Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Yvette Herrell says New Mexico needs a conservative voice at the table in Washington, D.C., after two years of an all-Democratic congressional delegation.
She wants to be that voice.
She faces Democratic incumbent Xochitl Torres Small and independent write-in candidate Steve Jones in a contest to represent the 2nd Congressional District, covering the southern half of New Mexico.
Herrell said she looks forward to the rematch with Torres Small in a race that will be among the most watched in the country and is already featuring a barrage of television attack ads by outside groups.
“We went through two years of impeachment trials, Russian collusion – these kinds of things cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” Herrell said. “I think the American people are growing weary of the political circus we see in Washington.”
The 2018 race was decided by roughly 3,700 votes – under 2 percentage points – after the counting of absentee ballots helped turn the tide for Torres Small.
But Herrell won the Republican primary earlier this year – after a bitter race with two other candidates – and is ready to take on Torres Small again.
Gabriel Sanchez, a professor at the University of New Mexico and pollster for Latino Decisions, said Herrell could benefit as turnout in Republican-heavy counties climbs above 2018 levels. She has pitched herself to voters as someone who would be a strong ally of the president.
“A lot of folks who sat things out in 2018 are going to be there if she connects to that enthusiasm,” Sanchez said.
Herrell didn’t participate in televised debates with her Democratic opponent two years ago, but she faced off with Torres Small in debates this time around.
“I am unashamedly pro-God, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business and pro-family,” Herrell told viewers in a debate sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal last month.
Sanchez said Herrell is campaigning more aggressively this year in Doña Ana County, home to Las Cruces, where Torres Small is from. Republicans have also made some gains in registered voters since 2018.
“All of those things make this a tighter race,” Sanchez said.
Passion to serve
In an interview, Herrell, an Alamogordo resident who served eight years as a state representative, said she understands the district and believes that will serve her well if she unseats Torres Small.
“People understand where I am as a leader,” Herrell said. “They know my voting record. They understand I have a passion for serving New Mexicans.”
Herrell, 56, points to her record in the Legislature as an example of issues she would fight for in Congress.
“I’ve always carried bills that were really important for rural communities, such as those involving water rights, private property rights and management of public lands,” she said. “We’re really in a war in our rural communities when it comes to protecting private property rights and water from federal overreach through endangered species and other habitat policies.”
She mentioned the need to come up with legislation to protect agricultural producers from efforts to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf to a wide area of southwestern New Mexico through the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program.
“From growing up in Cloudcroft, I understand how confrontational these policies are, and I watched our forest industry be destroyed because of the spotted owl,” she said. “People don’t seem to get the policies they need in order to be productive in their livelihoods.”
Herrell said she has a strong record of working well with law enforcement, sponsoring legislation to provide law enforcement agencies with additional tools to do their job. Herrell said she would work on similar legislation in Congress at a time when some are calling for the defunding of police.
Fan of free market
Herrell is critical of “Medicare for All” proposals and the Affordable Care Act, which has been struck down in federal District Court but has been kept intact awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m a free market, pro-business person, so I believe we should put health care back in the hands of the private sector,” she said. “When we have competition, it drives the costs down.”
Herrell voiced a need to cut down on “frivolous lawsuits” against the health care industry, which she said drives up costs.
More transparency in health care billing, she said, is also warranted.
“People do not know what the cost of insurance, hospitalizations or surgeries will be,” Herrell said. “We need to work on ensuring there are transparencies, so that policyholders will know what the true costs are.”
Born in Ruidoso, Herrell grew up in the district and is involved in the real estate industry.
She is a member of the Cherokee Nation.
Herrell faced criticism during her 2018 congressional campaign for failing to disclose some financial earnings from real estate deals with the state while a member of the Legislature.
Herrell argued that her father owned the company at issue and that she and her sister were partners in name only. She filed amended financial disclosures.
Propelled by 9/11
Herrell said the 9/11 terrorist attacks motivated her to become involved in politics and government. She served as a volunteer for legislative and congressional campaigns, and was a legislative assistant before her run for the state House.
“I was pro-business, pro-Second Amendment for every single vote,” Herrell said. “I feel I’m well-rounded with the values that are shared throughout the district and obviously throughout the state.”
Dan McKay contributed to this report.