Q&A: GOP chair says promise of reform resonates with voters

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Debbie Maestas says Republicans won control of the New Mexico House in 2014 because “people are tired of Democrats protecting the status quo” and the GOP is focused on reform.

Deborah Maestas, chairwoman of the Republican Party of New Mexico

Courtesy photo

Debbie Maestas, chairwoman of the Republican Party of New Mexico

The new chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico says most Americans share the same concerns. “It’s about kitchen-table issues like better-paying jobs, job creation, better schools and safer neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s also about restoring failed leadership in our government — and that resonates with all voters.” She also spoke about the importance of Republicans and Democrats “coming together to govern.”

In an extensive interview conducted by email, NMPolitics.net asked how Maestas’ statement about working together fit with her criticism of Democrats for continuing “to support a failed status quo with failed leadership.” Maestas, who was deputy manager for Allen Weh’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2014, took time to respond to our initial questions and engage in some back-and-forth dialogue.

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On Weh’s campaign, Maestas was responsible for back-office functions, negotiating with vendors, and keeping campaign expenditures within budget, according to a bio provided by the state GOP. She also provided management oversight of internet-based fundraising.

Before that, Maestas spent 16 years working for CSI Aviation, Inc., a company for which Weh is the chief executive offer. Maestas last served as the company’s president and was responsible for business development, operations and service departments, and contractual and financial transactions.

Maestas is a Native New Mexican who graduated from St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque. She’s married and has one daughter.

Here’s the full interview, with questions in bold and answers immediately following:

Just six years after Obama won big in New Mexico, voters have given Republicans the majority in the New Mexico House. Republicans are part of a coalition that determines leadership in the Senate. Voters have also placed Republicans in the majority of statewide offices – governor, lieutenant governor, land commissioner and secretary of state. How did a historically Democratic-leaning state get here? Would you talk both about what you see the Republican Party doing right and what the Democratic Party is doing wrong?

Republicans ran on a platform of commonsense reform. Much of our agenda is widely supported by the people of New Mexico, and dozens of public opinion polls have confirmed this. Also, we understand the importance of both political parties coming together to govern. And while this is a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, our ideas and values transcend this political divide, and that it is demonstrated in the fact that we hold several statewide offices as well as the New Mexico State House.

Republicans are supporting an agenda that a vast majority of New Mexicans can get behind. That is because these sensible-conservative ideas are moving New Mexico forward.

Democrats, on the other hand, continue to support a failed status quo with failed leadership. They are unable to convince voters that their agenda is mainstream because it isn’t. They are far too focused on protecting their own special interests.

You say the state GOP understands the importance of the parties coming together to govern. In that same answer you attack Democrats for, among other things, continuing “to support a failed status quo with failed leadership.” How has the GOP worked to come together to govern with Democrats? Please provide some examples. How does attacking Democrats encourage working together?

Republicans demonstrated a great effort to work with Democrats and govern this past legislative session. Yet on many proposals Democrats chose to block legislation that would have benefited all New Mexicans.

Both parties came together to pass a budget that puts more money in the classroom and provide starting teachers with a $2,000-per-year salary increase, and while this is a good accomplishment, there is so much more to do. So we’ll continue to criticize the Democrats for blocking efforts to end social promotion, eliminate the dangerous law that gives drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, as well as legislation to give workers the freedom to join a union or not. Public opinion polling on these issues show at least 60 percent of New Mexicans support each of these reform initiatives.

So it’s not attacking the Democrats, it’s illustrating the fact that Democrats chose not to work together on issues that now only continue to hurt New Mexicans.

Can you elaborate on this sentence? “Republicans demonstrated a great effort to work with Democrats and govern this past legislative session.”

Republicans brought forth good and worthy legislation in an effort to better New Mexico and with the intention of working with Democrats to get it passed. The budget was full of proposals that both Democrats and Republicans supported, including raising teacher pay and helping small businesses create jobs in order to improve our economy.

You also state that we got to this place – where the GOP controls so many seats in state government – largely because of the GOP platform of “commonsense reform.” Is that different than in the past? If so, how has the platform changed to successfully win voters? What’s been added and what’s been removed? If it hasn’t changed significantly, than what else makes this a unique time in this state’s history in which the GOP has so much control?

Most Americans share these same concerns, whether Republican or Democrat. So our platform is simply refocused — it’s about kitchen-table issues like better-paying jobs, job creation, better schools and safer neighborhoods. It’s also about restoring failed leadership in our government — and that resonates with all voters.

For example, we took the State House for the first time in 60 years because people are tired of Democrats protecting the status quo. Republicans promised reform and that is why we hold more elected offices than in the past.

It could be argued that the Republican gains may be temporary – that the N.M. House could easily flip back to Democrats in 2016, and that recent GOP gains are at least partly due to the popularity of Gov. Susana Martinez, a unique political figure. What structural and other changes does the Republican Party need to make to ensure it stays this competitive going forward?

Republicans need to continue our push for sound reforms and economic progress that will grow New Mexico. Republicans are a diverse group of people and we have to better illustrate that so we do not fall victim to the Democrats’ politics of division.

At the same time, we need to build up our resources and grassroots operation so we can effectively take our message directly to the voters. That is why we have gotten started so early raising money, reaching out to local communities and hiring staff.

Campaign finance changes including Citizens United have arguably made political party organizations less influential than they once were. Much of the money is being spent elsewhere, often through independent expenditures that wealthy donors directly control. How influential can the state Republican Party be going forward? As of April 7 the state Republican Party reported having $8,592.68 on hand in for its state organization and, as of April 20, $53,828.83 for its federal organization. Do you plan to increase the party’s fundraising and, if so, how? Other than fundraising, what else can the state party do to help Republican candidates going forward?

Our fundraising has improved dramatically since the 2014 election cycle. People are excited about the changes made here at the Republican Party of New Mexico. This month, we have presidential candidate Carly Fiorina keynoting our major fundraising annual event. (Editor’s note: We conducted this interview before Fiorina’s May 30 visit to Albuquerque.)

Other than raising money, we help our candidates by providing a strong communications effort as well as building a solid grassroots organization across the state. Putting people on the ground in these key districts and counties will be the difference between victory and defeat up and down the ballot next year. Donors large and small are enthusiastically supporting our effort, and our party is in stronger financial shape than it has been in years.

You correctly point out that fundraising has increased since the 2014 election cycle and seem to attribute that to changes in the state GOP’s leadership, including your own election as chairwoman. Can you talk about the significance of the change in leadership? What wasn’t working before, and why? What is working now and why?

Republicans are excited at the overall momentum and the opportunities that lie ahead because of our renewed push for commonsense conservativism. The change has brought energy, visibility and a consistent message, which attracts support from Republicans, Democrats and independents. Our recent efforts have activists and community leaders excited about the party. We also put together a qualified team who believes in our Republican candidates and are there to support them.

Tell me more about “commonsense conservatism.” What exactly does that mean to you, and how is it different than how the GOP focused in the past?

Commonsense conservatism is about logical and sensible ideas, which all voters relate to, but also want and need. It’s about being grounded in your values and voting for those who support your values, regardless of political party. This has become more important because there are many Conservative Democrats and independents who make up a large share of the electorate and support commonsense conservative values.

Republicans in New Mexico have done a decent job in recent years of putting people of color on the ballot and getting them elected. Three of the four statewide elected Republicans, for example, are Hispanic, while one of the three statewide elected Democrats is Hispanic. Has its focus on finding candidates of color contributed to the GOP’s recent gains and, if so, how? Like so many New Mexicans your family is bicultural. What has it meant to you, as a woman whose husband and daughter are Hispanic, to see the GOP increase its focus on recruiting candidates of color? Will such recruitment be part of your focus going forward and, if so, how will help the GOP continue to find success in that area?

New Mexico is a diverse state in terms of cultural background as well as ideas to help our state, as well as our country. We understand this, and with only 31 percent of registered Republicans we recognize that we need to grow the party by promoting pragmatic solutions to issues facing the state.

Clearly with Governor Martinez, Lt. Governor Sanchez and Secretary of State Diana Duran we have made headway electing Hispanic leaders, but there is much more to do.

Beyond the physical appearances of our candidates, we are expanding our party because the Republican Party stands for kitchen table issues like job creation, economic growth, safer neighborhoods and better schools. More than anything else that is what New Mexicans want and what our state desperately needs.

Lastly, New Mexico is a conservative state. Even Democrats have begun to move toward our side on a number of issues because they make sense.

You say the party has made headway in electing Hispanic leaders but “there is much more to do.” Can you elaborate? What is there to do and how will you help make it happen?

There is more to do in growing our presence within all groups and communities. It has become increasingly clear that we are a diverse party, made up of several cultural groups, and there are many shared needs and concerns. Therefore it’s about strengthening our outreach in communities such as the Latino community. For example, just the other day Republicans were at South Valley Pride Day talking about our values and how we support policies to benefit working families. We also attended a naturalization ceremony whereby we congratulated our new U.S. citizens. We understand that we have to earn support, not just expect people to vote for us. We also understand this is about a continued presence in these communities, talking about the many values we share.

It also sounds to me like you’re saying all New Mexicans, regardless of ethnicity, care about issues the GOP stands for “like job creation, economic growth, safer neighborhoods and better schools.” Are you saying focusing on those issues is one way to further increase the party’s multiculturalism?

Again, voters share the same concerns, regardless of being a Republican or Democrat, and our commonsense approach centers on crucial issues for the vast majority of people like job creation, economic growth, safer neighborhoods and better schools. So as Republicans remain focused on these issues, along with restoring leadership in America, we will grow our party among all demographics. It’s about working to find common ground to move New Mexico and our country forward.

You talk about “working to find common ground.” Does that include compromising with people who disagree with Republicans or does it mean doing a better job of communicating your position and getting more people to support it?

Working to find common ground is about compromise. Republicans provide sensible proposals whereby both parties can get onboard and allow politics to be set aside and do what’s right for New Mexico and our country. Republicans promote these consensus-building ideas which will win over voters and gain support.

Editor’s note: You can also read a Q&A with the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

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