake feels that her mistakes were made in the open, in full view of her Board. In short, there are so many obvious strengths that we continue to welcome her candidacy. What’s more, in lieu of the stunning and highly credible accusation of sexual harassment made yesterday against Trujillo, with a second woman also stepping forward to indicate she had been the victim of harassment by Trujillo, Retake hopes that all constituents of Dist. 46 seriously consider Romero’s challenge and continue to track developments in the race.
In closing, late yesterday Rep. Trujillo issued a rebuke of Laura Bonar’s accusations, which you can read it in its entirety by clicking here.
Never a dull moment.
Paul & Roxanne