Candidates for NM House District 38 answer questions at forum 092120
By Mary Alice Murphy
The three candidates for New Mexico House District 38 are incumbent Rebecca Dow, Republican; Karen Whitlock, Democrat; and Libertarian William Kinney.
Each candidate began with an opening statement.
First was incumbent Dow. "I'm Rebecca Dow, your representative for House district 38." She gave a brief history of her life as a child moving with her family to New Mexico, then moving away for college, but coming back to visit after getting married and starting a family. "I saw my home in a different light with children not receiving the services they needed." She and her husband quit "our big-city jobs and came back to Sierra County, where we started a non-profit to address early childhood. I believe if we prepare our children early they can thrive as adults. Yet children cannot thrive if their families don't have a job, if their homes and neighborhoods are not safe, their health and developmental needs must be met, and their educational experiences have to prepare them for the real world.
"We the people know how to fix things," she continued, "but too often the people in Santa Fe have no understanding of how their actions impact our daily lives. I ran to change that. My role as your state representative is not to be an expert on every subject, but rather to be your voice and your representative in Santa Fe. I am proud to be an American and I believe our U.S. Constitution was the best document ever written. It defines the liberties and rights for the world's freest, most prosperous nation. I will not vote for a bill that is contrary to the Constitution or that restricts the liberties and rights of law-abiding citizens. You have allowed me to serve you for two terms and with the pandemic and the resulting economic hardships, I am ready to continue to be your voice for District 38 and rural New Mexico and I look forward to this forum, and I ask for your vote."
Libertarian candidate William Kinney introduced himself by saying that he has been in several places in southern New Mexico. "My wife grew up in and outside Silver City. We have been traveling a lot since retirement, but New Mexico is our home. I have found the communities in southern New Mexico and the people in them to be open, honest and caring. My focus as a Libertarian is to turn to other alternatives first before going to the government as an answer to everything. Quite often, and we have seen this in our state, government does not think of the long-term consequences of their decisions. Quite often, we hurt the people our legislation is trying to help. I want to encourage as much local control of education as possible. I think school vouchers are a great idea so parents can choose the kinds of educational opportunities they want for their children, and not necessarily the same thing as in Albuquerque. I think we need to reduce a lot of the legislative impediments to small business. As our economy opens up again, I would like to see vibrant small businesses and not be dominated by the big box stores. I think local answers are always better."
After thanking the Daily Press for holding the forum, as did the others, Democratic candidate Karen Whitlock introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Karen Whitlock, and I'm running for House District 38. I came to Silver City in the late 1990s on a business trip from Phoenix, where I was working for Phelps Dodge. I fell in love with Grant County and kept trying to get back here on business trips. In 2000, I was hired for a job at Tyrone Mine and I moved here and met my husband here. He's Mark Whitlock, a mining engineer, with Freeport. We live in Mimbres. I went to Western (New Mexico University) and graduated with a master's degree in social work. I now teach at Western as an adjunct professor in the social work program. I've had internships and volunteered with the Grant County Community Health Council, Healthy Kids, Health Communities and other school-based programs. I'm on the board for the Community Partnership for Children in Grant County, and I now advocate at the Santa Fe Legislature for the National Association of Social Workers, the New Mexico Chapter. I advocate for social workers acting in underserved communities. I love hiking in the Gila and kayaying and sailing on Elephant Butte and tubing and rafting down the Rio Grande. We have some amazing resources in District 38, and we need to keep those gems for all New Mexicans to use and appreciate. I'm running to work for everyday working New Mexicans and small business. I'm running because I believe we owe it to our children to get a good education. I believe that climate change is an existential threat to our lives, and I believe that social justice is important for New Mexicans. In short, I support New Mexico values."
The first question from the audience asked: "What in this race sets you apart?"
Whitlock replied that she supports education, health care and small business. "And I'll always support protections for pre-existing conditions. Unlike my opponent, Rebecca Dow, who voted against them with the budget this year, I will support education and teacher raises. If I'm elected, I will support rural hospitals. Rep. Dow voted against the budget, which gave funding to those rural hospitals. I would have supported emergency loans to small businesses. Dow did not support them. I believe that sets me apart."
Kinney noted that he believed his policies are not a great deal different from Dow's. "Ms. Whitlock, as a typical Democrat, seems to think government is the always best answer. The Public Education Department doesn't teach anyone; it's always done by the local schools, where teachers who live in the area could be paid what is enough locally. Local is always better. I don't think stronger state government, with more taxes, more programs, is ever going to solve anything. Most of the time we're revising programs that have failed. If they failed, maybe we should not have those programs. The Republican representing us now is a good person. She is trying hard and representing us well. She is listening to people and she's asking the right questions. The only difference I might have with Mrs. Dow is that we don't need new laws, new programs. We need to meet on a local basis to solve local issues locally."
Dow said what sets her apart from her opponents is that she is the incumbent and has served for four years and has experience as a law maker. "What I learned right away was that the title of a bill doesn't necessarily make good law. I believe when people are looking for someone to represent them effectively, they are looking for someone who analyzes bills and determines how those laws apply to us in everyday life. And has the courage to make amendments and not just pass the bills because they have a good title. If a 300-page bill, has 10 pages that are absolutely not acceptable to the district, I'll have to vote against it. Another thing that sets me apart is that I am serving the community that raised me. When I get a call from a veteran in my community, they were my high school teacher. I care very deeply for Sierra County. It's my home, it's where I raised my children. I care very deeply for what happens to District 38. Something that sets me apart from at least one of my opponents is that I make decisions deliberately, and I prepare for those decisions. I don't vote straight party. And I don't take orders from out-of-town special interest groups. And I certainly don't take orders from Santa Fe. And I sign the front of checks, not just the back."
The first question from the audience was: Other than capital oulay, what do you do or plan to do for municipalities in your distric.
Kinney answered first. "The primary thing, once the state is off lockdown, is our communities need to reopen and become vital. I know Silver City, where my brother-in-law has lived for 40 years, and T or C were robust, but are fading with lots of doors closed. I think the state should be removing impediments to small businesses and letting local people come up with solutions to their own problems. Small businesses have been the key to past recoveries. We don't need to rely on Walmart to provide all the jobs. We have small businesses that need to reopen and be run by local people."
Dow said: "To address the needs of municipalities, which are vast, I think the first thing we have to do to move forward is to have comprehensive tax reform. Hold harmless has not held them harmless. Rather, it is harming them. We have to lower the gross receipts tax and get rid of loopholes. Overall, the taxes would be lower with comprehensive tax reform, but the receipts would stabilize our municipalities. Both the New Mexico Municipal League and the New Mexico Association of Counties are begging for comprehensive tax reform. Last year, we passed one of the highest budgets ever in our history, spent the biggest surplus we've ever had, passed the highest tax increase ever, while we required municipalities to cut their budgets. It's not OK. I'll continue to be an advocate for municipalities. One of the things we had to do was allow the municipalities flexibility in how they spend the taxes they raise. Before the flexibility, the taxes were categorized, so letting the local communities spend as they see fit, instead of having to be constrained by state law is what I support. Listen to our municipalities, listen to our counties, listen to the folks on the hospital board and be a voice and an advocate. I'm proud of being the co-sponsor in launching the Rural Caucus. We get together and discuss what issues impact rural counties. Together, we have a larger voice, and we've been able to tackle some of those bills that would have a positive impact on metropolitan areas, but a negative one in rural communities. And we've been able to get in the amendments we need and to have bills taken off the table that would do harm."
Whitlock said she initially wants to help municipalities get over COVID. "Many of them are facing a deficit. I also agree they need more flexibility in how they spend their money. We need to focus on what rural areas need. We have small businesses we need to support. We need to recruit small businesses to our rural areas, based on our assets, like the Gila National Forest and Elephant Butte. We need to help our municipalities promote them and give help and support to the small business that support them, so they start and thrive."
The next question was: "What is your opinion on tapping into the Land Grant Permanent Fund to support early childhood education?"
Whitlock said: "The Land Grant Permanent Fund is an emergency fund for education. We are 50th in the nation in education, and we're in the middle of a pandemic. We have the second largest Permanent Fund in the country. If this isn't an emergency situation we're in, one does not exist. It will not cost the taxpayer a single penny. The Legislature can turn the issue over to the voters to decide. That would be my decision, as a legislator, to let the voters decide."
Dow said she differs from her opponent, Karen Whitlock. "The permanent fund is not for emergencies. It is a large permanent fund and thank goodness it is. Those dollars come from extractive and renewable land use. It's responsible for almost entirely our educational fund. We have to preserve it to provide for our current beneficiaries. All the pre-K-12, the universities and some other special schools are the beneficiaries and they are not funded enough. It would not be beneficial to have more beneficiaries. The definition of early childhood is pre-K through third grade. There's already a lot of money that goes to early childhood from the permanent fund through the existing beneficiaries. I was proud to vote for the new Early Childhood permanent fund. We don't even know where our district dollars go now. I co-sponsored with Democrat Senator Candelaria that was unanimously passed in the House and in the Senate and signed by the governor—the online education budget report, so by next year, we will know online where the dollars go. I will treat your dollars the way I treat my dollars, so we know where the dollars are spent, so we can be strategic on where the investments go. I do think we could increase a bit the amount of funding from the permanent fund to the current beneficiaries. I will continue to support early childhood."
Kinney said the permanent fund issue is complicated with a lot of different opinions. "Throwing money after a situation that already is not working with the money they have is just throwing good money after bad. The problems we are having with education is that it's one size-fits-all. In rural areas, a lot of the kids are more interested in learning about finances, biology and chemistry if they're going to be ranchers. The ones in the large cities may be planning to go to college. I think the state should let local school boards set payrolls and expenditures and let local people decide what kind of education their kids want and not have it be mandated by someone in Santa Fe who seems to think they know better than we do what we want. Some kids of my friends are not being prepared for what they will do after high school. I would not support using additional funding from the permanent fund."
Geoffrey Plant of the Daily Press asked: If you were elected to the Legislature would you work to change the statute for public health orders and how would you navigate the state through the rest of the pandemic.
Dow acknowledged that the governor was handed a difficult situation. A 1973 law gave full authority to the Department of Health and the governor to determine a health emergency. "Normally, the legislative body passes a bill, the governor signs it and it goes through a judicial review. This is the first time under that 1973 law that a health emergency has been declared. The governor is the only one who can call the health emergency, which has to be renewed every 30 days, and the governor is the only one who can declare an end to the pandemic. There is no role for the Senate or the House nor a role for the judicial branch. I believe I have a mandate to amend that bill. Too often bills are passed, and we don't know until they are implemented whether they need amendments, but I don't believe anyone who passed that bill intended for only one branch of the government to have that much autonomy or authority over our personal lives, over our livelihoods for a period of more than six months. I think there should be an amendment with timelines and a requirement to check back in with the Legislature on renewals. Right now, when a health order expires is up to her, when it is renewed is up to her and there is no limit to that."
Whitlock congratulated the governor for a yeoman's work in handling the pandemic. "It is a moving target. And it's not only the 1973 law, but it's part of the New Mexico Constitution that has given the power to the governor to handle this. Initially she held the state together, then the pandemic took off in the northwestern area and has spread in other areas and not spread in others. She has more regionalized her approach as the pandemic has gone on. For example, the schools in the rural areas have been allowed to decide whether to reopen or remain online. That has, I think, been a good approach. I don't think she has overstepped her bounds. She's slowly reopening as we feel it is safe. It's a moving target. It's a science-based approach. I would not support changes to the law. I think it's fine as it is."
Kinney said there are no experts on this disease in the country. "We're making it up as we go. Mistakes have been made. My only issue with the governor is there are 1,500 people per square mile in Santa Fe and 2.9 people per square mile in T or C. She should have allowed people in local areas to make their own decisions. Living in Mimbres, we knew where our neighbors were going, where they've been and how much sanitizer they were using. We could have handled it ourselves. Why is it only Walmart that can be clean enough for people to shop there? Are small stores too stupid to keep a place clean? NO! We don't need a granddaddy or a grandmother to tell us what to do. Our own communities can make those decisions with people we know and trust. I think there should be a review of that law. No one knew what this pandemic would be like."
New Mexico is one of the states in the union that has a law outlawing abortion. Of course, it was superseded by the Supreme Court decision, Roe versus Wade. Would you support repealing New Mexico's law forbidding abortion?
Kinney said the law is controversial, with different religious beliefs entering into the equation. "My opinion is that a woman should decide whether she wants to carry a child or not. There are various reasons why that may or may not be the case. However, if a family makes the decision and God decides it is the wrong decision, we will pay in the afterlife. Laws in this country should all be ones that we agree on, and that's one that we don't. I think they should be taken on a case-by-case basis, as we do now. I don't think we need to change the law. A government is supposed to look at its citizens equally. We don't have agreement on the medical science about whether it is a human or not. It's never a pleasant situation. It's about whether a person wants to deal with the aspects of an unwanted child or an ill child. I don't think it should be a government decision. It should be a family decision. I don't want to see the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I don't think the law in New Mexico should be changed. One nice thing about this country is if you don't like what you see in your state, you can move somewhere else."
Whitlock said she wanted to take a moment to honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her life of advocacy for women. "Women have rights and privileges that we might never have had without Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I feel there is a need to overturn the 1969 New Mexico law outlawing abortion. It needs to be decided by the family and their doctor. I don't know anyone who has had an abortion that it wasn't a gut-wrenching decision. I don't think government should be involved. Reproductive decisions should not be regulated by the state."
Dow said it was interesting that it was the one place where her opponent believes there should be no state regulation. "We regulate eyebrow threading in this state. We regulate who can use a tanning bed. Yet, my opponent said we should not regulate abortion for a healthy baby. I'm a teen mom. I was 19; I was poor; and I was on a college scholarship. I had every reason to abort my daughter, who just finished her master's degree at Western. In the state where I was living, I was so glad I had the chance to have an ultrasound. What I saw was a heartbeat. There is agreed upon science on this issue. A human being is planted in the mother's womb and has a unique DNA and has a separate heartbeat. We don't even have informed consent in New Mexico. We have to uphold Roe versus Wade, but what we can do in New Mexico is save a baby that is aborted, but is alive outside the mother's womb, and there is no risk to the mother or the child. It happens every day in New Mexico. People travel from all over the world to get elective abortions for their healthy babies in the second and third trimester, because we allow the most egregious abortions in the United States. I have sponsored and will continue to sponsor a bill on informed consent. That means a woman who finds herself pregnant in New Mexico could find out what services are available to them, where they could get an abortion, or find out about the vast resources we have from housing to home visiting and also how their baby can be adopted into a healthy home. I would not support overturning abortion as it was in House Bill 51 because it also repeals a physician's right to refuse because of conscientious objection to performing an abortion."
Seibel asked for more clarification in the case that Roe v. Wade was overturned. Dow said she would have to see what the proposals were.
Next question: Do you support the Health Security Act that will provide health care to 99 percent of New Mexicans and save millions of dollars? If not, why not?
Dow said: "We have heard several proposals for the proposed Act. And there are still so many scenarios. It could cost us $8 billion a year or it could generate revenue. The things that were glaring to me were that all private health care would go away and the risk pool would go away and we would have just a state plan. We would be the first in the nation to take this on. I absolutely agree that we need to address health care, but I'm not sure we're in the position to take the risks of this bill. This is one of the most ambitious bills I've ever seen. I was pleased that the committee chair Rep. Debbie Armstrong suggested we create a task force rather than passing this bill in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a budget crisis, in the middle of how to rebuild the economy, in the middle of how we're going to get people and families back to work. A task force will look into the scenarios, which may or may not work."
Kinney said he didn't think he could comment any better than Dow did. "As a layman, I'm not familiar enough or privy to the discussions. I would think that anything that takes decisions away from individuals and small communities is probably not a good idea. Not having read it, I don't feel I can give a clear answer."
Whitlock said she is in support of the Health Security Act and that she had attended the Health and Human Services hearing that Dow referred to. "There is a little bit of confusion. There are a whole lot of scenarios and there are things that need to be worked out. But it would provide health care to 99 percent of New Mexico. Private insurance would not go away. It would be reduced to a supplementary role for vision and dental care. I do support a task force. Federal retirees would retain their coverage and the Indian Health Service would still be maintained. But you could choose whether to join or not. There are still some private insurances out there. If a company is large enough to self-insure and could still maintain, that is possible. I am a strong supporter of the Health Security Act and it would provide health care for all of New Mexicans."
Next question: What jobs have you directly created and how have you supported jobs in this district?
Whitlock said as a social worker, she has helped create jobs. "We need more people getting the training. We have a large need for social workers. We need increased behavioral health care and we are looking to model a program like Hidalgo Medical Services, which would provide jobs. We, as social workers, supported the Outdoor Recreation Act that will help people on their path to prosperity."
Kinney said he is now a retiree. "I owned my own business and created jobs, not in New Mexico. But most of the job owners I know now say they would be better off if there were less government restrictions on their business. I don't think government needs, as Rebecca said earlier, to be involved in taking care of eyebrows. People should be encouraged to start new businesses. We need to cut back regulations. Individuals don't need Santa Fe telling them what to do."
Dow said in 1999, she opened the non-profit AppleTree Educational Center in Truth or Consequences. "Similar to my opponent, I served as executive director, as she does now on a non-profit. Through that non-profit, we created jobs in early childhood. They obtained their GED, and even their associate's and bachelor's degrees. I have been instrumental in creating more than 50 full-time jobs and staff in T or C, thanks to the non-profits, in which I no longer have any ownership or participation. There are now more than 30 people working in the schools of T or C, thanks to their degrees obtained while working in the non-profits. Maybe they got their degree in early childhood, maybe in social work, maybe in nursing. The secondary jobs I've never counted, but I served on the Sierra County Economic Development Board and we brought in jobs. Special interest groups that support Karen Whitlock fought to kill jobs by closing down the mines in Grant County. I fought hard to save those 1,300 jobs and the 3,000 secondary jobs. Unfortunately, COVID has caused the price of copper to go down, but many of those jobs will return. And it might not have happened if I hadn't fought so hard for those jobs."
Question from Plant on behalf of the newspaper. Would you support a bill, and seek bi-partisan support, for recreational marijuana, which has been touted that it will create jobs and potentially lessen the number of incarcerations?
Kinney said he believed all drugs should be decriminalized for competent adults. "I think those folks who have conditions where medical grade marijuana is a boon should be able to use it. It's odd that that the federal government calls it an illegal drug. I think a lot more research would be good. I think CBD is good, sometimes better than medical marijuana. I think it should be a decision between a person and his or her doctor. Why should someone in Washington or Santa Fe decide what's best for them? The more the state is involved, the higher the costs. Let individuals make their own decisions."
Dow began her answer by pointing out medical marijuana and CBD are legal in New Mexico. "I have voted to expand what medical marijuana can be used for. I also voted to allow people from out-of-state to buy it here in New Mexico. It brings revenue. I have been a supporter of hemp and hemp production and manufacturing and adding them to the different economic incentive programs. So, what's difficult about the recreational marijuana bill is it needs to be bi-partisan and we need to work on it in the interim session. When the bill came up for a hearing, the hundreds of pages, I was on page 33 and I already had lots of questions. I'm very aware of the complicated mess we have made with our state liquor laws. And the structure of the recreational marijuana is exactly the same as our liquor laws. It would limit who could sell and would create a monopoly for those who could sell. It would allow them to be transferred and sold, rather than licensed. It had huge sections on changes in criminal law, including expunging records of offenders. But in the little time we were given to read before voting, I couldn't determine whose records would be expunged. People knew at the time of committing a crime that it was wrong; it's about their intent when they committed the crime. It shouldn't be just a way to find more taxes for New Mexico to create more and bigger government."
Whitlock said she is a strong supporter of legalizing cannabis. "I realize there were some issues with the last bill. But I do also support the social justice reform. Users are not the problem. It's a racist policy for putting people in jail for using marijuana. I support the decriminalization of all drugs. I think people of a legal age have the right to make those decisions. However, they don't have the right to drive a car and hurt people. I've been close to people who have had cancer who have found medical marijuana helpful. People have had trouble getting access to it. We need to expand medical marijuana. I have no trouble taxing it and making money for our economy."
Next question: An environmental lawyer in Santa Fe introduced two bills that would have affected our mines here in Grant County. Luckily, they didn't come to a vote in the House. If they had, how would you have voted?
Whitlock said she supports the mines, "but we have to protect the waters we drink in our communities. As a person who worked in the environmental department at the mines, I support strong environmental laws. I would have supported the bills."
Dow said she did not support the bills. "There were significant flaws in the bills. There are multiple ways for the mines to set aside money for reclamation. And by the way, Whitlock is not just an advocate at the legislative session, she is a paid lobbyist for social workers. The titles of the bills impacting the mines sounded good, but they were bad, flawed bills."
Kinney said he did not have much to add. "The state is dependent a lot on extractive industries. There are a lot of good people with strong opinions. The bills may have been well-intentioned, but if you don't think ahead, the consequences won't be good. I'm happy the bills died. We, in New Mexico, should work harder at broadening the economy, so as not to be as dependent on the extractive industries."
Next question: Do you believe climate change has arrived? And how do we as fast as possible move away from fossil fuels in a state that is as dependent on them as New Mexico is?
Dow said there is no question that climate change is occurring. "We need to use technology to create the cleanest fuel possible. Climate change is global. Therefore, we need a global solution. New Mexico shouldn't be trying to lead with our huge dependence on fossil fuels and no economic alternative at this time. For renewables, we need the transmission facilities and storage to get it where it needs to go. We would still need fossil fuels. If we stopped using plastic, half the medical equipment we use on a regular basis would be gone tomorrow. I think we should do as much as quickly as we can."
Whitlock said she wanted to be very clear. "I am a lobbyist for the National Association of Social Workers, New Mexico chapter. I had nothing to do with the bills on the mines. I don't lobby for environmental issues for anyone. I'm glad to hear my opponent say that climate change is real. We have to move as rapidly as we can to renewable green energy and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. That is very important. 30 percent of our state economy is directly dependent on the oil and gas industry. We have to diversify our economy. Legalizing cannabis is a very important way to raise money for our state revenue. But I am a strong believer in climate change."
Kinney said fast changes can't be made. "The technology for green energy doesn't exist yet. It's not economical. This problem will be solved at some point, and it won't be solved by anyone in government. It will be solved by someone in some company. We'll have to wait for that innovation to come up, so we can economically and feasibly develop other forms of energy. Although I'm not a big fan of nuclear energy, it seems to be one of the cleanest and safest. Government cannot make a law soon that will change anything. We will have to allow industry to do it."
Plant asked: I want to turn to the Gila Diversion and the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity which was tasked with capturing 14,000 acre-feet of Gila River water, allocated to the four counties, of Grant, Luna, Hidalgo and Catron in the Arizona Water Settlements Act. Recently, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission halted the project and has tried to re-task the entity, which is made up largely of agricultural interests, as a water planning group, in hopes the $70 million remaining in the New Mexico Unit Fund can be spent on projects in the four-county region. Do you support the re-tasking of the group or as some legislators have suggested replacing the group with a more diversified group of interests?
[Author's Note: The Arizona Water Settlements Act stipulates the formation of a Southwest New Mexico Water Planning Group. The New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity is a direct successor of the original unsuccessful SWNMWPG through an interim Gila-San Francisco Water Commission, which turned over its authority to the NM CAP Entity. So it is already a water planning group.]
Whitlock said she believes the New Mexico CAP Entity will try to sell Gila River water. "I do not support a Gila River diversion and I do not support selling the water. In fact, part of the reason the diversion died was because they were so incompetent in doing their business. We need to get out of the CAP Entity, and we need to get a regional, local small group of rural areas that determine their own water usage"
Dow said: "I think when Karen described a local, regional small group that is directly impacted by the use of this water, she just described the New Mexico CAP Entity. There was a federal lawsuit. There was a federal settlement. The area won water rights to 14,000 acre-feet of water. We already have diversions on the Gila River. They are irrigation ditches. There are two lakes on the Gila. The water is used by members of New Mexico CAP Entity for their livelihoods. First, we have to start with the facts. Like Mr. Kinney, I support local decision-making. Not sure why there are so many bills in the House that are laying into a federal lawsuit and settlement that gave the decision-making authority to a diverse group of local community members. They are from the counties that should benefit from the water. I do support using that $70 million to get the water back and use it for water planning. I do support watershed restoration. But also, what diverts water from the river waters your lawn, flushes your toilet, so I believe there have been clichés around 'No dam diversion' that sets aside reality and brings rhetoric to the discussion. We have to figure out how to keep New Mexico water in New Mexico and how to have it best benefit the local communities. And I think we can mutually preserve our natural beauty and resources, while beneficially using that water."
Seibel opined, as the prerogative of the publisher that a lot of positions on both sides have been skewed, depending on the position. For instance, that "we can't have diversions, when there already are diversions. On the other side, once you take that 14,000 acre-feet of New Mexico water, build the infrastructure to develop it under strict guidelines, then you have to pay the tribes in Arizona. You get the right to the water, but you still have to buy it. It's expensive water either way. There may be things on each side that may be partially true, but not 100 percent. I'm sure you, Representative Dow, have seen things like this before."
"Yes, I have seen it, and I believe it is not the job of the New Mexico House of Representative to question federal law," Dow said. "The New Mexico CAP Entity is the group guided in law to make the decisions. I support working together. We need to set aside the polarization."
Whitlock said the actual CAP entity in Arizona is a strong, powerful organization. "Rep. Dow proposed a law to make the New Mexico CAP Entity a state agency, which would take it out of local hands altogether. Then it would lose its authority to the state. In Grant County, we have Hurley, Bayard, Santa Clara, Silver City that all need to have a place to talk about it locally."
Seibel asked what it would look like to facilitate getting rid of the polarization.
"I would be happy to have conversations to get around the rhetoric," Dow said. "What I'm not going to do is take one side or the other and try to dictate that through law. Because I believe in local decision-making."
Whitlock said there are $70 million dollars to facilitate the conversation. "We have regional watershed areas. We need the control there. We need to use the water for Hurley and Bayard. The mines will stop providing water to them. They need to have the money to support the infrastructure they need to sustain their communities. I do not think a penny should be spent on a diversion project. No more than what's already there."
Seibel said the area lost the construction money, but there is still money that can be used for a diversion or water projects. "Where are you on that Rep. Dow?"
Dow said: "I would like to see a mix of things. When there is no other resource for the capital projects, with the $2 billion of COVID funding coming to the state, and we have such an awesome person, Priscilla Lucero at the head of the COG (Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments) who has been able to bring in those funds. I learned a lot in my freshman year at the Legislature. I learned that we can increase the watershed by thinning. If we could come together, I would be happy to facilitate a conversation. It's odd to see people from all over the state, from all over the country weighing in on this little community. It's become so politicized and I don't know how we return from that."
Seibel said he was stalling to get Kinney back on. "His hotspot died and he is trying to reconnect, but he would like us to continue."
Next Question: What are your future economic plans when someday the mines will close and if 40 percent of the mines' personnel may be laid off.
Dow said the mines still have many years of life left. "With green energy, all of them require a lot of copper and other minerals. The demand for copper is not going away. Now, we have technology that we can mine the waste and get the copper out. But I agree that we have to diversify our economy. I think it is critical to have tax reform for New Mexico to be able to move ahead with the economy. We are about to have a silver tsunami. By 2030, in the U.S., we will have more senior citizens than any other age group. We are one of the few states not trying to attract them. We are one of the few states taxing social security. We are one of the few states taxing veterans' retirement and disability income. People talk about those taxes bringing $70 million in revenue to the state, but what it also does is it sends those people with disposable income to other states. I think Silver City is ideal for retirees and more will come. I will continue to bring dollars to small communities."
Whitlock said there is more mine life left. "The reality is that 40 percent of those people will not be coming back. Automation will take over a lot. My husband is working on that. We do need to diversify our economy. I would like to see solar panels constructed in Grant County. We really need to help small businesses, and we need to help people start them. With the outdoor economy and the grants available, that's really important so people can start small businesses. Other hiking and green adventures businesses would work, not only in Silver City, but in T or C. There are a lot of opportunities in this area and a lot of things we can do for economic development here. A lot of places have closed. Let's help them come back. It would be great to see that."
Next question: Will you vote to raise taxes above what happened in the legislative session this year? Another side. Are you willing to increase the gas tax, which hasn't increased in a while?
Whitlock said she does not support raising taxes on ordinary New Mexicans, making less than $100,000 a year. "I think we can do revenue enhancements without it. Amazon didn't get a tax break to come in, so they didn't. The No. 1 priority has to be educating our children. The tax on gas is very regressive and impacts most those on the lowest income spectrum. I am also not in favor of a food tax. I agree that gross receipts tax needs to be reformed to tighten the loopholes."
Dow said she has signed the pledge for No New Taxes. "I'll keep saying this, but we have to do tax reform. We have the fifth or maybe it was the seventh worst tax code in the U.S. I want to eliminate income taxes particularly on seniors and veterans. The New Mexico Association of Counties and the New Mexico Municipal League have been pushing for years for tax reform. The average income in District 38 is $48,000. In Sierra County, it's $29,000. We have the evidence and the data for tax reform. The reform would have a slight food and gas tax. Groceries tax you can always carve out for need and those on low income. But we would have to have all those on the table for tax reform, so people will want to live here, to work here and to bring their businesses here. I don't want to support a single tax, but I support tax reform."
Next question: Is the Spaceport just a money pit? Or will it actually bring jobs to the area.
Dow said the space industry economy when she became a representative was worth about $200 billion a year. "Now it's worth more than $400 billion a year. It's drones, it's satellites, it's space travel, it's space defense. It's so vast. I serve on the Commerce Committee and we had a presentation by Spaceport and the Border Authority. The Border Authority is 100 percent funded by state government. The Spaceport is funded at 67 percent by the state. Today drone technology is projecting to be able to provide 5G. I think creating and funding the Spaceport was a wise decision. I did vote yes, as a citizen. When we visited it, they have new hangars, new cranes building things. I think private investors will come in. New Mexico keeps underusing the facility."
Whitlock said she thinks the Spaceport has brought jobs to the district. "They are testing drones, testing satellite internet. They are headed by a new person with exciting ideas. I'm in support of the Spaceport. I think it will be a boon for New Mexico. I'm not sure I'm interested in selling it, because I think it's potential is large."
Plant asked about opinions on the Wild and Scenic River designation. He said it's another issue that has divided Grant County. Many oppose it, especially those in agriculture. Do you see it as a threat to the agricultural industry?
Whitlock said she stands in strong support. "I don't see it as a threat. I think it's a wonderful bill to preserve the last free-flowing river. I don't think it will change current irrigation diversions. There won't be any additional, but it won't stop current irrigation."
Dow pointed out there are already multiple restrictions to preserve the river. "I do not believe that putting on this designation will make it easier for those living and using the river. I believe this designation would make it harder to access the water for beneficial uses. They have shown themselves to be good stewards of the land and the forest and the wilderness where the uses are already pretty restricted. The designation creates more barriers on the uses. I am not supportive of it. I think those who say people are looking for federal designation is probably being overstated. I think with good marketing through New Mexico True we can create just as many visitors to the Gila."
Next question: As a legislator, how do you propose to protect agriculture and ranching, while also protecting wildlife and land.
Dow said last year she was one of a handful of legislators who received ag training and at the end of the course received a badge as an ag ambassador. "I learned that where lands are managed that they actually protect the wildlife. I think our farmers and ranchers are our nation's No. 1 conservationists. They have demonstrated their ability to work and preserve the land and resources, including wildlife as they work in a responsible way. Everyone likes to eat. If you're eating, you're in agriculture. I will continue to be an advocate for farmers and ranchers. It's vital to our district and they need to be protected and preserved."
Whitlock said she knows very little about farming and ranching. "There has to be a balance. I would work hard to understand these farming and ranching issues as they apply to protecting our wildlife as well."
Next question: Do you support strong unions, a living wage or are you a supporter of right to work.
Whitlock said she is a strong supporter of unions and believes that people should have the right to organize. "As unions have gone down, wages have not gone up. There's a direct correlation. I think people who are hourly need people to represent them. I do support a living wage. We will go to $12 an hour by 2024. I support going to $15 an hour."
Dow said what people may not know about me. "I grew up in a trailer along a pipeline, when my dad was a roughneck. He and my uncles were all members of a union. Because the state where we lived was a voluntary union sate, the members held their union representatives to a standard to truly represent them. I support the right to organize, but I do not believe that forced union dues should be a requirement for a job, so I support the right to work so you cannot be fired from a job for refusing to pay union dues. I'd also like to question if $15 an hour is a living wage. I know of women who turn down raises to $12 or $15 dollars an hour. We have a huge cliff effect in our state. We get millions of dollars of federal aid to equalize quality of life in the form of housing, rent, utilities, childcare, Medicaid. We have equalized the quality of life with federal programs. If we kick them off the benefits, they lose money. If we raise the minimum wage to $15, we are harming the very people we are proposing to help. So, I'm not going to toe the party line. I will go on a case-by case basis. Livable wage becomes partisan rhetoric. Shifting people from federal programs does not benefit those we claim to help."
Kinney was back on the phone. "The state needs to grow its economy with small businesses. Mandatory labor unions do not allow choice. There is no argument that can be made to allow mandatory unions. For the state to allow more encumbrances on small businesses, it is a silly, silly idea."
Next question: Is there a conflict of interest if one is in office and contracting with the state or in your job?
Kinney said he is retired and does small jobs here and there and his wife is an artist. "I have no possible conflicts of interest with any kind of government issues. It's easy to avoid, but transparency is the answer. Rep. Dow has been very transparent in her dealings, and I presume whichever of us is elected will follow that precedent."
Dow said New Mexico is the only state that does not pay its legislators. "We are volunteer legislators. We all have day jobs. We rely on oil and gas folks to advise us. We rely on teachers to advise us. Last year, the legislators who proposed the raises for teachers were teachers, who are paid by the state. My opponent has falsely accused me. First of all, I do not own Appletree. It's a non-profit governed by a board of directors. I know Karen serves on a board that has the same structure as Appletree. Her accusations are false and misguided. I don't believe I have a conflict of interest. I ran to be an advocate for early childhood. I do not make $5.7 million as my opponent has accused me of. I have brought more than $45 million to Sierra County in the 20 years we've been here—all for the public good, not for self-enrichment. My husband is the sole proprietor of Dow Technology, a for-profit business. He has not received a dime from state or federal sources. No PPE, no small business loans, not a single dime. I will continue to advocate for the people I love and care for. We pay our taxes."
Whitlock said if she is elected, she will no longer be a lobbyist as a contractor for the National Association of Social Workers, New Mexico Chapter. "This is about integrity and honesty in state government and honesty and transparency in the Legislature. Let me tell you what happened. Rebecca Dow applied for and received millions of dollars of state contracts by stating on several of these contracts that she was not a state legislator. She also lied on her financial disclosure statements that were filed with the Secretary of State's Office, by not disclosing these state contracts or acknowledging that she was even a volunteer at Appletree. There is more, but this is the gist of the complaint. This is not a frivolous complaint. This is a legitimate honest complaint that looks at government documents that were filed within the state."
Next question: Do you support or oppose taxing social security benefits?
Whitlock said in theory she supports repealing the tax on social security benefits. "But not this year when we have a budget deficit. I don't see how we can possibly create any more tax credits for anyone. In future years, I may support. We do need tax reform and reform of the GRT, but not this year to provide any more tax credits."
Dow said she absolutely supports repealing taxes on social security benefits. "I have sponsored the bill and I will continue to do so. The science is there. The sooner we exempt social security benefits and veterans' benefits, the sooner this state becomes friendly to that segment of the population, the fastest growing segment of the population. If we do not do that, we continue to remain stagnant; we continue to decline in population, while our neighboring states who have looked at the data and reformed their taxes have continued to thrive, grow and see huge economic prosperity. It has to happen, and it needs to happen now."
Kinney said, as a Libertarian, he would support repeal of any tax on the books. "The less the government has to spend, the less it can mess up your life. That tax has to be repealed."
The last question is the Time Machine question. "Imagine that we are, hopefully in person in some lovely auditorium in this community, with lots of people in the audience two years from now. You have now served two years in the New Mexico House of Representatives, what single accomplishment is your future you most proud of?"
Kinney said if he were to be elected, "What I would be most happy about is for building a consensus that the Public Education Department should be diminished or reduced or eliminated and let the decisions be made by the parents how they want their children educated and what they want them to learn. That would be a major accomplishment, but realistically it's to continue to try to make government more transparent, so those of us who do care what goes on know how things are done, what's in the 300-page bills, what is and isn't being addressed and to make sure we avoid the greatest problem with government and that is the law of unintended consequences. If we cannot prevent harming the people we're trying to help, the whole process is flawed. Keep legislative changes at a minimum and stop trying to revise bills that have failed in the past. And return common sense and small government to New Mexico and hopefully eliminate taxes so our small businesses can thrive, and we can all live happier lives in the beautiful state."
Dow said it is really hard to pick one thing, because we have a lot of needs that need to be addressed. "So, I'm going to pick a broad one. I'm going to talk about a bill I've sponsored called the Provider Parity Pay Act. Since we did pass a minimum wage, it is critically important that those folks contracted with the state of New Mexico to provide services to our vulnerable populations, our children at risk, our seniors who need home health care, our CNAs and those who work in our hospitals, there are so many reimbursement rates that do not match the costs of a rising minimum wage. If we do not pass a Provider Parity Pay Act, then we are going to see more small businesses close, because the Legislature passed the minimum wage, which will go up, but the state did not fund the increased costs to meet that rising minimum wage for its contractors. And I've been advocating for this. It had bi-partisan amendments, but it did not pass. It did result in about $6 million in reimbursements for home health care, assisted living and hospice care, but it is a drop in the bucket to the unfunded minimum wage mandate when we didn't put any funds to help those providers who offer basic services for the most vulnerable populations. We are underfunding those who work in senior centers with meals on wheels and other senior services. I would be thrilled if the Provider Parity Pay Act passed to help fund the services in rural New Mexico. If we don't pass it, we could lose them."
Whitlock said she loves this question. "I call it the Miracle Question. For me it would be that we have supported and funded education and used evidence-based practices to improve the level of education in our state. We are able to see that we are at 40 in education. One way to do that is to provide broadband and internet to every child. That's not the only thing that needs to be done. That would make me the proudest person around that we have done whatever we could do to support the children in our state."
Whitlock said she is running to be "your next representative. I'm running for everyday New Mexicans and small businesses. I'm running because I believe we owe it to our children to get a good education. Climate change is an existential threat to our lives. And I believe social justice is important to New Mexicans. And I believe we need a living wage. In short, I support New Mexico values. This is a clarification to something I said earlier: I want to decriminalize marijuana and legalize cannabis, but I do not want to decriminalize all drugs. You can contact me several ways, going to my website, KarenWhitlock38.com, call me at 575-519-4426 or email me at email@example.com, and you can also contact me on my website."
Kinney said it was nice to hear clearly stated opinions by the candidates. "Clearly, local opinions are more closely aligned than national opinions. Nationally, 35 percent of the voting public say they do not align with a major political party. However true that may be, District 38 voters do have a third choice in this election. The long-term differences may be summarized in this story. In a small town in southern New Mexico, some of the citizens became concerned by the increase in the number of car accidents involving deer when they drove on the road to get to the next town to get to the grocery store. The residents asked the town council to weigh in. The council consisted of a representative from each of the three major political parties in the state. The Republican suggested hiring a consultant to determine what area the deer most often crossed, mark it as a deer crossing and designate two people to fine the deer that crossed outside the crossing. The cost should be recovered by the offenders' payments. The Democrat suggested that limiting the deer to a specified deer crossing would violate the constitutional right of free assembly of the deer and might injure the spirit of the deer thus constrained so they suggested the deer be issued orange safety vests by the town for the deer. The cost would be covered by a special deer safety vest tax and overseen by a Democrat paid for by the town. The tax could be collected annually at 10 percent over the previous cost. The Libertarian suggested that drivers drive more carefully. So, when you vote please consider what kind of future you would like to see. Since I choose to live in an area with really bad cell service, it would be easiest to contact me on my Facebook page Kinney for House District 38."
Dow, as did all of the candidates, thanked the Daily Press, Nick and Geoff as well as those who listened to the forum. "Early voting starts on Oct. 8 and you can go into your local clerk's office and vote in person. I really like the analogy that William Kinney gave. When you take a political look at issues, I definitely lean Libertarian, so I appreciate many of his comments tonight. This election is important. Those you send to Santa Fe will deal with COVID recovery, will deal with deficits, redistricting. It's critical to fair elections, which we didn't talk about tonight. And those you send will deal with education to close the learning gap, and how to rebuild our rural local health care network. All want a representative who represents their values. It's why I ran. We all want a representative with a good character, sound judgement, civility and compassion. Someone who effectively implements ideas into actual law and policy that make our lives better and not more burdensome. I believe I am that person. You have allowed me to be your voice in Santa Fe for two terms, and I believe that the decades of my service in the community that raised me and my efforts over the last two terms on behalf of the families that call Grant, Hidalgo and Sierra counties home speak to my ability to represent this district. There is no candidate on this ticket that will work harder for you than I will. I'm open to hearing your ideas. I'm available. You can find me on Facebook and message me or you can go to RebeccaDow.com, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the website, you can click the link to call me and it will ring my personal cell. I look forward to hearing from you. Most importantly, I ask for your vote. Every vote matters."
Seibel said election day is November 3, but "if you want to vote early," he said to laughter, "there are plenty of absentee vote applications out there."
He said the forums are archived on the Silver City Daily Press Facebook page.