Billboard attack based on short-antlered elk

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – They’re eye-catching billboards with a state lawmaker’s mugshot and ask a tough question: Lawmaker or lawbreaker?

A casual driver might get the sense that the state representative shown is a felon asking for the public’s vote, but that’s not the case.

The billboard, paid for by left wing group ProgressNow NM, shows House Minority Whip Nate Gentry, R-Bernalillo. However, the mugshot shown has nothing to do with the case ProgressNow is attacking Gentry over.

“It’s a political hatchet job,” Gentry said. “They’re not being forthright in what actually happened.”

Pat Davis with ProgressNow said, “This is about a legislator who didn’t accept responsibility.”

It’s primarily about elk. In Decemeber 2012, Gentry was hunting on the Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico.

“We saw an elk and neither the guide nor I – the guide who had 40 years of guiding experience – saw any antlers,” Gentry said. “When we came up on the elk, we noticed it had very small horns that weren’t visible from far away.”

Because Gentry only had a permit to shoot an elk without antlers, shooting that elk was a misdemeanor under New Mexico law.

Gentry says he contacted authorities. Ultimately, it was ranch security who called New Mexico Game and Fish. It’s unclear from a police report filed by Game and Fish officer Alex Hansell if Gentry asked them to.

The next day, Hansell met Gentry at the ranch. He asked her if she would give him a break by issuing a warning instead of a citation because the horns were so short. Davis says Gentry wanted special treatment.

“In that report, she lists his occupation as a state legislator,” Davis said. “He offered that to her.”

Gentry denies that.

“I never once mentioned to anyone that I was in the House of Representatives,” Gentry said. “That didn’t even come up.”

Either way, Hansell wrote him up for a citation.

“In that case, Game and Fish officer heard that testimony and wrote in her own experience that she just didn’t believe that he didn’t know the rules,” Davis said.

However, Hansell’s report differs from Davis’ assessment. In response to Gentry pointing out the length of the antlers, Hansell said that she “appreciated his honesty” but added “I believe a hunter would have seen the spike antlers if they had taken the appropriate amount of time before shooting the spike elk.”

Gentry pled no contest and the judge gave him 30 days of probation. After a month of good behavior, the charges were dismissed.

Davis says Gentry should have told constituents and legislative colleagues about the case.

“[He] gets all the way to this point, ready for the election and hasn’t mentioned it yet,” Davis said.

However, Gentry does address the charge in response to an Albuquerque Journal questionnaire legislative candidates fill out.

“In my three elections, I’ve been very honest with the voters about what I’ve done in my past,” Gentry said.

Davis replied with, “Saying the case was dismissed at the bottom of a Journal questionnaire that nobody ever reads is not accepting responsibility.”

The mugshot shown on the billboard stems from a 2002 case where Gentry was arrested for aggravated DWI. That charge was ultimately dismissed, but Gentry did plead guilty to failing to appear in court in connection with that case.

Gentry’s district is not considered a battleground district by political analysts, so why is he being targeted?

“Quite frankly, Nate’s a pretty powerful Republican,” Davis said. “He’s eyeing the speakership.”

Davis is referring to the Republican bid to take over control of the House for the first time in more than six decades. Gentry’s name has been floated as a candidate to replace Democratic House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Cibola, if the Republicans win.

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