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Doing right for people of NM

Tom Udall. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Tom Udall. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

My guiding principle has always been to do what’s right for the people of New Mexico.

That value guided me as New Mexico’s attorney general, when I prosecuted corrupt politicians in my own party and cracked down on domestic violence offenders and drunken drivers. And it’s the principle I follow today as your U.S. senator.

In the Senate, that approach has enabled me to get things done, even at a time when partisanship in Congress has blocked action at almost every turn.

I was honored to work with Jessey Baca from Albuquerque’s South Valley, one of hundreds of veterans suffering from debilitating illnesses after breathing toxic fumes from huge open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military and the Department of Veterans Affairs had denied that the practice of incinerating everything from Humvees to human waste was to blame. And Jessey came to me searching for a way to help his fellow service members, who were sick but afraid to speak up for fear it would hurt their careers.

Together, we took on the VA, and I wrote legislation with a Republican senator to create a burn pit registry, similar to one created for Agent Orange after the Vietnam War. Despite gridlock in Congress, we got the bill passed and signed into law – bringing us one step closer to a cure for Jessey and many others.

The burn pit registry is just one example of how I have stood up to get things done for New Mexico.

When we learned that the VA was covering up a scheduling scandal, I was the first member of New Mexico’s delegation to speak out for transparency and accountability at the VA. And when the federal government tried to take $26 million of New Mexico’s royalties from oil and gas development, I stood up to the Obama administration and got it back.

I trace my independence and willingness to work hard and persevere in the face of challenge back to my family. My roots in New Mexico and the Southwest are deep. My grandmother Louise Lee was born in Luna, N.M., during territorial days and was part of a ranching family in what is now Catron County. Her family used to drive cattle down the White Mountains to the railroad in Magdalena.

Today, one of the biggest challenges New Mexico families face is that there aren’t enough jobs. When it comes to the economy, I’m focused on fighting for our national laboratories and military bases, which employ thousands of people and sustain thousands more jobs across our state. I was proud to fight to keep Cannon Air Force Base open. Now it’s stronger than ever and ranked the 10th best base for airmen by the Air Force Times.

I’ll stand up to anybody who wants to cut jobs at our labs and bases. I’ve blocked efforts to cut funding for vital national security missions at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories. Funding for Los Alamos is now stable. And funding and hiring at Sandia have risen steadily.

While federal funding is critical to our state, we need balance in our economy and to create high-paying jobs of the future. One of the most common things I hear from our researchers and business leaders is that we could unlock the potential for high-tech growth by improving the Department of Energy’s technology transfer program.

That’s why I’m pushing for a bill I wrote with the input of New Mexico business leaders to help researchers get their cutting-edge technology from the lab bench to the marketplace.

But that’s only one step. Energy development is another unprecedented opportunity for New Mexico and our nation. We need to “do it all and do it right” – oil and gas are booming in New Mexico, providing millions of dollars for education. And with policies that encourage the production of clean energy, we can create a clean energy economy that leads the world in producing the jobs of the future.

We also must ensure that our workforce is well-trained and can fill new high-tech jobs. I’m pushing to improve education from kindergarten through college – particularly science, technology, engineering and math education, and workforce training.

And we need to make common-sense investments in our families. Families across New Mexico tell me they want a fair shot at getting ahead. It’s wrong that women in New Mexico – many of whom are the primary breadwinners in their families – are still making 80 cents to every dollar men make.

The first law I worked to pass in the U.S. Senate was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gave working women more tools to combat unequal pay. But the gender gap still costs New Mexico women and families thousands of dollars a year. I’ve pushed for the Paycheck Fairness Act and for an increase in the federal minimum wage to ensure women can make equal pay for equal work, and help families make enough to pay the bills and save to get ahead.

Standing up for New Mexico means standing up for our rural communities, which are a vital part of our heritage. Families want their kids to be able to find a job and raise a family at home. We can’t keep our rural communities strong unless they have the infrastructure to sustain and attract new businesses – from water to health care to information technology.

I’ve fought for funding to bring more doctors and nurses to our rural communities; to extend broadband Internet to all of New Mexico, and to repair and expand roads and water projects.

I’m proud of the work I’ve been able to accomplish for New Mexico, and I have been honored to work for you in the United States Senate.

Addressing serious issues requires a commitment to bipartisanship and perseverance. It’s this kind of work I’m privileged and proud to be a part of. And I humbly ask for your vote, so we can keep putting New Mexico first.

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