The four Republican gubernatorial candidates who attended a forum Saturday in Las Cruces agreed on many of the issues that were discussed.
In general, most of the candidates agreed that it’s time to end corruption in state government, to improve the business climate by simplifying and reducing taxes and regulations, to secure the border, and to diversify education options by allowing school choice, supporting homeschooling and bringing back vocational education.
So what sets them apart from each other? As a lawyer who deals with environmental regulations, Pete Domenici Jr. said during the forum, sponsored by the Republican Party of Doña Ana County, that he knows “where the roadblocks are.”
“I actually know the people that are the road blocks,” Domenici said.
Janice Arnold-Jones highlighted her success in bringing webcasting to the Legislature as a way to point to her experience as a state lawmaker.
“Some of you know me as the lady with the webcam because you helped defeat the same-day voter registration bill, and you did it from right here in Doña Ana County,” she said, a reference to her webcasting meetings of a committee that considered the bill earlier this year.
Susana Martinez pointed to her work as Doña Ana County’s district attorney, arguing that she has the experience to clean up corruption, which she said will improve the state’s business climate, and that she has more experience in dealing with border issues than the other candidates.
“I have stood alone and made tough decisions,” Martinez said.
“I think there’s probably nothing more that qualifies me for this job than having no prior government experience,” he said. “… We need a governor who understands that money doesn’t grow on trees.”
(Turner was a member of the state’s Judicial Standards Commission during the Johnson administration, but it was a volunteer, appointed position.)
The fifth Republican gubernatorial candidate, Allen Weh, didn’t attend the forum.
Turner spoke a lot about how New Mexico’s business regulations and taxes stack up against those in neighboring states. He said Texas is currently creating jobs because it has consistent regulations and lower taxes. Instead of providing incentives to large corporations to come to New Mexico, Turner suggested creating an investment fund to help small businesses.
Turner also said he would simplify the state’s regulatory system. And he highlighted a motion he filed in district court last week seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the administration from implementing a state cap-and-trade system without the Legislature’s approval.
The businessman talked about how government has grown under the Richardson administration, and said he would “get rid of every single political appointee that this governor has created.” He said he would implement a true hiring freeze.
Turner said New Mexico’s retirement system needs to be more in line with others – retirement plans should be subject to the ups and downs of the market, he said, and employees shouldn’t be allowed to draw retirement until age 65, or whatever age is comparable in the federal system.
On education, Turner said he supports vouchers and would do more to support home-schooling. He favors increased early childhood education. He said the educational system should not be entirely dependent on test scores and shouldn’t protect bad teachers from losing their jobs.
On immigration, Turner said he opposes so-called sanctuary policies that forbid local law enforcement from checking immigration status.
Martinez spoke about electability. She talked about having been raised to be a Democrat and switching parties after realizing her values were Republican. She said that could have ended her political career before it began in a county in which Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans, but she’s won election four times since because she “stood by my values.”
In talking about her support for lower taxes and fewer regulations, Martinez said decisions need to be “based on commonsense and on facts and evidence.” The latter is a theme she’s sounded regularly to talk about how being a prosecutor would help her govern. She said state government “cannot show favor to any special interest groups.”
“We have to do all of that by eliminating corruption, which is a part of every decision that is made by the current administration,” Martinez said.
She called for an attitude shift in state government, saying the current mindset “is definitely not a customer-friendly mindset.”
Martinez also talked about her experience in prosecuting immigration- and drug-related crimes. She said securing the border is necessary so that children feel safe at school, people feel safe shopping, and businesses feel safe locating in New Mexico.
On education, Martinez also called for the return of vocational education and called for school choice. She also said schools must become more transparent and called for their budgets to be put online so communities can know exactly how their money is being spent.
Arnold-Jones, like the others, called for lower taxes, a simplified tax code, and “tax equity.” She also said government must have a service mindset and that people shouldn’t be hired because of who they know.
“Hire for competence. What a concept, I know,” Arnold-Jones said.
On immigration, she said the border can’t be sealed by any physical barrier, but it can be sealed with technology, and that should be done.
“We have to seal the border,” she said.
Currently, she said, FCC rules hamper radio communications among U.S. officers along the border, but those coming illegally from Mexico don’t face the same challenges. That’s one regulation, she said, that needs to change.
She also called for prosecuting employers who hire illegal workers and said there shouldn’t be any wilderness areas along the border – an apparent reference to a proposal to create a number of wilderness areas in Doña Ana County.
On education, Arnold-Jones said the focus must be on valuing education as more than “a jobs program.” She said she supports charter schools, vocational education, homeschooling, online training and other uniquely tailored programs that allow students to learn in a setting that’s best for them.
Throughout the forum, Domenici focused on his pledge to “make New Mexico a business-friendly state.”
“It’s time to end corruption in Santa Fe, it’s time to deflate big government, it’s time for a new New Mexico,” he said.
Domenici said ending “the practice and appearance” of corruption must come first. Once that’s complete, Domenici said, the focus must shift to becoming “fundamentally, at our heart,” a state that welcomes businesses. He said he would eliminate all currently vacant positions in state government and others as they become vacant.
He spoke a lot about personal responsibility, saying, “people and communities need to stand up and speak out in favor of business.” He also said New Mexico needs to make education a cultural value, and said government should emphasize to parents and communities “the inherent value of an education.”
“We need to be sure that parents are responsible, that parents are encouraged to do as much as they can,” Domenici said.
Domenici said it’s the federal government’s responsibility to reform immigration, and he would push Washington to do that as governor. Until it happens, he said the governor must do what he can by sending the National Guard to the border. He said he would also end policies that forbid police officers from checking immigration status and allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses.