[Editor's Note: Most of this article will be almost word for word and other parts paraphrased, while remaining as accurate as possible.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The two candidates vying for the New Mexico Senate District 28 seat have never served as legislators, so whoever wins will be a freshman lawmaker at the next session. Most questions came from the audience with a few from the Daily Press presented by Reporter Geoffrey Plant. Daily Press Publisher Nickolas Seibel served as moderator.
The two candidates are Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill and Republican James "Jimbo" Williams.
Hemphill gave the first opening statement. She thanked the Silver City Daily Press and Independent for hosting the event and thanked the audience and her opponent for participating.
Hemphill: I decided to run for the Senate because I think it is important to have leaders who will put working people and our families first, especially when it comes to jobs, education and health care. Because of my personal experiences, I understand what working families face. But it's important to address the offensive mailer my opponent sent out calling me a 'scam artist,' for caring for my newborn son and my son with disabilities. He lied and said I was on paid leave, when I was on unpaid leave and accused me of stealing money from our schools and our children. What I find alarming is that when my opponent, who once served on a school board, was caught in his lies, instead of apologizing, which is what a respectable man would do, he chose to lie more and twist the truth to fit his narrative. What Mr. Williams did was draw his own inaccurate conclusions without checking the facts or even doing a simple Google search, which would have told him that family medical leave is by very definition unpaid. It suggests that Mr. Williams has never had to take family medical leave to care for a newborn or to care for someone with serious medical challenges. He doesn't seem to understand what so many working families face. I could have chosen to ignore his lies, but when challenged, he doubled down on his lies and name-calling. As a school psychologist I cannot allow bullying or verbal abuse from someone who considers himself a community leader or allow someone to talk that way about women or mothers. Clearly, he has no remorse and doesn't want to talk about a mother caring for a newborn and a son with serious disabilities. What Mr. Williams did shows he can be a community leader and disrespect women and lie and not understand federal policies like family leave. Disrespecting women happens every single day, and it's why I'm running for State Senate, District 28.
Williams: Thank you, sir and to the Silver City Daily Press and thank you to everyone who is joining us this evening. Most of all I want to thank my family and my wife for standing by me through this process. I love them very much. I am a father to two beautiful daughters and a grandfather to five wonderful grandkids. I am a fifth-generation New Mexican and a third-generation rancher. As a rancher we are taught hard work and honesty every day we function in our lives. With those values, I have been able to build three businesses from the ground up. Through those businesses I have been a job creator, and we estimate we put almost half a million dollars a year into the district through our employees. You need people with values like mine in Santa Fe. You need people like me in the Senate, who understand budgets and how to get out of deficits. I can bring that experience to Santa Fe. I have been very involved in my community, from being involved with the volunteer fire department actively, and I currently donate to our senior centers and to the America's Fund that helps wounded warriors. We did all that before I decided to go into politics, and we'll continue to do that as long as we are in business. I am the current president of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of New Mexico, and when I was at the most recent legislative session, I saw the amount of disrespect and disconnect that the parties had toward each other. There was absolutely no bipartisanship whatsoever. My dad told me as a young man: 'You see something wrong, don't complain about it, stand up and make a difference.' And so, we're here to make a difference. I'm tired of seeing New Mexico at the top of the bad list and the bottom of the good list. Thank you.
Question: What changes to the educational system would you make that will help improve it?
Williams: One of the main things we need to focus on in the education system is to give the ability to teach, the decisions on what to teach and come up with lesson plans back to the teacher. So much of the time when I was on the school board, we saw the teacher spend anywhere from seven to 10 hours a week putting lesson plans together. The amount of time spent out of the classroom just to prepare was crazy. Give the teachers the ability to teach and work with the students the way they see fit. We need to support the districts and give funding to the districts, in order for them to be successful, And I would love to be able to see funding for the teachers not to have to buy their own supplies. We must appreciate and we respect those teachers and have to do everything we can to support them.
Hemphill: This is really my area. I've been in education for 26 years. Before I go into that, I want to correct Mr. Williams. In New Mexico, we have to balance the state budget by law. It is not a deficit, it's a budget shortfall and that was because the oil and gas industry crashed due to the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Education is key to our economic well-being and security and also to the social mobility of our communities. New Mexico lost a lawsuit - Yazzie versus Martinez saying we were not doing enough to educate children with disabilities and children at risk, as well as our children in our tribal communities. We need to manage the funding wisely to be able to address bilingual and multi-cultural education. And making sure we have the funds to provide social work services, and school psychology services and occupational therapy and physical therapy services. Teachers have gone so long without a raise and when they did get a small one, it had to be cut and most of it is eaten up by health care insurance costs.
Question: What suggestions do you have to provide a safe and challenging education experience to students during the COVID-19 pandemic? A lot of schools are still entirely online, and others are going hybrid. Both create challenges for teachers, students and parents.
Hemphill: This is near and dear to my heart. I have a 13-year-old at Aldo Leopold Charter School, which is all virtual, and a 7-year-old in second grade. Those with disabilities are already in school. I'm so grateful for the work all the teachers are doing, figuring out technology and all that. Key to getting kids back in school is the community taking all the precautions to slow the spread by wearing our masks, practicing social distancing and making sure our schools have what they need in the way of masks, PPE (personal protective equipment). My boys are very excited to return back to school.
Williams: This whole pandemic has created new challenges. It has to be a community effort. We have to use common sense. I know of a kid who got home from kindergarten, and his mask was full of spit or snot, who knows. We're very rural. I'm doing this from my office, because the internet at home is not reliable. I believe kids need to be in school. But we're learning how to handle this virus as we go.
Seibel: This is a spin off question. In a lot of families, the parents are home-schooling or putting their kids in private schools. One of the impacts will be that the head counts are down, which will cause a severe drop in funding. Is there a way that you in the Senate can augment the funding?
Williams: Quemado Schools have been in that situation before. They had to operate on emergency funding to provide for the budget needs. In Santa Fe we'll have to adjust funding to help the schools operate until we find a cure or how to live with this virus.
Hemphill: It's a real concern. Education was severely underfunded under the previous administration. They cut services and the state fell to last in the country. We have to hold districts harmless. Use last year's funding formula. The pandemic has highlighted the disparities in rural areas. The greatest disparity is caused by poverty. We need tax reform, a living wage and housing for the poor. We need more funding so we can give students the education they need.
Plant: We talked about the pandemic in terms of school. Someone talked about how the legislature could hone the way the state issues public health orders. Do you support the way the governor has addressed the pandemic? Or do you think the way changes are made to the public health orders should be changed?
Hemphill: I'm so glad the governor has put in the maximum safety protocols. The rates are going up again and we need to be cautious. We're also going into flu season. My mother and my mother-in-law help me take care of my children. We need to keep them safe.
Williams: What the governor has had to experience, I wouldn't wish on anyone. Yes, she had the right to issue the 30-day emergency health order, but at that point to extend it, she should have utilized the legislators. I don't think the governor should be making decisions alone without bringing in the legislators. The public health order shouldn't fall on one branch of government. I would be in favor of the legislature chiming in. We need to utilize all three branches of government.
Question: What do you think about the canceling of all high school sports?
Williams: I think we will have an awesome vision of what we should have done when we look back at this year and this situation. New Mexico is one of only three states with restrictions on kids playing sports. Yes, I want kids to be safe, but kids, especially seniors in high school were looking forward to playing their last year. I would be in favor of letting them play sports.
Hemphill: There's no way to know the best way to do it. My heart goes out to the students and the parents, but we need to take care of our health care workers, so we don't overwhelm the medical system.
Question: What can you and the state do for the tribal communities?
Hemphill: COVID has highlighted the disparities in tribal and rural areas, struggling and not being able to contact people. It's a strain. We have to make sure we are putting forth resources to provide clean water, high quality health care and telehealth in tribal areas. We have to invest in tribal communities because of their health care and environmental disparities.
Williams: I agree with my opponent. We need to invest more in tribal areas. They have multi-generational families in the same house. Sometimes they don't have running water. It's crazy how third world it is. The Navajo Nation has taken strict precautions with weekend quarantines. We must support them and get them funding to keep them from being third world. We also have to determine how to support other rural areas that are not tribal. You have to be able to address it as it comes to you. There is no rule book. It has to be taken on a case-by-case basis.
Question: Voters are looking for someone who can work across the aisle. What piece of legislation would you have supported at the last session?
Williams: As New Mexico president of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, I worked with Democrat Nathan Small to build a trust fund for conservation programs throughout the state. I think shame on both sides for not working together. It's one of main reasons that New Mexico is in the shape it's in. When you enter the legislative session, you should hang your party hat on the hat rack and do what's best for the state.
Hemphill: We sort ourselves into sectors. One thing that has contributed to that is name-calling. As a counselor, I teach conflict resolution skills at school. When one person does better, that improves the situation for all of us. One bill I would have supported was parity pay for small businesses. It was presented by Rebecca Dow and would have allowed small businesses not to be so negatively impacted by the minimum wage rates increases. I think it would be a way to help them.
Plant: If elected, how will you work to bring more health care and behavioral services to your district?
Hemphill: Our community really struggled when, under the Susanna Martinez administration, all our mental health services were devastated. They are still trying to recover. We have now lost our behavioral health unit at the hospital. We need to improve our addiction programs. We have been able to utilize telehealth in the emergency room. We also need to improve access for seniors. With improved broadband, telehealth can be an option for them. We need to make sure people are insured. 11 percent of New Mexicans are not insured, so we need to look at strategies such as expansion of the Medicaid buy-in program to help fund our health care providers, hospitals, doctors and clinics.
Williams: As a lawmaker, I believe you have to do your research and your homework. I would have to talk to the professionals. We must use the programs we have and make sure they are working, and if they are not working, we lawmakers have to listen, and we have to get together to help provide access to the services for our seniors and those with mental health issues. It's pretty simple we have to do our jobs and listen to those on the front lines in our district. With things that aren't working, we would have to find ways to make them work.
Question: How do you feel about the Health Security Act?
Williams: As a non-career politician, sometimes we feel when we are doing our job that we are during water out of a fire hydrant. I will be the first to admit that I don't know as much about this as I probably should. But, it's OK not to know, because I have the abilities to learn about it and to make decisions. But, to sit here and say something about it, I would be making something up. I definitely don't want to do that, because who knows how it could come back and bite me in the butt later.
Hemphill: This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I have a son who was born with a rare genetic syndrome and we have been navigating the health system for more than 24 years now and it's only gotten more difficult. The Health Security Act shifts private insurance to a supplemental role, and it's paid for by using existing public dollars and employer contributions and premiums based on income, and then there's a cap. A fiscal analysis showed last year that it could save us money through reduced administration costs and lower drug costs. It could provide stable revenue for our hospital through global budgets and reduce the number of people not insured. We can create more jobs due to the direct health care spending, as well as more indirect services and suppliers. So many people in the community can't easily get something like a wheelchair, because it can take years just to get an appointment in order to live life with dignity.
Question: What is your solution to getting quality and affordable health care for every New Mexican. Does the state have a role, or should we just lobby the federal government?
Hemphill: The Health Security Act could help us improve access to health care for everyone. What's brilliant about it, after you have paid your premium, you're not going to go to the doctor and owe anything. I know health care costs have greatly impacted our lives, having a son who had so many surgeries, hospital and doctor visits and you never know what kind of bill you're going to get stuck with. It will improve all of our lives. I'm also interested in the Medicaid buy in program, where people buy in according to their income. The brilliant thing about that is I had a mother reach out to me. She has a son going to New Mexico Tech, and he wants to be an engineer, which to start with pays in the $60,000s. He qualifies for the DD waiver, which pays him to have homemaker services. He can't eat or drink or bathe on his own, but he's very intelligent. So, if he gets his job, he would no longer qualify for the DD waiver, but with the Medicaid buy-in, he would still get his support and be a contributing member of our community.
Williams: This is definitely a question that's on a lot of people's minds and been a topic of importance for quite some time now. When we're talking affordable care for everyone, it has to be affordable for everyone. There are those who can't afford it, and then there are those who can afford it because they make more and have the ability to pay more. I don't know that making one side of the track pay a larger amount for someone else who can't afford it, I don't know how fair that is. My father was a great example. He had a double-lung transplant and the medicines alone that he paid for afterward was exactly the same amount that we paid him for the ranch we bought from him. It was just a crazy amount of money. Where's the balance, I don't know. Hopefully we in the Senate can come up with something that is a good fix for all and not just good for one, but really expensive for the others.
Question: Would you support getting rid of taxes on Social Security, why and how would you fill the revenue that would be gone from the state budget.
Williams: Yeah, definitely. New Mexico is one of 13 states that tax Social Security income. It's really not fair, because it's already been taxed once, and now we're taxing it again. 1) I don't think it's fair and 2) New Mexico is such a beautiful state and has four seasons, where you can live in the south in the winter as a snowbird and in the north in the summer where it's cool. People who are retired don't come to New Mexico because of that reason (the tax on Social Security). I think by being able to get rid of the tax on Social Security and being able to increase their disposal income, more seniors, as well as our retired veterans who have their retirement income taxed as well, we could see more people moving to our state and bringing that disposal income to our state and spending their money in the state. How would we replace it? I'm sure there's certain areas where some of the funding could be re-evaluated. I know there are a lot of tax breaks for different industries, and some of those industries create a lot of jobs for the state, but it's a job for us legislators and is definitely something I will co-sponsor should I get elected to make sure it happens.
Hemphill: New Mexico has a really unfair tax policy. We've done a really poor job for the past 20 years. In 2003, there were cuts to personal tax that starved New Mexico of revenue. We probably have the most unfair tax system in the country. To reduce income inequality, we should restructure our tax system to make it more fair and make sure we have the revenue to invest in education and health care and such essential services. I support any policy that would put money into the hands of the poor and middle class. They are the ones that drive the economy, and that will support our small businesses. A flat tax would not be fair, because those wealthy people would receive those tax breaks. We have to address the root cause of income inequality. We're in a budget shortfall, so any dollar that we give away in a tax break that means we'll have to cut somewhere. So, just as my opponent said, it's really important that we look at the tax system, and we need to look at the loopholes.
Question: Aside from providing capital outlay, how will you work to support municipal governments in your district?
Hemphill: This is so important to me. I have four kids who were born here. My parents are both from Bayard, which is where I work. I will make sure we have the resources we need so desperately and deserve. I will work with the Council of Governments and Patricia (sic) Lucero to make sure that every dollar can be leveraged with other funding sources, such as the USDA, Colonias and the Community Block Development Grants (sic). Under the previous administration the municipalities, when the food tax was eliminated, were told they would be held harmless from the revenue loss. And that didn't happen. That promise was broken. I will work to restore hold harmless so that our communities will have the revenue they were promised.
Williams: It's our responsibility to do our homework. In the state senate you're not just at the Legislature and then you're done for the year. We have to get out and visit with the county commissions and the municipalities. We have to work with them. Senator Gabe Ramos was known for all his outreach and the amount of work he was doing within his district. During the primary, I was told that Gabe was the one to beat, because he does so much work in the communities. With us having his endorsement and his support, we will be able to work with him and transition into the office and we will be able to continue the momentum he had, so as not to start over from scratch learning where we need to focus. We will allow things that are already started to get finished.
Plant: I think it's safe to say that one of the issues that will come up is whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana. Medical cannabis is already legal. What would you like to see in a legal cannabis bill, and would you support it?
Williams: With the shortfall the state is in, because of all the overspending of the surplus, going from the largest surplus the state has ever seen and within 18 months going to the largest deficit, largely because the oil prices went south, we need to look at ways of diversifying our income. We have to support hemp, because we're big on medical cannabis, but we have to do it with the proper regulations. I understand you cannot put income from a cannabis farm into a federal bank. I'm definitely open to diversifying the state revenue sources.
Seibel follow up to Williams: Last year there was a proposal for state-owned cannabis stores. Is that something that appeals to you or other aspects of legalizing cannabis that you would support?
Williams: That's a tough question, because there are so many aspects in the growing of cannabis. If the THC is too high in a crop to be used for medical cannabis, you have to plow it under. I'm not sure I want to put that on taxpayer backs. Maybe after everything is all ironed out and we don't have any such issues, that might be something to look at.
Hemphill: I'm excited about this. I do support the legalization of recreational marijuana. I know there were some problems with the last bill. We have to make sure to protect small growers and make sure they are not burdened with excessive fees. I know it has the possibility to be a big game changer economically for the state. It can diversify the economy and boost revenue by estimates of as much as $600 million and 15,000 jobs for the legalization. But we also have to include criminal justice reform that can clear the records of those who have been penalized for its use and make sure to do it in a way to minimize underage use. We need to support small growers, because we have the ideal climate. We have a real opportunity.
Question: You both sound like very busy people. How much personal time do you intend to spend per month serving in the New Mexico Senate? How will you manage your other obligations?
Hemphill: I do juggle a lot. I have four children; I have a son with disabilities; and I work in two different school districts. My greatest advantage is I have a lot of flexibility in my jobs and I have a great social support system with my mother and mother-in-law both living here, and they offer so much support for our kids. I want to take enough time to benefit our communities because I see the devastating effects when education and other essential services are cut. So, to me, this is really one of the most important things I could be doing to help support our communities. I will put in however much time it requires to have meetings with communities and stakeholders and at the legislative session. We've worked it out so I can put that time into the job, and I look forward to that.
Williams: I can answer that by just being blessed. I have a phenomenal work force for my three businesses. I have a manager who oversees all my businesses, and she reports to me wherever I am, whether in person or on the road. I was able to be at the entire legislative session this year. The year before I was there for two weeks. Becoming a senator, it will allow me to step down from national boards, so my traveling might be a little less, so I'm kind of looking forward to that. We want to make sure we have things taken care of by our families and managers. My wife takes care of things at home and travels with me when she can. It's something we're already doing.
Question: New Mexico is the only state left with volunteer legislators. Do you support the continuation of the volunteer Legislature? If not, how would you change that?
Williams: Until we have the budget figured out and under control with more money coming in than going out, we definitely don't need to be figuring out ways to spend more money. We know, going in, that it's a volunteer job. Let's leave it as is until we get our budget under control. If we can do it without raising taxes or cutting any funding, maybe I would support it, but right now, we don't need to spend any money that we don't have.
Seibel followed up: When Representative Dianne Hamilton was a legislator representing District 38, she regularly brought it up, because it limits who can run. You have to have resources to be able to leave your job for one month or two months and not be paid for doing that. Is that a concern to you?
Williams: Well, no, because it puts more emphasis on the amount of integrity of the people running, because they are doing it to make the state a better place. They are not looking at it for personal gain.
Hemphill: We need not to spend extra money, but I do see the benefit of that, because we do not have equal representation of our communities. To really address the education and health care disparities, we need to have people who have a wider range of experience. If we can pay our legislators, it allows a diverse group of people to serve. I believe that it is important to move our state forward.
Question: What will you do to avoid conflicts of interest?
Hemphill: It is so important to improve transparency, and it's critical to avoid corruption. Doing things like financial disclosures and when the press reaches out to us that we are totally transparent. That's why I filled out the survey and completed the interview process with the Albuquerque Journal. That's key to being transparent and avoiding any conflicts of interest.
Williams: As a legislator, you are going to be faced with conflicts of interest on a daily basis. Approaching them with the ability to make a positive outcome is important. We are here to make a difference; we are here to pay attention to our constituents. As your senator, I will be one vote, but if I see a bill come up that I may not agree with, I will still reach out to people in my district to understand and learn about who I am representing, so it may be a conflict of interest at the beginning, but it can be positive if we approach it positively and in the correct way.
Plant: Could each of you name one constituency you feel is underrepresented and how will you advocate for them?
Williams: I believe agriculture is underrepresented. Farmers and ranchers are constantly under fire with regulations and things that make it more difficult to work. The agriculture community is 1 percent of the population that provides 100 percent of our food. As president of the New Mexico Soil and Water Conservation Districts, conservation measures are our priority to make the land more productive. We need to focus on rural issues. When we see urban policies made in Santa Fe that impact rural areas, we have to speak up.
Hemphill: This is my 26th year working in education. I remember the cuts in 2008, when we lost high quality teachers. It was stressful. Class sizes exploded. I know education is the key to getting rid of disparities. Teachers need raises and professional development, so teachers and parents can help their kids create higher skills to get good jobs. Investing in early childhood education is part of it.
Seibel read the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Question: Do you believe the Second Amendment allows distinction among different firearms? Should the state get involved in putting restrictions on some firearms, such as an AK-47?
Hemphill: I support the Second Amendment, and I own a gun, but like most rights, I don't believe they are absolute or unlimited. The majority of Americans believe we should have background checks and red flag laws, to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are dangers to themselves or others. I do support those measures. We have to make an effort to make sure our children are safe. I would support getting assault rifles off the streets, as long as it was done in a way that was voluntary. It would help keep communities safer.
Williams: My thoughts are what the Second Amendment says, the right to bear arms. They are no sub-points that say this type of firearm or that type of firearm. We have to make sure not to lose that right. I understand there are issues with people that are not mentally fit. I don't see a problem with background checks when they are buying it from a store. But say my best friend wants to buy a gun from me, and he has to do a background check. I don't think that's right. If I want to give a gun, a family heirloom, to my son, I can't do that now, because of needing to do a background check. It's pushing the envelope, so to speak, especially with the legislation from last year, the red flag bill, where for no reason, I can say Nick scares me and I think he owns a firearm, and I fear for my life, so I want you to go to his house and take his gun. I think that's not right. We have to use some common sense. Don't let the bad people have guns, but don't take it away from the good ones, because of the ones who made bad choices.
Question: It's like you knew what the next question was. It is about the red flag law that passed in the last legislative session that allows the court permission to take away someone's firearm based on a complaint from anyone. So, what are your feelings about that legislation and, if elected, will you work to change that in some way?
Williams: I was 100 percent against it and still am. There were so many constitutional infringements in that law. It needs to be re-evaluated and re-looked at. It not only infringes on your Second Amendment rights, but also your Fourth Amendment rights, which is unlawful search and seizure. If I can use the example I gave a while ago, they don't have to have a warrant, they can just come to your house and seize your guns based on the fact that I fear for my life. I'm definitely going to support anything that re-evaluates that.
Seibel said: My understanding is they do have to have a court order. A judge had to sign off on it.
Williams: Yeah, but still there has to be no proof in order to get it. A woman can be mad at her husband or her boyfriend and do this. A neighbor can be mad at a neighbor and say he fears for his life. It's a sloppy bill.
Hemphill: Red flag laws differ, but the one that was just passed in New Mexico allows law enforcement to petition the court for an extreme risk prevention, through an order to remove guns from someone who has been determined to be a risk to himself or others without being accused of a crime or charged with one. More importantly, statistics are more and more showing that red flag laws work. The reason we bought a gun for my family is we had an intruder come into our house. I was putting my newborn down in the master bedroom. I heard talking and thought it was cartoons. He came into the bedroom. It was like he was having a mental break. The police couldn't find our address, but after about 30 minutes, I was so grateful to see them. I was also grateful that he wasn't able to have a gun, because of mental health challenges. So, I need to do whatever measure we can to keep guns out of the hands of those who could be dangers to themselves or others. I like the law as passed. I asked the Silver City Police Department several months ago, if they had had to use it and they hadn't at that time.
Plant: New Mexico has a 1969 law, that if the state was not subject to Roe v. Wade, the law would restrict access to abortion. Do you approve repealing that law?
Hemphill: I grew four babies in my womb and nursed them for 10 years. My oldest was four years old, when he had to have his leg amputated because of bone cancer. I have been a mother for 27 years. That, Mr. Williams, is pro-life. But your ideas are nothing but dangerous and disrespectful to a woman, who had to make a heart-wrenching decision. I have seen the horrible misinformation on social media that my opponent is putting out there about abortion. It is a personal decision between a woman and her health care provider in private, without interference from politicians. You, Mr. Williams saying that late abortion is wrong, is like saying that the woman is just sitting there until one day she decided she doesn't want to have the baby. It is insulting to me as a woman and women everywhere. It is deeply disrespectful to insinuate that a health care provider would agree to that and is disrespectful to health care providers everywhere. A late abortion happens if the baby is no longer viable to save a woman's life. And that's why politicians should not interfere.
Williams: This is definitely a hot topic. I will not back down from fighting for a person without a voice, that has no option to even come into this world. The baby has no chance of voting whether to be born or not. Elective late abortion is wrong. New Mexico has zero restrictions on abortion, period. I don't want to insult anyone, but I also don't want to stop protecting those that might have that happen to them. My sister has a son, a very talented young man. After the first trimester they told her that he would be born without the cleft that separates the right side from the left side of his brain. And that with the hardship that he and they would face if he was born, she should have an abortion. Thank goodness, she didn't listen. He was born healthy, functioning wonderfully. I'm sorry this pushes buttons, but someone has to stand up for those who have no voice. Someone has to do it now and that will be me.
Seibel asked a follow-up question. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, there would be a state law with extreme restriction on abortion. If you were in the Senate and working on legislation, where in the middle would you believe state law should fall?
Williams: Roe v. Wade is a precedent. It was created by smart individuals. There may be options that require it. I get it. But as my opponent agreed, it should be a decision between a woman and her family and the health care professional. If it has to be done only in hospitals, so be it. Why is that such an issue? We go to hospitals for all our other major health instances. But I also don't want to take away from a physician's ability to say no, should they have a religious belief or a personal belief that they don't want to do that. I don't want to put them in a position where they have to perform it. We could talk all night about this, but that's where I stand.
Hemphill: Each pregnancy is unique. And health care providers need to be able to provide the care their patients need without government interference. I trust and respect women, and I trust health care providers to make these deeply personal decisions in private, without interference of politicians like Mr. Williams. There is a conscientious clause that is still on the books. There is state law and there is federal law so there is absolutely an option of a medical official or hospital being able to refuse to take part in an abortion. Yes, these are deeply personal decisions that a woman should made with her health care provider. If an abortion is performed later in pregnancy, that is a woman who has picked out a name for her baby, who has purchased a crib, who desperately wants that baby. These are desperately heart-wrenching decisions and that is the reason why women should be respected to make the decision with her health care provider.
Question: We have a large number of furloughed miners. And as much as 40 percent of them may be permanently laid off. What is your plan to help the miners and how can the state diversify the economy in the three counties that make up the district?
Hemphill: It's an important issue to me and it's a challenge. My family moved here because my great-grandfather got a job at the mine. We have to make sure the miners have options to develop skills for other trades. Helping them be able to go to Western to learn those skills. There is talk about the mine automating, so there may be less jobs. Developing news skills will help us all move through this economic crisis.
Williams: I've had conversations with those running the mines. Yeah, they are on a furlough currently. The price of copper is up, and the price is good, but because of the pandemic, they wanted to make sure there was a need for copper, with everything shut down before they bring back the workers. Day before yesterday, they were in the process of bringing miners back to work. There's a lot of years left in the mines. Will it go away someday? Sure, but the mines are producing a product under New Mexico's very stringent regulations. What we have to realize is that the Sierra Club, which supports my opponent very hugely, they will want to see more environmental infringements on mining. If that happens, and it hinders the profitability of the mines, we will see that go away. We have to get creative to diversify. We have to bring in industry. There's a lot of things this state offers, and a lot of things we can do in this district.
Question: Oil and gas is not a huge issue in the district, but it's a giant issue in the state. If the drop in prices has exposed a need for diversification in the New Mexico economy, where does the state go from here? With so much invested in oil and gas in the state, can we make a meaningful transition that can have a positive impact or is better technology in oil and gas extraction the answer?
Williams: We may not have oil and gas here, but it funds a lot of things in the district. We know that oil and gas will go up and back down. When we see it at its highest cost, we should be mindful of the budget and how we spend it. If we had not been frivolous with the largest surplus ever, we could have it when things are bad, as they are now. When the price is high, we need to save it for when we need it in the future. Oil and gas are always going to be our main source of state income. We have to make sure we are frugal with our money and not frivolously spend it. Sustainable green energy is the thing. There's only one that is sustainable, and that's nuclear. We have some of the world's highest uranium deposits right here in New Mexico, and with the new technology, it can be extracted safely, and it can provide and produce a sustainable green energy product.
Hemphill: Before we move on to oil and gas, I want to address one of the negative mailers my Republican opponent sent out, which is accusing me of wanting to close the Copper Flat Mine. I want to be very clear. It's not even in this district and it's been closed since 1982 and I have no intention of closing it. The mine will be critically important as we move to renewable energy because we will need copper. And copper can be incredibly helpful because it has microbial properties that we utilize to reduce the spread of germs. In some hospitals they use it on door handles and toilet levers. It's a way we can change the market for copper. Oil and gas make up one-third of our budget, so when prices are down, it can have a devastating effect on our economy, so we do need to move away from it. We know it is harmful to the environment. Fracking takes a lot of water, and we live in an area where water is limited. We need to be protecting our water, and we will need to continue to utilize oil and gas. Moving toward sustainable green energy will be needed to stabilize our budget and improving the environment.
Plant: Would you vote for a bill making the New Mexico CAP Entity a political subdivision? And do you believe the Legislature can or should exert influence over how the soon-to-be $80-million New Mexico Unit Fund is spent?
Hemphill: I think what we need to use the remaining funds for community water projects. Because there are so many needs in southwest New Mexico. There are short- and long-term water needs, like the regional water plan and we need to secure a water source for Hurley, Bayard, Hanover, Fierro and use that money for conservation projects like watershed restoration, ditch rehabilitation projects. These are things that can sustain our future water needs in southwest New Mexico and not have irrepairable damage to the eco-system. I don't support the New Mexico CAP Entity becoming a political subdivision.
Williams: Water is liquid gold. We have to do everything we can to protect it and we need to keep it local. We need water for the communities. We don't need to be sending it to Arizona to use in fountains and pools. We need the water for agricultural projects and the towns. I believe the New Mexico CAP Entity would be a good political subdivision to be responsible for the funding, so yes, I would be in favor of it.
Question: If you win, how will you support the people who make a living in farming, ranching and mining?
Williams: I would not hinder them anymore. In Catron County and in parts of Grant County, the Mexican gray wolf has been a very big issue for us. We focus in the cities on predators who empty our bank account, predators who attack our children and seniors. Why is it any different when we as ranchers are producing a product to help feed the community, why is that we are infringing on them, putting something out there they are unable to control that can kill a calf, multiple calves, a horse, cattle. It makes no sense to me. Back in the 1950s, the government spent a ton of money to eradicate the wolves. Why in the late 1980s and '90s are they bringing the wolf back? So, we have to protect the 1 percent of the population that is feeding the 100 percent of the population.
Seibel: What can you do in Santa Fe to address the issue, given that it's all stuff driven from D.C.?
Williams: Working with county commissioners, they can come up with processes that can override that. You have to do your homework and come up with a process that helps protect these guys that have to deal with it every day.
Hemphill: My family was some of the first ranchers and farmers in New Mexico. My great-grandparents, Juan and Juanita Cordova, owned a farm in Hatch. Prior to that their parents owned large ranches in southern New Mexico as well as northern New Mexico. So, I'm so grateful for those who are continuing this important work that is critical for climate change. When we can keep food local, it's healthier for the planet; it's healthier for us; and it's healthier for our families. So, what I would love to do is help producers gain more value from their products. And we can do that with programs, like Farms-to-Schools programs. I know Candy Sweetser carried a bill called the Food and Agricultural program. Although it didn't pass, those are the kind of bills we need to focus on. It would give better access to markets, and a better way to improve our health.
Question: Most of us are aware of the Wild and Scenic Act and the proposed designations on the Gila River. 1) Do you support it and why and 2) who is behind this wild and scenic designation?
Hemphill: I support the wild and scenic designations. The Gila is the most endangered river in the country. It's near and dear to my heart. I know my ancestors protected it for their children and future generations. My husband and I and our boys often go hiking and backpacking along it and we need to preserve its beautiful scenery and its wildlife habitat. I think opposition is due to misinformation. I checked to make sure that we are going to protect private landowners. People are not going to lose their water rights and things like that. It doesn't condemn private land. It doesn't affect public access and it doesn't affect grazing permits. The designation will protect certain segments of the river and make sure those segments are free-flowing. I realize there are diversions, but we need to protect those segments for traditional uses, like backpacking and fishing and hunting and irrigating.
Williams: I'll agree with one part that it is based on a lot of misconception. I've been researching this. They are basing this whole wild and scenic designation by saying it's an unrestricted river, with no diversions and no dam, but yet Bill Evans Lake is formed by a dam. There are tons of diversions, for all the agricultural plots that farmers are using the water from now. If we put this into place, and you have a piece of the river put under this wild and scenic act, they have the ability to control what happens upriver and downriver. So, say a farmer needs to divert water to water his crops, but the person downriver says whatever you're going to do to divert the water will cause silt or whatever the issue with the water coming down through my part, so I'm not going to allow it. Right there, you have no more agricultural use. So, 100 percent, I oppose this legislation and this program. Again, we're talking about the 1 percent trying to feed the rest of us. It's just wrong in so many ways. What we can do from Santa Fe, I don't know, but if we can figure out a way to stop it, by golly, it's going to happen.
Question: Will you graciously accept the outcome of the election?
Williams: Of course, if more votes are tallied one way than the other, all votes are tallied and there is no evidence of foul play and no issues, by all means, why would I contest that at all? So, you bet.
Hemphill: Of course.
Question: We cannot know today what specific issues will arise in the next two to four years in our state. However, we know we need to focus on our economic base and diversification of that base, and we need to work together to address environmental and economic issues across a broad spectrum of needs in our diverse state. How will you, as the representative of a huge diversity in our district ensure you work together to bring the various communities to find solutions to these issues? What will you do to reach all of your constituents, including especially rural and other socially disadvantaged constituents?
Hemphill: It's such an important question to heal the division in our community and in our country. We have to be focused on what we want because we have so many things in common, many more in common than not. We want to live in safe and prosperous communities. And when we focus on that, it will be so much easier to come up with solutions we can all agree on. I am committed to working with people even across the aisle to make sure we are coming up with solutions to meet everyone's needs in a way that satisfies everyone.
Williams: In a world of yesterday, I would have said, we'd have town hall meetings, we would get together, we would visit. But I think what we are doing tonight is a very good tool. We can have virtual town halls. We have telephones, we have emails, making that information available to the residents, so they can reach out to their senator. We are one vote, but we have to listen to everyone in our district. We can't, in my mind, make a decision in good faith without reaching out to our constituents. That's a crucial part of this job – listening to everyone and making an educated decision. We'll utilize the technology we have and make sure the people know they have a way to get their voice across.
Question: Time Machine. Four years from now, we will be talking to whoever wins this race, hopefully in a larger venue, and asking what one thing are you most proud of from your first term?
Williams: I think the one thing I will be most proud of is representing everyone. I truly want to know what's going on with the entire population in this district, so they can say, 'when I went to him with an issue, we sat down and he genuinely listened to me. And he made me feel like my problem was as important as anything else.' And that's what has to happen, when you are placed in this position of importance. You have to listen to everyone, and you have to learn and have to take it to heart when you're representing your district. I want everyone to say, 'Yeah, that Williams guy was fair and listened to us.'
Hemphill: What started me on this trek of running for office was the trauma I was witnessing every day and more frequently every year, so, I want to look back and see that schools received adequate funding for professional development, so that teachers and parents are acquiring the skills they need to help students be successful and learn how to solve conflict in a healthy way. I believe that's the first step we need to grow a skilled workforce, increase income, equality and reduce crime. And improve prosperity for us all.
Seibel said he had 38 unasked questions tonight and he apologized to those whose questions he didn't have time for.
Hemphill: Thank you for organizing this event. Again, I'm Siah Correa Hemphill running for New Mexico Senate District 28, because I believe it's time to invest in our communities and our small businesses, families and children. We can do that with full funding for essential services, like education and health care and by restructuring our tax system, and by supporting small businesses as they recover from the pandemic. With Covid-19, it's more important than ever that we lift our families up, with better access to affordable health care for every New Mexican. It's more important than ever that we lift up our children with higher quality education that will grow our workforce and reduce educational disparities ; that we lift up our communities by rebuilding our economy by developing renewable energy and helping our small businesses recover by installing broadband and building our outdoor economy through recreation, hemp production, local food, legalizing cannabis and tourism. I'm ready to write this legislation that will lead to better lives for all of us. If you want to know more about my legislative priorities or read about the negative mailers that have gone out against me, go to SiahforSenate.com.
Williams: Thank you for everyone for sitting through this two hours. It is very much appreciated. I want to reiterate that I am the only candidate that is qualified for this job because of the experiences I have been through. We need a business-minded person. We need someone that can bring common sense to this. And we need someone that knows that because you're going through hardships in your life and because things are not going right that you can't abuse the system in order to gain from it yourself. I'm the only candidate that has been honest from the get-go in this whole process. And I am supported by none of the left-agenda progressive people that want to do harm to this community, that want to close their minds. We need to make sure we are doing the things to defend our police departments and not accuse them of producing or conducting reckless violence in our district. We need someone who stands up and does what's right even if it may be a hardship on them. We have to make sure that that happens. Those of you who had questions that didn't get answered, I challenge you to email them to me, because I want to know what they were, and I will answer them. My email address is email@example.com