By Tony Parra
Keith Gardner said New Mexico needs new blood in District 66. He’s got his wish.
Voters elected Gardner into the position on Tuesday. Gardner received 976 of the votes in Roosevelt, Chavez, Eddy and Lea counties, with only the early voting left in Lea County. A Lea County official said the early voting remaining to count would not make up the difference.
Veteran Earlene Roberts was trying to win the District 66 representative’s seat for the ninth time.
Gardner won Roosevelt, (264-241), Eddy (221-145) and Chavez Counties (364-65). Roberts led in Lea County at last count, (156-127). Gardner lives in Chavez county while Roberts lives in Lea County.
“We got a lot of support across the four counties,” Gardner said. “I was very surprised, overall. We thought it was going to be a close race. Obviously, we’re very pleased.”
Roberts said she thought Gardner might win Chavez county, but not as decisively.
“I really am surprised,” Roberts said. “I thought we would pull more votes in Roosevelt County. I knew they (Chavez county voters) would vote for a home-town representative, but I didn’t think it would be by that margin (299 votes). I think Roosevelt County lost out because of this.”
This will be the first time Gardner will serve as an elected official for the state. Gardner initially ran for the District 66 seat in 2002, but his mother died two weeks before the election, so Gardner dropped out of the running.
“We met as many people as we could,” Gardner said. “We went door-to-door and didn’t just call them by phone. They were surprised. They couldn’t remember the last time a representative asked them what they wanted.”
Roberts said the key to Gardner’s campaign was negative campaigning over the interlock ignition system and early retirement pay for legislative members.
“My campaign took its toll from negative campaigning,” Roberts said. “They twisted my words around.”
Gardner said he’s not sure if any single issue decided the race.
“I believe people wanted a new person in office. We worked non-stop in our campaign. The people in Portales were wonderful and friendly,” he said.
Mona Roberts of Portales )who said she’s not related to Earlene Roberts) said she voted for Roberts.
“I’ve met Earlene, and I really liked her,” Mona Roberts said. “We like what she stands for. She gets out and gives out quite a bit of information. I’ve never met and don’t really know Keith Gardner.”
After Roberts’ 16 years in office, she said she’s not sure if she’s going to run again.
“I’m going to have to take a step back, before I decide on my future,” Earlene Roberts said. “I would like to do some community service or help out other candidates.”