From left: Chaves County sheriff Republican candidates Gary Graves, Art Fleming, Britt Snyder and Pat Barncastle spoke at the Chaves County Republican Women’s luncheon Wednesday. (Jill McLaughlin Pho to)
Protecting county citizens and their constitutional rights against federal infringement was a hot topic posed Wednesday to the four candidates running for sheriff at the Chaves County Republican Women’s Luncheon.
All four candidates are Republican and will face off in the primary to be held June 3.
Luncheon attendees heard speeches and asked questions of Gary Graves, former De Baca County sheriff; Art Fleming, a veteran New Mexico Mounted patrolman and gas utility employee; Chief Deputy Britt Snyder; and District Attorney lead investigator Pat Barncastle.
The topic of protecting the county’s citizens from federal overreach came up several times. Fleming first brought up the topic when he talked about his belief about protecting Second Amendment rights.
“What’s coming with the prairie chickens and with the federal government trying to impose their thoughts on what we need in Chaves County… We believe in the right to have our guns,” Fleming said. “Those are our constitutional rights. They are tools and we’ve always seen them as tools. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Fleming said the county needed someone willing to stand up for the community and to be ready for what was coming. After attending the meeting held by Congressman Steve Pearce about the lesser prairie chicken listing Tuesday, he was concerned about the federal government’s actions and affects on local citizens.
“If we give them an inch, they will take a mile,” Fleming said. “It has happened. We’ve seen it. And by reading the news headlines, it’s on the way guys. We have people who make a living in the oil and gas industry. It is threatened right now. The wolves are at the door, we’re going to have to stop them, because it has threatened this whole community.”
Fleming has spent 16 years as a mounted patrolman and 20 years working for the gas utility.
Graves, who answered tough questions about his past the recall that ended his time as sheriff, also said he would stand against any federal intervention. He is a member of a national constitutional sheriff’s association.
“We have a lot of things that are coming,” Graves said. We have prairie chickens, prairie dogs. We have a lot of things that are coming at us. As your sheriff, I must be willing to stand tall, stand in between you and your federal government and take the actions necessary to protect you.”
Graves also said he would keep himself away from federal funds “that would tie me to violate your constitutional rights.”
Barncastle was asked about his past as chief of New Mexico Game and Fish, and whether he would enforce or help the Bureau of Land Management enforce environmental laws and regulations.
He left the state agency 12 years ago and “things have changed tremendously,” he said.
“As chief law enforcement officer in the county, I would assess each and every one of the mandates that the federal government brings before us,” Barncastle said. “If there were any requirements that the federal government brought forth that were clearly in violation of the people’s constitutional rights, I would definitely oppose it. Land use agencies … unless they have something specific that requires a federal court order, I would definitely oppose anything, unless I was faced with a federal court order, and then I would assess each and every one of those mandates as they came to me.”
Snyder, who has spent 20 years at the sheriff’s office, said he would not enforce federal gun regulation and federal environmental regulations from the federal government or its agencies, or assist the federal government in anyway. But, the county sheriff has asked the state to help in the past with environmental concerns.
“We have had trouble for many, many years with people burning trash and burning tires,” Snyder said. “And we have insisted that the environmental department come and help us stop that because that is something we cannot allow in our county any longer.”
Snyder’s position was to maintain relationships with the federal partners, he said.
“I think it’s smarter to have a relationship so they’ll knock on your door before they do things in your county you’re not aware of,” Snyder said. “So having that relationship is very positive. That way, you can get some input as to what they may think they want to do and whether or not they think they have jurisdiction to do it. I would want some input in that. I would insist to want some input in that.
“But you don’t know that if they don’t come and see you. Right now, we have a very good relationship,” Snyder said. “We don’t want them out thinking they can do things and not tell us.”