After growing up on an alfalfa farm and graduating from Los Lunas High School, Paul Moya left home to attend Notre Dame and then Harvard University, where he obtained a master’s degree in education policy and management.
Moya, now 30, said he entertained job offers from firms in cities such as Los Angeles, Boston and New York after earning his graduate school diploma in 2013, but he wanted to return home.
“The only place I wanted a job offer was a place nobody was hiring because the economy was broken,” Moya said, referring to New Mexico in a Journal interview about his decision to run as a Democrat in the 2018 1st Congressional District race.
“I moved away for opportunities to grow, but this is and always will be my home … so I created my own path. I created a company because that was my ticket home.”
Moya is CEO of Millennial Labs, a business strategy consulting firm that – according to its website – can “leverage data-driven analytics, real-world case studies, and behavioral economics to solve generational challenges in the workplace, marketplace, and voting booth.”
He has been described by clients as an expert in helping companies engage millennials, defined as people who reach adulthood in the 21st century.
While Moya has not held public office, he served as national president of Future Farmers of America in 2008-2009 and was student body president of his graduate school at Harvard. He said his education and work experience is more relevant to New Mexico, which has long-standing trouble in both areas.
“More political experience isn’t going to solve these problems,” Moya said. “We need economic development and education policy experience. I am deeply entrenched at work in those policy issues every day.”
Moya said he was compelled to run for New Mexico’s open 1st District seat because he wants to help.
“Too many people in this community feel like they don’t have a voice and that no one is fighting for them,” Moya said. “We’re 49th in job growth, we have one of the worst economies, one of the highest rates of childhood poverty and hunger, No. 1 in property crime, one of the highest rates of opioid overdoses. New Mexico is at the crossroads of a broken economy and a struggling education system, and from that intersection the rest of our problems come.”
Moya said that although he respects the field of five other Democratic candidates in the 1st District race, his experience trumps theirs.
“When nobody in the field had significant experience in economic development nor did anyone have a background in K-12 education … I began to look in the mirror and feel this conviction,” Moya said about his decision to run. “It’s a deep sense of responsibility that led me to this place.”
He also said that while he is aligned with mainstream New Mexico Democrats on most major issues, if elected, he would focus heavily on legislation that could improve education and job growth.
“For me, those are the prerequisites,” Moya said. “But the heart and soul of our challenge comes down to those two things: A broken economy and a failing education system that we absolutely have to fix.”
And, he said, the two issues are deeply linked.
“Our students aren’t struggling in school because our teachers aren’t working hard,” Moya said. “We know there are eight hours in a (school) day and nothing helps impact a student’s ability to learn more than the time with those teachers for eight hours.
“But there are 16 other hours in the day, and we know from cognitive development studies and the way that the brain forms that when a child is living in hunger that impacts their ability to learn, when a child is living in poverty it affects their ability to learn, or when a child is living in a home with alcohol or drug dependency or they are getting evicted … that affects their ability to learn.”
He added, “You cannot fix education in a vacuum.”
Moya also said that growing up on a farm in a rural area gives him unique insights into the politically conservative mindset and that he would work with Republicans where possible on issues related to small businesses and taxation, and other economic issues.
“Partisanship and gridlock doesn’t move anything forward for anybody,” Moya said. “We’re 49th in the country for job growth, so we can’t afford for only one side to win. It’s essential that we maintain a willingness to search for common ground.”