Lucilla “Lucy” Najera and incumbent John Chatman are facing off yet again over the Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 seat in the Lower Valley.

As in 2018, Najera forced Chatman into a runoff this year after neither candidate secured a majority of the vote in March’s four-way Democratic primary. The May 24 primary runoff election will determine whether Chatman will get another four years in office as there is no Republican challenger.

Justices of the peace oversee lower-level courts which rule on criminal traffic citations and other misdemeanors requiring fines; small claims lawsuits under $20,000; truancy cases when students miss school; and landlord and tenant disputes, among other duties. There are eight justices in seven precincts in the county.

Najera, 57, said she would change the “entirety of how the office has been run” under Chatman, but didn’t provide specifics when asked. She has worked as a court process server for the Texas Supreme Court and as a private investigator.

“I’m giving back the respect and making sure that our community feels that they will be able to have their voice heard,” Najera said.

Chatman, 68, has held the seat for two terms since 2015. He did not respond to texts or voicemails seeking comment for this story.

Chatman’s conduct in the office was cited by El Paso County Commissioners as a reason to withhold raises to his salary. In September 2021, commissioners said he failed to pay overtime to staff and fired an employee without prior notice.

Chatman, through an attorney, objected and said the county was singling him out because of his race, and was retaliating for previous discrimination complaints he filed against the county.

In the 2018 Democratic primary runoff, Chatman eked out a victory over Najera by 525 votes. Campaign finance reports from that year show Najera spent $1,876, all from personal funds. Chatman spent $8,369 — $3,200 of that from campaign contributions.

This time around, there’s a lot more money involved.

According to the most recent campaign finance documents from February, Chatman has spent $21,590 on this race — nearly eight times more than Najera’s reported $2,731 in spending. Chatman prioritized mailers, but also spent $1,700 on robocalls and texts. Najera has prioritized flyers and block walking support.

Najera said her spending reflected a strategy of increasing canvassing in-person.  

“I want the public to know we’re in this together,” she said.

Campaign finance documents for the runoff races were not available online as of Wednesday. 

Nearly all of Chatman’s spending this election is from personal loans to himself. Najera is also primarily self-financing her campaign.

Early voting for the runoff election runs from May 16 to May 20. Run-off election day is May 24.

Danielle Prokop is a climate change and environment reporter with El Paso Matters. She’s covered climate, local government and community at the Scottsbluff Star-Herald in Nebraska and the Santa Fe New...