Gerald Gonzalez says he believes in making government work.
That's not a campaign slogan because he's not campaigning. It is what you might want to hear from the guy hired to be the director of the Bureau of Elections less than a month before a historic vote. His first day of work was Oct. 6.
Gonzalez is not walking into an ideal situation. Jim Noel was supposed to take the job, but he didn't show up for work on his first day, Sept. 8 [" Still Headless," Sept. 11-17]. Noel was appointed by Secretary of State Mary Herrera to be the election boss, but the state's Republican Party protested. Noel is the son-in-law of Democratic Rep. Tom Udall, who's running against Rep. Steve Pearce for a seat in the U.S. Senate. (A poll commissioned by the Albuquerque Journal and released Monday, Oct. 6, says 51 percent of likely voters support Udall and 36 are behind Pearce).
Employment with Udall is also on Gonzalez’ résumé; he helped the congressman start his Washington, D.C., office as Udall's chief of staff from December 1998 to December 2000. "That was a managerial function and almost like starting a small government," Gonzalez says. He was also the head of the civil division of the Attorney General's Office from 1995 to 1998 when Udall was the AG. So once again, the state's Republicans are riled up, saying the secretary of state should just let Udall count his own votes while she's at it.
Since the time that I left his office, I have not socialized with Tom Udall. From my standpoint, it's been important throughout my career to come from the place of a professional approach to what I'm doing and not let any kind of bias creep in there.
Gonzalez counters by saying he worked for the congressman eight years ago. "Since the time that I left his office, I have not socialized with Tom Udall," he adds. "From my standpoint, it's been important throughout my career to come from the place of a professional approach to what I'm doing and not let any kind of bias creep in there."
The Harvard Law graduate has spent his career in government and served as Santa Fe County Manager. He retired in April 2007, but that hasn't kept Gonzalez from working. Since then, he's been the spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez and other legislators. "I never really detached myself from government, and when an opportunity came along that I felt would allow me to make an even larger contribution, I was glad to step up to the plate," he says.
Gonzalez took into account the looming election coupled with the scrutiny and politicization of the post before taking the position, he says. He sees problems with New Mexico elections, including a lack of poll workers and voters overwhelming certain polling locations unexpectedly.
Gonzalez says it's always been important for him to know how to get along with people from both sides of the aisle. “My wife, by the way, is a Republican,” he points out. There's no way, he says, that he can fathom helping one candidate or another from his new position as the director of the Bureau of Elections. "I don't count ballots," he says. Instead, he'll oversee and support county clerks, who will count ballots. He'll also provide guidelines for ballot counting. "The process is an open governmental process, and I'm a proponent of open government," he says.
Gonzalez adds that the voting process is sacred. "It's the one place where we have the closest intersection between the everyday citizen—the general public—and the governmental process," he says. "And if you have a governmental process that people can't trust, government doesn't work."