The two candidates running for the state House of Representatives from sprawling District 50, stretching from the Santa Fe suburb of Eldorado south to near Belen, come from opposite sides of the political spectrum.
That’s obvious from their social media posts.
Incumbent Democrat Matthew McQueen, running for his second term, is a regular on Twitter, and often uses the forum to rip Republicans and support Democrats and their causes.
In recent days, he has been criticizing GOP legislators for trying to reinstate the death penalty during the ongoing special session. Over the past several months, he has often mocked Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
One tweet from McQueen, a Santa Fe-based attorney who’s running for re-election after winning the seat in 2014, said: “It’s bad that #Trump used charitable money to bribe the Florida Attorney General. IT’S WORSE THAT HE BRIBED THE FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL.”
Meanwhile, Jeremy Tremko, the Republican District candidate and political newcomer, has a campaign Facebook page where he says he has supported Trump “since 2008 when I was in Iraq. I believe he has what it takes to give the military the tools to be successful.”
“I will not support abortion. Not ever!” he said in another post.
Tremko, a freelance drafter and architect who spent nine years in the U.S. Army, and owns a karate school and mixed martial arts gym in Moriarty, also wrote that, after researching the Democratic Party, “I feel like they are trying to force Americans to believe what they want or be fined. Even in some cases be thrown into prison. Let’s Unite and stop the socialist propaganda.”
But in recent interviews, the two candidates found some common ground on economic policy, starting with not being so friendly to big companies like Facebook and Google, and not depending so much on the state’s oil and gas industry.
To help grow the state’s flailing economy, McQueen said the state needs to stop courting big companies like Tesla and Facebook, which is set to break ground on a new data center in Los Lunas with the help of millions in state and local financial incentives, and instead grow the economy by making it easier for people to start a business.
He also said the state should look to promoting tourism and its scenic spaces. “Lets focus on what we already do well and try to focus on attracting people to our state,” McQueen said. “I think we should promote what makes New Mexico a special place.”
Tremko, whose hometown of Moriarty recently said goodbye to Google subsidiary Titan Aerospace after the state had invested nearly $1 million in infrastructure improvement to help the company, said big companies should be offered incentives to come here to create jobs, but with limits.
“Why are we giving tax breaks to these massive companies where they can obviously afford it?” Tremko said. “We need to get our money out of these companies while they’re here, and ensure that they’re putting into the economy and we’re not just taking out of the economy to help them.”
The race got off to a rough start as McQueen challenged Tremko’s candidacy for not having enough valid registered voters signatures on his nominating petition. McQueen maintained that Tremko was one signature short of the required 35.
Secretary of State Brad Winter initially sided with McQueen and took Tremko off the ballot, but, after further review, Winter found that Tremko did have 35 valid signatures. The deadline to put him on the ballot had passed, so Winter asked a state district judge to put Tremko on the ballot.
McQueen filed a complaint in District Court against Tremko and Winter, but Judge David Thomson ruled in Tremko’s favor in March.
While both men agreed slightly on economic development, they differ on how to make changes to the state’s educational system, which is constantly ranked toward the bottom of the nation.
Only about a quarter of New Mexico public school students were considered adequate in English and math last school year, according to standardized test results released by the Public Education Department in August. The scores assesses how well New Mexico students adhere to Common Core standards, which have been adopted by most states.
Tremko said the state should drop Common Core and proposes letting each school district decide what standards they should adopt. “Common Core is kind of kryptonite for the state,” Tremko said. “We need to look at whatever our districts need and let them decide what curriculum they want to use to address their needs, rather than being forced to use Common Core.”
Tremko also proposes keeping students with the same teacher each year so the students don’t have to adjust to a new teacher and the teachers don’t have to figure out where the students left off the previous year.
“By jumping them from teacher to teacher to teacher every single year, they’re getting a fresh new face that doesn’t exactly know what they learned last year,” Tremko said. “I think (keeping the same teacher) should be done all the way up to high school. That way, we’re able to hold the teacher more accountable for the kids.”
McQueen objects to teacher evaluation scores that depend heavily on student test scores.
“I think the current administration has been completely hostile to public educators, and we’re losing people as a result,” McQueen said. “Qualified teachers are retiring rather than going through a process that’s set up on an evaluation that’s tied to the testing.”
McQueen said one way to improve public education would be to get parents more involved in their children’s education, although he concedes that there would be no easy way to get the government to do that. “I truthfully think that you can’t put this all on the schools and the teachers,” he said. “You need to bring parents into the equation.”
On legalizing recreational marijuana, McQueen said his biggest concern is keeping it out of the hands of children and would like to see lawmakers who introduce a legalization bill discuss how they would do that. Otherwise, he said he’s not opposed to adults 21 and over using recreational marijuana.
“As that bill gets introduced year after year, I hope not only does that debate happen, but that people address that,” McQueen said. “It’s not something I do personally or would do personally but, if my other concerns were addressed, I wouldn’t be opposed to that.”
Tremko said he would like to know more about marijuana before making a decision on whether or not it should be legalized for recreational use.
“For me, I have to do a lot more research on it,” Tremko said. “For Colorado, it has been a good economical aspect but, at the same time, it increases the costs the police department has to go through as far as different types of tests they have to do. You don’t have any hard facts about what marijuana truly does to your body. Until I have somebody come up to me and show me hard, proven facts about marijuana, then I can’t really make a decision.”