Education: B.A., anthropology, Harvard University, M.A., public administration, University of New Mexico
Current job: Executive director, Taos Land Trust
Appointed and elected offices:
Secretary, Vigil y Romo Acequia Commission
Board of directors, Alianza Agri-cultura de Taos
Board of Conservation Voters New Mexico
Money raised: $5,255 as of Sept. 14
Primary donors: Albuquerque Teachers Union, Committee to Elect Brian Egolf and other individual donors
Kristina Ortez was at a gathering a year ago in which the topic was how to get more women involved with politics.
On the panel was a group of women, including Linda Calhoun, mostly Republican, mostly Anglo. "I was fascinated," said Ortez, who has been in politics for 17 years as a land and water advocate, but not a candidate. "There are so few women in politics in Taos County. And none of the women on the panel looked like the women who make up the largest population. None of them looked like me."
Initially Ortez, who is executive director of the nonprofit Taos Land Trust, entered the fray seeking to fill the late state Sen. Carlos Cisneros' seat. But that seat went to Rep. Roberto "Bobby" Jesse Gonzales, a fellow Democrat. When his seat came available, with the backing of her two young daughters, she decided to run.
Ortez has only lived about a decade in New Mexico, but she has years more building coalitions, networking and lobbying. She's no stranger to politics or managing an organization.
Ortez didn't start out to pursue a career as an environmental advocate.
She was raised in a farming town in California's Central San Joaquin Valley. It was the kind of place where children didn't go home until the porch lights came on.
Her grandparents worked in the agriculture fields. Ortez's school was surrounded by grape fields. Every spring, when sirens went off, the students knew to scurry back inside and close the windows to avoid the chemical crop dusting. In the summers, her grandmother taught her how to tie grape vines and pick stone fruits. But it was more for fun than necessity. "I have a lot of respect for the hard work and the people who do it," she said. "My family really supported my aspirations to higher education."
After high school, she attended Harvard University, earning a degree in biological anthropology in 1995. "I thought I would be a medical doctor," Ortez said.
But instead she moved to New York City and was sidetracked into business and entrepreneurship. She worked as a legal assistant for a few years and launched an internet media company. Then she helped start another one, GovWorks.com, an early app where parking tickets could be paid online. "Back then, 1998-99, there was nothing like that," she said.
"It was a pretty heady time. So much money floating around. Felt like we were children with an ATM card," she said. But it also taught her how much work it took to sell a product.
And how it can fall apart. The 2001 documentary "StartUp.com" follows the rise and fall of the company.
It was unusual for women, much less women of color, to be in the digital startup world. "Half my class at Harvard were women," Ortez recalled. "But in the entrepreneurial space, the internet space, it was mostly men. It was a pipeline from Harvard to Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs."
Ortez believes Taos County, with improved broadband, could be a center for more internet-related businesses, one way to diversify the local economy.
Shortly after the dot-com bubble burst and the industry crashed, she moved to Indonesia. It was there that she became an environmental advocate after reading the works of nonfiction author John McPhee.
She returned in 2003 to the Central Valley, moved back in with her mom and began working full time as an environmental advocate. She came to Taos 10 years ago while working with the Sierra Club.
Experience: Ortez thinks she has a good feel for small businesses because she's been an entrepreneur. As the head of a nonprofit, she's become skilled at managing budgets and writing grants. She successfully raised nearly $2 million in grants and donations between 2015-2018, a portion of which purchased 20 acres of historic, irrigated land and wetland that will become the Rio Fernando Park.
In her environmental work, she's learned to network, craft legislation, negotiate to help bills pass and work across the aisle with people of different political viewpoints.
With a background in tech, Ortez believes Taos County should do more to attract software development companies to the region. That would take heavy investment in University of New Mexico-Taos to train people in the industry. It also will take "super reliable broadband structure and electricity," Ortez said. "We're on our way to really having that."
She said Taos is the kind of place that can attract software companies, if it can offer the services they need and places to set up.
She thinks another burgeoning industry could be light manufacturing that produces products for adapting to climate change.
Tourism could be expanded to include agriculture, with expanded farm-to-table tours and experiences that teach people the connection between forests and food.
The region could also tap into federal and state funds for forest and watershed restoration, creating jobs and protecting the landscapes that draw so many tourists.
"They come here for those forests so we need to invest in those forests," Ortez said.
As a full-time working mom with two elementary school age daughters, Ortez is keenly aware of the challenges facing parents and educators.
She thinks education funding should continue to be a priority in the state. Moreover,
"We need to think about early childhood education as critical infrastructure. Elizabeth Warren was the only presidential candidate who talked about that," she said. "Child care is expensive."
Ortez, who noted that while there are financial incentives for low-income families, many fall outside of the safety net. "We need to address the working poor, who can't find money for child care. That's a big part of Taos population."
Housing is in crisis, Ortez said. "There's a housing sale boom. But the working class can't afford and there are too few affordable rentals," she said. "We're getting wealthy refugees and it is changing the flavor of our community."
She thinks the property tax code needs to be reviewed first.
Ortez also sees a need within the town of Taos to build apartments and other affordable units on land that isn't farmland or critical wildlife habitat.
"We need to build those places closer to schools and grocery stores. That land is getting harder to come by, but it is there," she said. "We have to do it in a smart way, a collaborative way. Work with the city and the county and the developers."
Ortez has a short-term rental registered with the town of Taos. She said the town has been smart about charging fees for short-term rentals and now limiting the number within municipal limits. But the county has no fee structure for short-term rentals and she believes it should. That money could be put toward a fund and used to provide incentives for the construction of affordable units.
She notes there are many people living in Taos with urban planning experience and good ideas. They need to be part of the conversation.
Plus, while she says she doesn't know much about the tax credits and incentives developers receive for building affordable housing, "I'll make it my business to know what goes into that process."
The state is facing a possible $2 billion shortfall in January due largely to the decline in oil and gas revenues, and made worse by the economic fallout from business restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. She's already been discussing the revenue decline with other lawmakers, who said there will be little money for capital outlay projects in 2021.
"That may mean making precision cuts to the budget, not wholesale cuts," she said.
She advocates reviewing the tax code, looking for places to squeeze a few more dollars and rethinking the state budget to put more funds toward infrastructure like broadband that could ultimately increase the businesses in New Mexico.
Abortion: She is pro-choice. "I support a woman's right to make what is a very difficult decision," Ortez said. "I personally believe this is a choice between a woman, her physician and her faith."
That view, she said, is supported by 78 percent of northern New Mexicans, according to a recent poll.