Democrat targets GOP stronghold

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Candidate wants voters to have a choice

By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos Planning and Zoning Commission Vice Chair Pete Sheehey is going after a seat that’s been unchallenged for years. Sheehey, 57, is running for the Democratic Party nomination for New Mexico House of Representatives in District 43.

The seat, which Republican Jeannette Wallace, 75, has held since Jan. 1, 1991, encompasses Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties.

“I am running because I agree with many people who have been telling me that New Mexico state government needs to be much more open, ethical and accountable. If you have the time, you can go down to the Roundhouse when the Legislature is in session, listen to the hearings, maybe even get to make a statement,” he said. “But does your voice get listened to as much as that of special interests that make huge campaign contributions?

Once the decisions are made, it can be very difficult to find out just where New Mexico state funds are going. Voters are understandably upset when they read about multi-million dollar scandals involving state funds and are then told that we need to raise taxes to pay for such essential services as education and health care.”  

Sheehey has obtained more than the required number of signatures to be on the June 1 primary election ballot, he said.

He described his strong support for some basic reforms recommended by bi-partisan groups such as Think New Mexico. These reforms can help prevent these scandals and will let the people see how and where their tax dollars are being spent, Sheehey said.  

“I think that tax revenues spent wisely on education, health care and renewable energy are good investments for New Mexico and will pay off for all of us in the long run. But we have to be totally honest with the voters about the costs and benefits and we must earn their trust if we expect them to support such things,” he said.

Sheehey has served on the Planning and Zoning Commission since 2008. It has given him a good education in county issues and

government, he said, including the opportunity to witness some unintended consequences of laws. As an example, Sheehey said Los Alamos County has fairly strict zoning regulations, which do protect the character of neighborhoods. But those regulations can sometimes get in the way of small business development, which the community desperately needs, he said.

“When we evaluate a proposal, the P & Z Commission has to follow the laws passed by the County Council. We encourage businesses to find ways to work within those laws and we recommend policy improvements to the council,” he said.

Sheehey came to Los Alamos as a graduate student at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1986. He recounted immediately feeling he fit in and could contribute to the work of the lab and the community.  

“For an applied physicist like myself, I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store. I finished my PhD here and became a staff member in X Division, where I have worked on controlled fusion nuclear energy and nuclear weapons safety and reliability,” he said. “I am proud of the contribution we have made at LANL to our nation’s security. I know we will continue to make significant contributions, whether it is in defense or sustainable energy or environmental protection.”

Sheehey was born in 1952 in Huntington Park, Calif.  He described growing up in southern California in a working class family that placed great importance on getting a good education. He and his two sisters all went to college and earned advanced degrees.  

“I worked summers for minimum wage, then $1.65 an hour, in the same factory where my father worked. I earned a scholarship to go to college at UC Santa Cruz, served as a computer technician in the U.S. Air Force from 1976 to 1979, worked a while and then went back to school, finally at UCLA, to become a scientist,” he said.

His background as a scientist should be helpful in understanding and dealing with energy and environmental issues, Sheehey said, adding that he believes all forms of renewable energy, from wind and solar to nuclear, need to be considered.

Sheehey recalled his first political involvement here was in the 1990s with the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security, www.lacacis.org. He currently serves as president of the bi-partisan group, which studies arms control and related issues.

Sheehey recently married Naishing Key. They were both very active in the political campaign of 2008, he said.

“I knocked on many doors and talked to a lot of people. I didn’t always convince people to take my side, but with most people I could find some things we agree on,” Sheehey said. “Almost everybody I talked to expressed the desire for more transparent and accountable government at all levels. I really enjoy talking to voters and frequently pick up refreshing ideas from them. That’s what got me starting to think about running for office myself. I realized that my experiences and expectations are representative of the people in this district, and that I could be a good representative for them in the state legislature.”

The Sheehey campaign intends to launch a Web site soon at www.petesheehey.com.