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When the roads get rough, the women get tough

October 26, 2016

by Caroline Sanchez

HUERFANO — It was 1960, the year that John F. Kennedy was running for president. Campaign fever was also in the air in rural Huerfano County, Colorado. Some of the people were frustrated because the same person had been in office for 27 years. The county was primarily Democratic, and many of the older people always voted a straight ticket. That was the way it was and may still be in many counties. There were three commissioners from three districts: Walsenburg, the county seat; La Veta, a mixture of farms and town; and Gardner District #1, strictly a farm area where my parents lived.

Mr. Sabino Archuleta became Commissioner for the Gardner District in 1932, the same year that Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency by a landslide. Roosevelt’s slogan was “Vote Straight Democratic to Protect America.” Many of the older constituents later associated Archuleta with Roosevelt’s Social Security Act, which the senior citizens called “Old Age Pension”. They were receiving it and were afraid of losing it if someone else had that job.

One of the main jobs for the Gardner Commissioner was to maintain the country roads and State Highway 69 between Gardner and Walsenburg. Many farmers complained that Archuleta hired his friends or relatives, and they had become so complacent that nothing was done. When people drove on the gravel roads they commented that they felt like they were driving on a “washboard.” I do remember that it was a very rough ride when I rode the school bus for 30 miles from Gardner to Huerfano County High School.

Since a Republican had not won in all of those years, a group of women from Walsenburg encouraged my father, Conrad Martinez, to run as an Independent against the long standing commissioner. My father was a successful farmer who worked with his partner Clovis Salazar and lived in the Gardner District. He was well liked in the county.

According to the local weekly Huerfano newspaper on October 6, 1960, it noted: “Women of the United for Walsenburg organization gave their endorsement this week to Conrad Martinez for Commissioner from Huerfano County’s District 1.” Their board of directors said that local women would be assisted by the women from Gardner and La Veta. They stated, “The women’s board is supporting him as a man of character, honesty and as a successful businessman.”

My father had a short time to campaign and get to know the people. Interest in the election was high, and it was a tight race. After the election the newspaper’s headline read “Kennedy Wins as President and Archuleta wins as County Commissioner.” The election results stated that Archuleta, with 2,054 votes had edged out my father’s 2,052 votes by two votes! Archuleta won a majority of the absentee ballots and took seven precincts while my father took nine precincts.

A canvass of the votes held by the county clerk still showed that there was a margin of ten votes or less. So according to a new state law, the county clerk had to order a recount to be held in public. The recount was held with representatives of both parties, plus the two candidates present.

The recount showed there were errors in 11 of the 16 precincts. The final recount showed that Martinez had 2,062 votes compared to 2,035 for Archuleta.

Imagine in the 1960’s women organizing for a grass roots cause and being successful. This shows me that if women believe in something important and are determined to work together, good results happen.

During the time my father held office, his new crew kept the country roads smoother and he was instrumental in having Highway 69 between Walsenburg and Gardner paved.

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