Sandoval County Commissioner Joshua Jones wants his colleagues on the board to refrain from expressing personal political views during public meetings and to keep their comments confined to county business. And an immediate response he got from one commissioner may signal that a fight over the First Amendment is brewing.
Jones didn’t mention any names when he appealed to other commissioners to keep the meetings about matters pertaining to the county at the end of the April 26 meeting. But anyone who pays attention to county commission meetings regularly hears conservative views espoused by Commissioner Jay Block, a Republican who was a candidate for governor last year.
Block often uses time allotted to him under "Commissioners Discussion," an agenda item at every meeting during which commissioners can talk about whatever they want, to express his political views, often as criticism of Democrats an sometimes in harsh terms. And he sometimes injects his political slant when commissioners are discussing other county business. Recently, Block wrangled Nancy Pelosi into a debate about a proposal to ban feeding free-roaming horses.
Jones began is remarks by saying he had tremendous respect for his fellow commissioners and that he was still learning the job. He then suggested that commissioners utilize their time during meetings “to discuss issues and matters that are really within the purview of Sandoval County and the commission.”
He finished by appealing to his colleagues to stick to business during meetings
“So I would ask that the commission agree to limit our comments to county matters and not really indulge in discussions of extraneous issues,” he said.
Moments later, just as the meeting adjourned, Block quipped, “First Amendment, I love it."
Jones, a Democrat, is the newest member of the commission, having been appointed by the governor after the resignation of Kenneth Eichwald at the end of last year.
He previously worked as a field representative for Deb Haaland, then a New Mexico representative in Congress and now Secretary of Interior in the Biden administration. He also owns a consulting firm that works on issues ranging from clean energy to advocacy, according to the county’s website.
Meanwhile, Block isn't shy about criticizing Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who appointed Jones to the position, and Haaland, his former boss, both during meetings and on social media. Earlier this week, Block retweeted a post from RNC Research of Haaland testifying during a hearing on climate change and commented, "How many more embarrassing hearings does the American public have to endure showing how incompetent (Haaland) and this administration is?"
During last week's meeting, Jones noted that commissioners have other means to express their political views, such as on social media or at political events. But commission meetings aren't the place for that.
“I believe we should limit our comments to issues over which we have jurisdiction, such as county law enforcement, county EMS, roads, bridges, etcetera,” he said. “We have so many issues to deal with here within Sandoval County – issues that we need to work together to find solutions to problems that we can actually solve.”
Jones suggested the political rhetoric doesn’t help matters and could strain relations on the board to the detriment of their constituents.
“(To) bring in personal, political views into the discussion, I don’t know if it really helps us work together for the betterment of the county,” he said.
Minutes earlier, Block called out Jones, a fellow U.S. Air Force veteran who was attending the meeting by speakerphone. He wanted to make sure Jones was listening, then cited statistics from Torchlight Initiative’s cancer registry, which tracks cases of airmen and women who have been exposed to environments involving nuclear weapons.
Coincidently, Block and Jones both served as missileers while in the U.S. Air Force.
Block then shifted to inflation, a topic he frequently brings up at meetings while blaming Biden administration economic policies.
He went on to criticize Lujan Grisham for big raises she awarded her staff and homebuyer fees he said stunt economic growth.
“You can’t fix stupid,” Block said.
The commissioner then spoke against government censorship and criticized New Mexico’s three U.S. Representatives, all Democrats, for voting against the Parents Bill of Rights, which aims to give parents more say in school curriculum, including which books children can have access to.
Block ended his comments, which ran for over 7 minutes, by urging people to pay attention to what’s going on in government.
“Stay informed, out there, of what your elected representatives are doing and how there is this collusion between government and private industry to suppress your free speech and to cancel you,” he said.
Block’s tirade that night wasn't out of the ordinary.
On March 8, he began his comments by saying, “I don’t really want to go on a rant here,” then spoke for nearly 8½ minutes, commenting mostly on bills then in the state Legislature. Among them were bills that would tighten gun laws, restrict local jurisdictions from adopting abortion laws, and laws that promote transgender rights.
Block, and Commission Chairman David Heil, have been criticized by some members of the public for speaking out against transgender inclusion during meetings.
In February, Block used his time to denounce HB7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Healthcare Act, calling it “evil” and saying that it would allow for parents to “mutilate” their children.
Block has spoken pointedly about laws that support transgender inclusion, particularly those allowing transgender people to compete in women’s sports.
Block is unapologetic about his feelings toward transgender athletes.
“Everything I have been presenting is the truth – no one is arguing with me,” he said. “I’m sorry, it’s the truth.”
Commission chairman David Heil has also commented on topics not directly relevant to county business, including transgender women competing in athletics.
At that same meeting, Heil said transgender athletes got him wondering about the definition of a woman.
“So I reached out to Wikipedia,” he said, then proceeded to read the entry.
“So today, girls are being deprived of championship titles, college scholarships, the opportunity to compete in the Olympics and a simple sense of accomplishment because some guy with a package wants to define himself as a woman,” he concluded. “Ladies, stand up and fight back.”
A matter of time
In an emailed response to questions from the Signpost, Heil, who as commission chairman runs the meeting, didn't say if he would go along with Jones' suggestion to keep comments to county business.
“Commissioner Jones’s opinion about Commissioner Comments should be respected, as should any other commissioner’s opinions as long as those opinions don’t violate Sandoval County policy or the allowed time for comments,” he wrote.
He went on to say, “There are multiple opportunities other than Commissioner Comments for Commissioners to work together on issues; the Commission Agenda, Work Sessions, and Closed Sessions on appropriate topics that shouldn’t be impacted by Commissioners expressing their opinions.”
Responding to a follow question, Heil said there's noting in policy that sets a limit on how long commissioners can speak, but he informally tries to keep their comments to four or five minutes.
Block responded with a phone call in which he demanded an apology for what he described as a “hit piece” on him and his family that ran in the Corrales Comment last summer. The article described a 2021 tweet by his adult daughter that was critical of his treatment of women. The story was first reported by the progressive blog themarysue.com.
About three minutes into his profanity laced phone call with the Signpost, Block insisted that everything he had said was off the record.
Jones did not respond to the Signpost's email.
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