In 2020, Kristina Ortez ran for the New Mexico State Legislature and won. The 47-year-old Chicana from California moved to Taos in 2010 with a strong passion for conservation and land advocacy. For 20 years, she’s built a career around land and water issues in northern New Mexico, keeping the traditions and sustainability of agriculture alive in Taos County. She’s worked hard to build relationships with the northern rural communities of the district because her election opponents, Mark Gallegos and Linda Calhoun, are both well-known officials to the community, and are long-time mayors of Questa and Red River. Seven months into her first term as representative of District 42, Ortez is excited to share the work she and the legislature has accomplished.
The greatest challenges that the District faces are adapting to COVID-19, affordable housing, an ongoing opioid and alcoholism crisis, and establishing long-term sustainable jobs. The pandemic shed light on the lack of resources in the county and district, while people from out of state continue to migrate to the area.
“The challenges that people in this community face and the challenges for someone from Questa is different from someone from Peñasco or the town of Taos or Ranchos or Llano… but there is something that’s underlying all of that… our community is shifting quickly. We can’t find the housing that we need that’s affordable. We don’t have really good paying jobs,” Ortez said.
Finding solutions to these issues can be complicated, but Ortez suggested that listening to the community and getting many local organizations involved is one solution that can be accomplished.
“We have all these community partners working together with multi-agencies…. like Kit Carson, the Taos Community Foundation, and Taos Ski Valley. You know the town and the county, everybody working together to figure out what to do about the crises that exist here now… and trying to pair that with bringing money and real resources here… we can tap into the opportunities that exist for us,” Ortez said.
This past legislative session Ortez passed and had two bills chaptered by Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham. New Mexico House Bill 15 gives tax incentives to homeowners who invest in energy efficiency for their residence, reducing energy costs for low-income families, and alleviating the burden of high living expenses.
“If you invest in your home with energy-efficient appliances and programs, you can get some money back in the form of a tax credit, and that can really help folks in the north, especially because it allows for double credits if you’re low-income, as you get more money, and there’s an income requirement—I believe it’s 300%… if you have a manufactured home you are also eligible, which was not the case before,” Ortez said.
Ortez believes House Bill 15 would benefit our district because of our high energy costs. “Taos County has a much higher energy rate than almost anywhere else in New Mexico, so you know utility bills are expensive and can put stress on families. I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of a series of bills to relieve the energy burden of our most financially vulnerable,” Ortez said.
The other bill, NM House Bill 168, would expand floodplain protection by requiring the highest floodplain management standards for buildings partially or fully owned by the state, such as schools. It would ensure the safety of individuals occupying facilities impacted by year-round flooding or the potential of flooding.
Ortez considered the cannabis bill and liquor law reform a potential concern in key communities like Questa, where alcoholism and drug use is prevalent. The liquor reform bill, NM House Bill 255, will allow home delivery of alcohol products and would allow alcohol sales on Sunday. After talking with many groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Ortez supported the current provisions of the bill, citing that it was a safer alternative. As for cannabis, she argued that research is promising for health remedies, but she is cautious of its use among teens and younger children. She is also concerned about water availability to support the growth of the cannabis industry and its effects on water rights. Ortez stressed that modifications can always be made if bills reflect negatively on our communities.
Representative Ortez plans to tackle issues in the next legislative session ranging from utility affordability to land and water issues. In the meantime, she remains a busy parent and the executive director of the Taos Land Trust. She emphasizes her desire to work with communities to accomplish change that will have long-lasting positive impacts. Please contact her with your ideas or concerns at Kristina.Ortez@nmlegis.gov or (575) 770-7792.