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Pelosi touts education on tour of Santa Fe college

SANTA FE – U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in Santa Fe on Friday, fed some fish while promoting the role of community colleges.

She quoted President Barack Obama as saying the two-year schools are the “unsung heroes” in the American higher education system.

“Nothing brings more money to the Treasury than the education of the American people,” Pelosi said after a tour of Santa Fe Community College’s Trades and Advanced Technology Center.

“Talent attracts capital; capital provides the facilities; facilities attract talent,” she said. “It’s just a circle.”

Pelosi lavished praise on what she saw at SFCC – including a hydroponics center where she fed and got splashed by frenzied tilapia. The California Democrat, ushered by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., also checked out a welding program and solar energy innovations that can cool as well as heat buildings. Students and college staffers came in during spring break to show Luján and Pelosi around.

“What an important model for the country,” she said of the center. “I can go back and say all the things we argue for in the budget, they really are working, and here’s one place they’re working in such a forward way – transformational, I would say.”

Asked about Obama’s recent proposal to make community colleges tuition-free for two years, Pelosi said making the plan a reality would be difficult.

“I don’t want to turn this into a political conversation,” she said, “but we have a fight about these kinds of things. You would think that a budget would be a statement of our national values – what’s important to us as a country is where we should put our assets.”

She added that without the “anvil” of college debt hanging over them, students have more choices and “can be entrepreneurial, they can take risks.”

Pelosi and Luján, who was appointed chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in November, also discussed the DCCC’s annual “issues conference” that Luján is hosting in Santa Fe this weekend.

Luján said participants would be talking about standing for “middle-class economics ahead of trickle-down economics,” and both said that voting rights and access to the polls are on the agenda as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic voting-rights march in Selma, Ala.

“The increased involvement of more people in the elective process is the most wholesome thing we can do for our country,” Pelosi said, “but it also slams the use of big money in our politics, and that is what we have to do for our democracy.”

She said the country needs to “have more people see the connection between their lives and the ballot box.”

Pelosi had many good things to say about Luján, saying he’s now known as “Mr. Chairman” in Washington and describing him as a “no-nonsense guy.”

“If he’s suggesting it, people listen,” she said.