WASHINGTON — The Republican primary election for U.S. Senate in New Mexico pits an established candidate against a new contender.
Allen Weh, an Albuquerque businessman and retired Marine colonel, is a former New Mexico Republican Party chairman and veteran GOP player. His opponent in the June 3 primary election is David Clements, a libertarian-leaning lawyer who has served as Doña Ana County’s Republican Party chairman.
Weh earned more delegate votes than Clements at the party’s pre-primary convention on April 30, but Clements – largely unknown statewide before the campaign – made a surprisingly strong showing, garnering 47 percent of the ballots.
In recent Journal interviews, the candidates agreed on many points, but not all. Both men stressed that runaway spending in Washington is one of the biggest issues facing the nation.
Weh, who ran unsuccessfully for New Mexico governor in 2010, also said he is running for the U.S. Senate in part because the Republican Party needed a credible challenger to run against incumbent Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
“I can do this … not everybody can do this,” said Weh, who is chairman of CSI Aviation in Albuquerque. “If nobody credible stands up to run, we have just forfeited the opportunity to make a small element of change.”
Clements, 34, also said he decided to run out of a sense of personal obligation.
“With our national debt, government-run health care and the surveillance state – all of these things are affecting us directly, my generation and it’s going to affect my son’s generation,” Clements said. “I felt like if I don’t step up, I don’t know if I could live with myself.”
Both candidates said they oppose Obamacare, although Weh said he would prefer to fine-tune the existing law – unless Republicans present a better wholesale change.
“That law is a debacle,” Weh said, while pointing out that some provisions – such as allowing young people to stay on their parents insurance until the age 26 – are acceptable. “In my view we have too much obstruction – both insurance obstruction and government obstruction – between the doctor and the patient. The solutions are out there, but it’s up to us to get the right input from the right people.”
Clements said he favors repealing Obamacare entirely.
“I don’t think the federal government has the constitutional authority to run health care,” Clements said. “What we need are solutions to make health care more affordable. The way we do that is to have more choices, consumers compete using their own dollars and have more providers. If we’re going to do that, we have to get away from these exchanges and these government marketplaces that offer very minimal choices.”
Both candidates acknowledged that New Mexico’s economy is struggling.
“Right now, New Mexico’s economies are dependent on the (national) labs and the (military) bases and educational institutions, which for the most part are subsidized by the government,” Clements said. “Unless we allow people to keep more of their own resources, you’re not going to see job growth in the areas that are independent of the labs and bases. I’m in favor of abolishing income tax and replacing it with the consumption tax, lower tax rates across the board and repealing a whole host of regulations at the federal level. I think those things alone would do a lot of good.”
Weh said his experience as a businessman would be an asset to him as a senator.
“I do have a sense of what it takes for business to flourish and to recruit business,” Weh said. “It is not normally in a senator’s portfolio to do economic development. That’s normally for the governor to do and her staff. I’ll do whatever it takes as a sitting senator to help bring business to this state.”
Neither candidate supports a so-called legal “amnesty” for the estimated 12 million people living in the U.S. illegally.
The amnesty issue – often referred to as a “path to citizenship” – has been a key sticking point in current immigration reform debate in Congress. Both candidates said they would support more guest worker permits that would meet the needs of American business while allowing the government to collect taxes from workers who might otherwise skirt the payments.
“Somebody who comes across the border illegally should not be entitled to citizenship ahead of those people; it is just fundamentally not right,” Weh said. “I think the pathway to citizenship should still require getting a place in line by going back to the country of origin and applying.”
Clements agreed, and said faster processing of citizenship applications would help.
“A lot of citizens are upset that when undocumented workers come to the U.S., they don’t pay taxes,” Clements said. With a guest worker program, “at least we could count on some of the revenues we lose.”
Clements, a former assistant district attorney in a U.S.-Mexico border county, also said relaxing federal marijuana laws would help diminish the black market and related violence that threatens to spill over New Mexico’s borders.
“We really need to evaluate the war on drugs with respect to marijuana,” Clements said.
Weh said he opposes “the use marijuana beyond the legally prescribed use of marijuana for medical purposes.”
On the subject of national defense and foreign affairs, Weh said Obama has been a disappointment.
“The problem that has been created is a vacuum created by the absence of strong American leadership,” Weh said. “He’s (Obama) feckless, and he’s weak. The world is like a middle school playground, and if you stand up to a bully, generally the bully doesn’t want to fight, or he gets his butt whipped once, and he leaves you alone. There are a lot of bullies out there, and you’ve got to be strong. If you’re not strong, you pay the price.”
Clements said his approach to foreign policy would be to judge each potential conflict for its direct threat to U.S. security or interests.
“Our taxpayers are paying for intervention in a conflict,” Clements said. “There should be good intelligence gathering … and we should base our decision first and foremost on is there a national security threat to the United States?”
Finally, each man described his approach to the office of U.S. Senate.
“Career politicians are part of the problem,” Weh said. “I’m going on a mission to do something for this state and country. I’m going to listen to people, and if the majority of people are behind an issue, I’m their elected representative, and I’m going to vote for that.”
Clements said Washington desperately needs some fiscal restraint.
We’re spending money we don’t have,” Clements said. “Unless we can put some constraints on our spending and budget, we’re facing a dollar crisis. A weak dollar hurts every program we fund.”