LAS CRUCES — In a southern New Mexico Democratic primary election to replace Rep. Jeff Steinborn, the race appears remarkably civil.
But the race between three Democratic candidates vying for the open seat is also very competitive. So far, all have raised between $10,000-$12,000 each for the June 7 election.
And each candidate offers their own flavor.
Angelica Rubio, 36, emphasizes her broad organizing experience that involves successfully leading a push to raise the minimum wage in Las Cruces and managing the campaign of City Councilor Kasandra Gandara, a progressive who won election last fall by just 18 votes. Ray Jaramillo, 41, brings up his 22 years of working in early childhood education, a key part of his campaign platform. And Paul “Pablo” Martinez, 51, speaks of his past union organizing and emphasizes his bipartisan bona fides.
“We all have the same goals and objectives,” Martinez said, referring to both Democrats and Republicans. “It’s just a difference of methodology. We’re so caught up in gridlock. People in my own party and the majority of my district, they’re telling me, ‘We want you to work across party lines and get things done.’”
He mentions cutting government “red tape” for businesses as one issue he can compromise with Republicans on, referencing a long planning and permit process for businesses in Las Cruces. But he’s also adamant that there are issues he can’t compromise on, like human rights.
“I don’t think we should pick on any minority group of [use] any type of xenophobia that causes hate,” Martinez, a private investigator who has contracted with the county sheriff, said, “like what [Donald] Trump is trying to do.”
He also said he supports giving incentives to businesses that hire at-risk employees, especially employees just released from jail or prison. The state should also support more New Mexico-located businesses and not contract as much with out of state companies, he argued.
As far as funding these type of incentives, especially given the state’s current budget problems, Martinez is more vague.
“I think that the price of oil is starting to go up,” he said. “We have to put our priorities in the right place. We spend a lot of money in corrections.”
Rubio mentions legislative ethics as one of the big issues she would like to focus on as a lawmaker. She said she’s not proud of the fact that New Mexico is one of eight states without an independent ethics commission and also said she wants more transparency in the how the legislature approves and uses state money for local projects.
“I’m concerned about issues related to capital outlay and how that functions and how money doesn’t ever get to the people who really need it,” Rubio said.
Rubio also speaks about advocating change for how the state Legislature works, particularly its part-time, unpaid set-up for lawmakers. She laments how oftentimes, it feels like “decisions have already been made even prior to a [legislative] session,” and adds that one new lawmaker can’t change a culture alone.
“You don’t move policy by electing one person,” Rubio said. “You move policy by being completely active and the forcing the person governing you to act on your behalf.”
Combating poverty is another key area of focus for Rubio. She said state government can work better to communicate with residents about what is already available to help them.
“There are a lot of programs that do exists that the state level that people have access to but just don’t know about them,” she said.
Investing more money in early childhood education is the big issue for Jaramillo, but he isn’t necessarily attached to the proposal by Democrats to tap the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for the increased funding. While Jaramillo supports that concept, he also argues that the federal Enabling Act would restrict the money to just public providers and not private early childhood providers like Alpha School for Young Children, where he works as the director.
While Jaramillo said he would “love” to work on legislation involving using the Permanent Fund for early childhood education, he would also “tweak it to talk about the Enabling Act.”
“It doesn’t make sense to put the cart before the horse,” Jaramillo said. “That money could not get to some of the people actually doing that work.”
It’s a position that the state Attorney General has disagreed with in legal memorandums.
Jaramillo said he would support alternative funding methods for early childhood education like legalizing marijuana, investing in industrial hemp, and taxing alcohol and cigarettes.