FOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly reported the congresswoman’s bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico. She earned a bachelor of university studies degree, or BUS. As the profile correctly noted, the congresswoman also has a law degree, or J.D., from the school.
WASHINGTON – When Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham ran for Congress two years ago, her campaign focused on jobs and the economy.
Today, as the freshman Democrat campaigns for a second U.S. House term from the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District, she is echoing the same theme.
“I still think that has got to be the priority,” said Lujan Grisham, a former Bernalillo County commissioner and New Mexico health secretary, during a Journal interview in Washington. “During a tough economy, when we’re not investing in job growth, I think we’ve been very successful at protecting and securing and providing new jobs in New Mexico.”
Lujan Grisham, 54, faces Republican Mike Frese, a small-business owner from Corrales, in the Nov. 4 general election. Both candidates are discussing job creation, but Lujan Grisham said she’s got a track record from her first two years in Congress.
Albuquerque’s economy remains dismal compared to some big cities in neighboring states, but Lujan Grisham said she’s worked hard to protect local employment.
She cited as an example her push, along with New Mexico’s U.S. senators, to preserve the Operationally Responsive Space program at Kirtland Air Force base.
The Operationally Responsive Space Office, or ORS, was set up at Kirtland in May 2007 to develop small, less-expensive satellites that can be of immediate use to combat commanders. Congressional appropriators twice tried to eliminate funding for the program, but New Mexico’s delegation managed to keep it in the federal budget.
“That’s 150 jobs and that was a program being eliminated,” Lujan Grisham said. “We saved the ORS with an amendment for $10 million to continue that program.”
She also cited a $16.25 million grant she helped secure from the Department of Defense to rebuild Wherry Elementary School, located next to Kirtland Air Force Base. She said the appropriation not only improved the educational climate for youngsters, but also would create several hundred construction jobs.
Lujan Grisham even mentioned 57 medical transcriptionist jobs she said she pushed University of New Mexico Hospital officials to retain on campus instead of outsourcing to another state.
“It’s not thousands of jobs but it is meaningful,” Lujan Grisham said. “They are not job losses, and that’s really important. It’s easy for people to lose sight of, but we are doing a lot and I really, really believe the best thing we can be doing for New Mexico is getting people jobs.”
Lujan Grisham said she has asked her staff to focus their attention on taking advantage of federal programs and grants that help produce or protect jobs.
“There is not a single investment that looks like it won’t produce jobs that we haven’t tried to be directly involved in,” she added.
While jobs in New Mexico are a priority, Lujan Grisham said she’s also focused on national issues.
Lujan Grisham, who was raised in Santa Fe and now lives in Albuquerque when she is not in Washington, supports gay marriage and abortion rights.
She has been an outspoken supporter of a so-called “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants living in the country illegally. She supports the DREAM Act and changing federal law to give immigrant children who show up at the border fleeing violence in Central America more – not fewer – due process protections.
“I’m not in agreement that minimizing the due-process requirement in the law gives you a better outcome,” Lujan Grisham told the Journal in July. “It doesn’t solve the problem, which is why you need more thoughtful proposals. I worry that that’s not the way this country ought to be treating unaccompanied minors who have found their way into this country.”
The congresswoman also said that, if re-elected, she would push for some changes in the Affordable Care Act, which she supported. Lujan Grisham said Congress should consider raising reimbursement rates for Medicare providers under the law, also known as Obamacare.
“Their entire revenue comes from Medicaid, so they’re caught and their profit margins are really thin,” she said, adding that home health-care providers are particularly hard hit. “Some of those folks might go under.”
She also said the health law should include automatic re-enrollment, which is not currently and that it should include more small-business protections.
“The Affordable Care Act is intended to make it affordable so that you are covered and I don’t know that we’re at affordability,” she said.
Early in her freshman term, Lujan Grisham told the Journal she was discouraged by the rancor and deep partisanship infecting the Republican-led House chamber. But as her first term came to a close, she sounded a more optimistic theme.
“I am disappointed about the way we behave in Congress still, but I believe there is a path forward – I really do,” she said. “We have to develop relationships. My freshman class has been very clear that we want a different Congress and with 80-plus (freshman members) strong we can create a new voice.”