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Hopefuls spar over health care, fossil fuels

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A crowded field of candidates for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District discussed the pandemic, a struggling state economy and the effect of dark money in a televised debate Sunday.

The debate, co-sponsored by KOAT and the Albuquerque Journal, featured seven candidates for the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Ben Ray Luján in a seat that has not had a Republican representative in more than two decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 265 New Mexicans and put thousands more out of work, dominated much of the debate. Candidates were specifically asked how they would assist the Navajo Nation, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez recently said that aid from the federal government had been slow to arrive.

Many candidates said the overall infrastructure of the Navajo Nation, in which 40% of people do not have running water, needs to be addressed to decrease the number of cases.

“What the Navajo Nation is facing is really just a culmination of historic failure of the United States,” Santa Fe attorney Teresa Leger Fernandez said.

Former CIA operative Valerie Plame said red tape from the federal government needs to be removed to better help the Navajo people.

They also discussed the wider effects of the pandemic on New Mexico.

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the state in March, more than 139,000 claims for unemployment benefits have been filed.

State Rep. Joseph Sanchez said jobs at Los Alamos National Laboratory and corporations such as Intel need to be protected, because many northern New Mexicans rely on those entities for work.

Environmental attorney Kyle Tisdel, meanwhile, criticized the federal government’s stimulus plan for providing too much relief to corporations compared with small businesses.

As the debate progressed, candidates began to launch attacks at one another more frequently, especially toward Leger Fernandez, who recently came under fire for not denouncing support she has received from so-called dark-money groups.

John Blair, who most recently served as New Mexico’s deputy secretary of state, denounced outside spending in New Mexico elections.

“I feel that Teresa has to live up to the values of our Democratic Party and call for these ads to be brought down immediately,” he said.

Leger Fernandez responded by highlighting her endorsement by groups such as Emily’s List and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and said dark-money groups do not make up the bulk of her supporters.

“The majority of my campaign support is coming from New Mexico,” she said.

Other candidates later denounced outside spending in New Mexico’s elections.

On the issues, candidates were divided on two topics – health care and fossil fuels.

New Mexico’s government relies heavily on oil and natural gas for its revenue, and historically low oil prices have brought into question the health of the state’s economy.

In light of this, some candidates said the state needs to transition to renewable resources as a response, to become less reliant on fossil fuels.

“New Mexico has operated as an energy colony for big oil for generations,” Tisdel said.

First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna said he opposes the Green New Deal, a plan by some representatives to tackle climate change, because of the negative effects to New Mexico’s oil-based economy.

Sanchez, who serves on the state’s House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said switching from oil to renewable energy could have negative consequences if done too quickly.

“Oil and gas is important, but we have to phase out over a reasonable amount of time, (you) can’t just flip a switch,” he said.

And although all candidates said health care needs to be more available, they differed over how much the federal government should be involved.

Serna said he wants to expand Americans’ access to health care but does not support “Medicare for All” because it’s not workable.

Sandoval County Treasurer Laura Montoya also spoke out against Medicare for All, because, she said, it would hurt small businesses in the state.

“Medicare for All has a lot of problems,” she said.

Plame, Leger Fernandez and environmental attorney Kyle Tisdel all said they supported Medicare for All, although Plame added that she would like a transition period.

Television ads in support of Plame and Leger Fernandez ran before and during the debate.

The candidates will face off in the state’s primary election on June 2.

The debate can be viewed on KOAT and the Journal’s website.

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