Two first-time candidates are facing off in the Republican primary for the opportunity to try to unseat Democratic incumbent Ben Ray Luján and represent New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House.
Both Jefferson “Jeff” Byrd, 40, and Frederick “Rick” Newton, 65, say they aren’t looking to be career politicians, are pro-life and back the usual party positions of repealing Obamacare and reforming the tax code, although their approaches might differ a little on the latter goal.
The paths they have taken in their lives that led to this decision to run, though, have varied.
Byrd points out that he was born and raised in the district (Springer and Mosquero) and is involved in two businesses within its borders – the family ranch that he has managed since moving to Tucumcari and his wife’s engineering business. “A lot of New Mexicans identify with ranching,” he said. “They or their family grew up on a farm, they’re able to relate to me more so than big business people.”
But Newton says his age has given him the advantage of greater experience.
“Whoever represents the district should understand things like oil and gas, the mining industry, defense, international issues,” Newton said. “Most representatives in Congress don’t have that kind of experience.”
His first post-college job with a technology consulting firm brought him to Albuquerque in 1969, and he returned there to live in 1998, Newton said. Identifying himself as an avid skier, he said he leased a condo in Taos last year as he was deciding to run in the 3rd District primary, but now is shifting his residence to Rio Rancho.
Both men have something of a technical background.
Byrd got an agricultural engineering degree from New Mexico State University, going to work as a project engineer for Environeering Inc., an environmental consulting firm based in Texas. When his father died, he took a job at Navajo Refinery, based in Artesia, so he could help manage the family ranch, a job that became full time in 2008 when he quit the refinery and moved to Tucumcari.
Newton grew up in Hannibal, Mo., and got a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and did work toward a doctorate in nuclear physics, both at the Missouri School of Mines (now Missouri University of Science and Technology).
With various companies, he has worked under contract for 20 years with the Central Intelligence Agency and several years also with naval intelligence operations, Newton said. “I was always on the defense side, analyzing and recovering Soviet nuclear weapons,” he said.
He founded Triton Technology Inc. and was among several founders of International Deep Sea Survey Inc. in Seattle, he said. Newton, who is no longer involved with those previous companies, said he has another business “on the back burner,” D-Fence Solutions Inc., which owns intellectual property for technology that can be used in border security.
Why they’re running
Stressing the importance of the small business experience, Newton said, “I decided at 65, it’s time to give back. I have a self-imposed term limit of three two-year terms. I think my experience intersects almost perfectly with the major challenges before us.”
Byrd’s decision to run can be attributed to divine inspiration. “I believe I was called to do it,” he said. “My pastor was giving a sermon on living your faith, and by the end of the service, I pretty much knew what I was being called to do. …
“I’ve always been led by my principles and morals, and tried to do what was right,” Byrd continued. “I want to go to government and represent my values, to do what’s right regardless of outcome.”
Besides balancing the budget and removing bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles to job creation, Byrd talks about the need to change the tax system.
“Taxes have gotten out of control,” he said. “There are so many loopholes. The rich get away with paying a lower tax rate than the middle class. That’s not right.”
He said he’d like to see everyone pay a flat tax rate on the money they earn.
And deficit spending by the federal government is a moral issue to him, Byrd said. Continuing to spend and passing on the responsibility to pay it off to the next generation, he said, “in my mind is wrong.”
He also supports privatizing Social Security, putting education and environmental protection in the hands of the states, and give foreign aid “only (to) those countries that will work with us, not undermine us.”
Newton wants to repeal the 16th amendment, which gives Congress the power to tax incomes, and replace income taxes with a “Fair Tax,” whose website identifies it as a 23 percent national retail tax on the purchase of new goods and services.
He has come up with a proposal to support entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, through royalties paid on certain minerals and elements, along with oil and gas shales (he supports fracking, saying the technology has improved) and some other natural resources extracted from public lands.
Saying that the federal government owns more than half of the land in 13 western states, while less than 5 percent of the land in all other states, Newton said he supports returning more of that western land to state control.
“I’m very focused on border security,” Newton said, saying he’d offer intellectual property from D-Fence Solutions to the federal government for free if the technology is used at border fences to detect motion or tunneling and to repel illegal crossers.
Byrd is married and has two sons, ages 8 and 9, he said.
Newton is divorced, with a son, 34, a retired Air Force pilot, and a daughter, 31, a professional skateboarder with a doctorate in architectural design. ELECTION 2012