CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the correct age for candidate Gavin Clarkson.
Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
LAS CRUCES – Voters in the Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District have a wide range of candidates to choose from: a political newcomer, a veteran state representative, a businessman and former mayor, and a New Mexico State University professor who served in the Trump administration.
They’re running for the seat held by fellow Republican Steve Pearce, who is not seeking an eighth term in Congress so he can run for governor.
Two of the candidates are well-known in southern New Mexico political circles.
Yvette Herrell, 54, of Alamogordo has served in the Legislature for eight years and describes herself as “pro-life, pro-business, pro-Second Amendment.” She said her experience as a lawmaker will benefit New Mexicans.
“It’s imperative that you understand the industries, the people, how all of these bills and these mandates and these policies affect individuals, their kids, their businesses,” she said.
Monty Newman, 63, a small-business owner, is a former mayor of Hobbs and a past chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico. His son served in Iraq, and he wants to be a “voice for veterans” and small-business owners.
His top priorities are promoting a strong military and strong borders and creating “jobs and economic prosperity and an opportunity for young people that we have in this state to stay in this state.”
Gavin Clarkson, 49, is an NMSU business professor who served in the U.S. Department of the Interior as deputy assistant secretary for policy for Indian Affairs, where he said his nickname was the “energizer bunny.”
Clarkson is a member of the Choctaw Nation, and his Native name translates to “rabbit who brings thunder.” His top issues are economic development and tax reform with a focus on Indian reservations in the district.
“New Mexico will be better off if the tribal communities are mountains of prosperity rather than cesspools of poverty,” he said.
Clayburn Griffin, 31, is a digital marketing specialist in Lovington who worked on the campaigns of Pearce and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
He said his top priority is creating jobs and economic opportunities through “federal incentives for areas of the country that don’t have economic diversity, places like New Mexico.”
Griffin wants to encourage startups in rural areas to help reduce the brain drain he experienced firsthand.
“I always liked the rural setting in Lovington and the nice, small-town life. I just wished I could stay there,” said Griffin, who left for New York to build his career before returning to start a family with his fiancee in his hometown.
All of the candidates, with the exception of Griffin, solidly support President Donald Trump’s agenda, especially when it comes to the border wall and cracking down on illegal immigration.
For Newman, that includes deporting people who qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
“I don’t view DACA any differently than I view the concept of illegal immigration,” he said.
Herrell is critical of the program’s scope.
“The intent of DACA was never designed as a path to citizenship,” she said.
Clarkson said he would consider a path to residency but not citizenship for “people who are otherwise law-abiding, economically productive and not on social services.”
Griffin is against repealing DACA or the “use of ICE to go after working families and arrest and deport who essentially aren’t criminals or a threat to us.” He said enforcement should target drug trafficking and other crimes on the border.
Midterm elections historically translate into lost seats for the president’s party, and Clarkson said Democrats’ efforts to “flip” the seat in New Mexico inspired him to run.
“Basically, I decided there was a need for the seat to remain in Republican hands and that the current field was going to get clobbered in November,” he said.
Trump’s high approval ratings among Republicans could help candidates who want voters motivated by loyalty to the president to cast ballots, although turnout typically is much lower for primaries.
“I hope that people won’t feel jaded or burned out about how politics has gotten nasty,” Griffin said. “We are an important part of the process. That’s why our Constitution starts out, ‘We the People.’ ”