From liens to thieves to filth, this election has them all

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May 16—What's been a rocky campaign season for Democratic state Rep. Ambrose Castellano is about to get worse.

The same government Castellano is part of placed a $75,879 tax lien on his construction business in Santa Fe.

Castellano, who represents parts of San Miguel and Torrance counties, already had other troubles.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is working to defeat Castellano by campaigning for his opponent, Anita Gonzales, in next month's primary election.

Castellano also is the target of an ethics complaint by Daymon Ely, a Democrat and a former state legislator. Ely says Castellano spent tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions on hotels, meals and travel that had nothing to do with electioneering.

Castellano countered that he welcomes a review of his expenditures, believing his campaign has operated within state laws and regulations.

As for the state tax lien, Castellano in an email first said it was placed on his business "a few years ago." Public records show the lien was filed on Sept. 18, 2023. His campaign manager agreed 2023 was the correct date.

Castellano in an email said a difficult climate led to the lien.

"Any small business owner understands the challenges we face, especially with the global issues impacting us locally. The cost of goods has skyrocketed," he wrote.

A plan is in place for Castellano to pay down the tax debt, said his campaign manager, Daniel Maki.

Castellano is seeking a third term in the House of Representatives. He has twice defeated Gonzales in close primary elections.

Lujan Grisham endorsed Gonzales for their third matchup in hopes of reversing the outcome.

Castellano opposed the governor on a number of issues. They included one of her successful high-profile initiatives, repeal of a 1969 state law criminalizing abortion.

For his part, Castellano said he was upset by the governor turning against him. He supported her in both of her campaigns for the state's top office.

The first two elections between Gonzales and Castellano were low-key contests because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then the wildfires that roared across San Miguel County.

Castellano earlier this spring predicted he would be stronger this year under more normal conditions. With less than three weeks until the primary election, his foes will try to make his voting record and his financial troubles the campaign's defining issues.

Unpaid taxes constitute a significant problem for a politician. In contrast, stealing and vandalizing campaign signs is so common most candidates ignore the aggravation.

Not Mika Old, who's running for Santa Fe County commissioner in District 4. She says she's contending with more than sophomoric thieves when it comes to her signs.

Old claims hometown socialists are behind the thefts. In three instances, Old said, they tried to intimidate her supporters by smearing dog feces on gates or other personal property that once supported her signs.

Old, 33, says she is sure members of Santa Fe Democratic Socialists of America committed the foul deeds.

Her evidence? She told me a witness to one theft saw a perpetrator wearing a T-shirt of the socialists' organization.

"For them to use democracy as a banner is an absolute joke," Old said in an interview.

More important, she said, the socialist group is supporting one of her opponents, Adam Fulton Johnson, and he has not condemned the organization.

"The brush off by Adam in my opinion is disappointing," Old said.

In a nation where proof is required before convictions are handed down, Old's allegations fall short.

Will Whiteman, co-chair of Santa Fe Democratic Socialists, said his organization knew nothing of Old's troubles with vandals until she made a public statement Wednesday.

Invading private property, stealing signs and spreading excrement are not tactics his group takes part in or condones, Whiteman said.

"We would welcome any video evidence or photo evidence she has, and we would take action against any member if there is evidence. It's a race to the bottom when you get involved in something like that," Whiteman said.

He speculated that Old might be eager to blame socialists because they pointed out she was a registered Republican until November. Now she's campaigning to be elected as a Democrat.

Old told me she broke from the Republican Party not as an act of opportunism but because it no longer matched her values.

"Roe v. Wade [being overturned] was a huge part of me changing parties," she said.

Though she was still a Republican when the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022, Old said she supported Democrats, including Lujan Grisham, in the general election.

Old and Johnson, 39, are competing against another candidate, 63-year-old Stephen Chiulli in the primary.

I feel like I'm the only adult in this race, in the middle of the two extremes," Chiulli said.

Going negative is almost inevitable in both of these elections. There's no need for the candidates to close ranks as a party.

Republicans, cooperative as ever, waved a white flag by nominating no one.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.