August 28, 2018

Candidate Q&A: Ben Ray Luján, 3rd Congressional District candidate

Official photo of U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján

Editor’s note: This week, NM Political Report will publish Q&As with candidates for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor about their policy platforms regarding a range of topics, including abortion, contraception, LGBTQ issues and domestic violence.

For links to all of our stories, see here

The following is from a Q&A with Ben Ray Luján, the incumbent Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District.

NMPR: If re-elected, how will your beliefs about the separation between government and religion guide your work in Congress?

Ben Ray Luján: I’ve always believed you have to put people first in all your decisions. It’s the way that I was raised, treating people with respect and dignity, fighting for access when it comes to affordable and universal, quality healthcare, [which] makes such a difference in people’s lives. After [my family] lost our father, I have a whole new appreciation for families that have been diagnosed with chronic conditions and … what insurance companies call pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, diabetes or asthma. … My Republican colleagues have voted to take away protections for people with pre-existing conditions. They are even suing to take away protections for people with pre-existing conditions. That’s no way to treat people.

Understanding the economic constraints that so many people across America continue to face today, even the Trump administration has recently released reports showing that wages have fallen, not risen, since the passage of the tax bill, which I’ll refer to as a tax scam. It’s a piece of legislation that was supposed to prioritize middle-class families across America, but rather 80 percent of the benefit went to the most wealthy one-percent earners and corporations. That’s again, just no way to treat hard-working people.

… [My beliefs influence] me in the spirit of treating your neighbor the way you would like to be treated, … that you are your brother’s keeper, you are your your sister’s keeper, and we all have a role and responsibility in making a difference everywhere we can and making things better.

NMPR: Is healthcare a human right? Why or why not?

Ben Ray Luján: Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. And as I said earlier, healthcare should be affordable no matter how much money you make, accessible no matter where you live, and it should be high-quality no matter how you’re covered.

While in Congress, I have and will continue to support universal and affordable healthcare coverage and policies that are good for women, men [and] children, that keep services for our veterans and Indian nations intact. Like many of my Democratic colleagues, we have different ideas on how we can lower costs for the American people when it comes to healthcare and increase high-quality access. That’s, I think, something that’s positive, as opposed to the negative policies that we see come from our Republican colleagues. … While the Republicans have been in charge of the House, in charge of the Senate, and control of the White House, premiums and out-of-pocket costs for healthcare have skyrocketed for the American people, as well as the taking of protections away for people with pre-existing conditions. Again, making sure that healthcare is treated a right, not as a privilege, is something I inherently believe in and that I support.

NMPR: If elected, can you describe what measures you would take, if any, to ensure that contraception is easily accessible to anyone who needs it?

Ben Ray Luján: I think it needs to be included in policy and in advocacy, whether we are looking at funding initiatives for Health and Human Services, educational initiatives, and just public health policy in general. There is such a fear from so many of my Republican colleagues when contraception enters into any conversation. One of the examples … is most recently, I’m honored to sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and recently we were having a debate and mark-up on several pieces of legislation—one of which I had authored taking from some of the most recommended measures coming from Health and Human Services—to help post-partum women who are fighting addiction. One of the recommendations was to allow for contraception. Our Republican colleagues would not allow that provision to be considered, and as a result of that provision being included in the measure, they pulled the bill from consideration.

NMPR: What measures would you take, if any, to ensure that abortion is legal, safe and accessible?

Ben Ray Luján: Part of my commitment with making sure we are advocating for strong reproductive healthcare policies, and especially as it comes to protecting a women’s right to choose, comes with working directly with organizations like Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and NARAL to ensure that we’re able to protect a women’s right to choose. I believe strongly in a woman’s right to choose and have an A-rating from Planned Parenthood. It’s why I’m also working with our colleagues to win back the House. We understand the importance of a strong House of Representatives that can stand up to the Republican attacks on women and protect Roe v. Wade, especially in light of some of the recent nominations by President Donald Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s going to be more important than ever to proactively support that access to safe and legal reproductive health.

NMPR: Please describe how an LGBTQ person in your life has affected your worldview.

Ben Ray Luján: Family, friends and of my closest advisors … that are members of the LGBTQ community have helped me understand the discrimination they face on a regular basis. And colleagues that I’ve worked with, like Congressman Jared Polis or [Rep.] David Cicilline, who have championed the passing of the Equality Act, such that we need to make sure that every person—every man, woman and child, no matter their sex, their gender, their race, their sexual orientation—they need to be treated equally and protected equally under the law.

I still remember the horrific shooting we saw at the [2016] Pulse nightclub [in Orlando, Florida], and people were targeted because they were gay, because they were lesbian, because they were transgender, and also because of their ethnicity … There’s no reason Congress and all policy leaders across America should not be doing everything they can to make sure they’re protecting our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.

NMPR: What are your priorities when it comes to addressing the needs of the LGBTQ community, including those in rural and tribal communities?

Ben Ray Luján: First, it’s protecting some of the decisions that we recently saw, namely what was recently recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court, that people can marry who they love. We continue to hear from our Republican colleagues looking to overturn measures and important decisions like that.

Number two, it’s working with colleagues, like Rep. Jared Polis—who will be the next governor of Colorado and won’t be in Congress in 2019 … though we’ll still work closely with him—and colleagues like [Rep.] Mark Pocan and [Rep.] David Cicilline and [Rep.] Mark Takano in the House, to make sure we’re working to pass the Equality Act. And that in every piece of policy and legislation, we work to include those protections for our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.

We are also working on passing the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. That needs to come up soon. … When that debate was originally had, many of our Republican colleagues would not work with Democrats to include protections for women, not only in the Native American community, but in the LGBTQ community as well. We need to ensure those protections are continued as we pass that legislation.

NMPR: What is your stance regarding proposals to enact federal work requirements for SNAP, subsidized housing and other public assistance programs?

Ben Ray Luján: I think that so some many of my Republican colleagues that oppose Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs—mainly the rejection of those provisions in the Farm Bill—just don’t understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of so many people across America. These are people that are working three jobs, raising their families, veterans who have served our country. Some are the most vulnerable people in our community with disabilities. I just don’t understand why Republican colleagues work year after year to try to eliminate that program. It’s my role and responsibility—not just on behalf of my constituents in New Mexico, but on the behalf of the entire state and for that matter, across America—to fight and advocate for strong SNAP programs across the country.

We also need to recognize that we need strong affordable housing programs. There’s no reason we can’t be working more, not just to combat homelessness across America, but also specific to work that needs to be done to maintain our commitment to veterans, to our heroes that have served our country, to combat homelessness within those communities. But also to we need make sure there is strong affordable housing across the country. So many people can’t afford to get into homes, and in America, we should make sure that those programs are robust and strong. I believe in them, and I support them.

NMPR: What is your stance regarding the Republican tax bill that includes major cuts to food assistance and a provision to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a key part of the ACA, that will go into effect with the tax bill next year?

Ben Ray Luján: The Republican bill—which I often refer to after learning this from the American people as a tax scam—was authored by our Republican colleagues under the guise that middle-class, hardworking families would be prioritized in the bill. What we saw was a tax bill that prioritized and had giveaways to corporations and the top one-percent earners across America. Over 83 percent of the benefits went to the top one-percent earners and corporations … Republicans also went after the Affordable Care Act in their tax bill. I would argue that because of the passage of the tax scam, what Republicans have done is increase premiums on the American people when it comes to healthcare and increased out-of-pocket costs, as well.

… What concerns me and most people across America, which is why the tax bill is still unpopular, is how will Republicans pay for this bill? President Donald Trump included in his budget similar provisions [to] what we heard from [Republican] Speaker [of the House], Paul Ryan. They will go after Medicare and Social Security, cutting those programs, as opposed to moving responsible policy. Furthermore, if Republicans don’t do anything to pay for these provisions of the tax scam, they are passing a trillion-dollar debt to our kids and grandkids. It’s irresponsible and did not deliver on any promise. I would say that those are just some of several reasons why it’s unpopular across the country.

NMPR: What is your agenda for helping combat our state’s and our nation’s high prevalence of substance abuse disorders?

Ben Ray Luján: This is such an important and serious issue, and one that I’ve been working on during the time I’ve been in the Congress, and especially my time on the [House] Energy and Commerce Committee. Families across northern New Mexico are struggling under the burden of the opioid epidemic, and that’s why it’s important to work with both sides of the aisle to help our families. Along with one of my Republican colleagues, I introduced the MOTHER Act that will help healthcare providers better treat pregnant women with opioid use disorder as well as help babies who are born experiencing opioid withdrawal. The bill addresses early intervention, education and expanded treatment options for prenatal and postpartum mothers and their babies. I supported a package of legislation that begins to address the opioid crisis in the nation, which included provisions I developed. I believe it will make a difference in New Mexico.

What I really believe needs to happen, if Congress … and the federal government are going to be serious, we need to do all we that can to address the opioid epidemics across America, we need an approach similar to what the Ryan White [CARE] Act was able to accomplish when it came to treating the AIDS epidemic in America. There were serious investments, there were provisions, and there was an all-out commitment by the federal government to work with all partners to make sure that support was there. That’s what I believe needs to be done.

We also have to do everything we can to eliminate the stigma, so that people that are combating addiction or suffering from addiction can come forward, without people judging them. We need to make sure we treat this as a health crisis. One of the biggest mistakes of today is trying to incarcerate America’s way out of this epidemic.

NMPR: If elected, what will you do to address the high numbers of families affected by incarceration, including rising numbers of women?

Ben Ray Luján: When we look at both local policies and federal policies around incarcerating individuals across America, there have to be changes and reforms to reflect the nature of why people are being arrested. …The fact that if you come from a community where you may not have as many resources and are not able to afford strong [legal] representation, the chances increase by many-fold that you will be incarcerated. Reform after reform have to be raised in order to make sure we’re addressing those issues as well.

We’ve seen several states now decriminalize marijuana. Now you can get caught ticket or a misdemeanor as opposed to arrest … I think that’s an important example of a reform. Everything needs to be looked at, and improvements need to be made … especially with increased incarceration not just with women but in communities of color, mainly our Latino and African-American brothers and sisters.

NMPR: How will you take action regarding the federal government’s detention of asylees and immigrant families, including families with children?

The inhumane separation of children from their families must be stopped. While the Trump administration has signed an executive order, and the Department of Homeland Security secretary claims this has ended, but many of us are very skeptical. As a matter of fact, the evidence suggests otherwise. These children need to be reunited with their families, and it’s clear that the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the Trump administration failed in their responsibility to do so, as ordered by the court.

Ultimately, I believe we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We have a broken immigration system in America. Many people forget that over half the people that are here in the United States undocumented arrived legally and are here on expired visas. The system does not work. We also know that the Trump administration has done everything it can to demonize and demagogue Dreamers, these young leaders who have served our country. They are teachers and community leaders that we all know. There needs to be a path to citizenship, not just for Dreamers, but there needs to be a consideration for inclusion of a path to citizenship in our comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Those are several provisions I believe will address what’s happening with this administration, but especially when we talk about the inhumane treatments and separating of children and the way they’re being held, in addition to full investigation into several of these authorities. We’re learning more and more of abuses with sexual abuse, sexual harassment, within these facilities and organizations.

NMPR: What are your top priorities for improving safety and support services for survivors of sex offenses?

Ben Ray Luján: All of the courageous women who have come forward and made the #MeToo conversation part of everything that needs to be addressed, they need to be recognized. Number two, there need to be policies and provisions put in place. We’re seeing Congresswoman Jackie Speier lead in the House of Representatives to change the culture and the dynamic and the treatment of sexual harassment and sexual assault, domestic violence and abuse, at every level. The more that can be done, the better. But the conversation needs to be had, policies need to be enacted, protections need to be put forth, and people also need to believe victims that are coming forward.

NMPR: What are your top priorities for improving safety and support services for survivors of domestic violence?

Ben Ray Luján: Sadly, we’ve also seen the elimination of funding for support homes for victims. We need to be sure there’s more support in every community across America for victims of domestic violence and rape, a safe place for the women and their children. Access to healthcare, again—making sure we’re protecting women in each and every way that we can. And also the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and improving upon the Act, to find any deficiencies that exist in protecting women and children, and making sure that we’re enacting and strengthening those provisions. Those would be critically important … as that debate comes forward now in September.

NMPR: Is there anything you wish I’d asked about issues that affect New Mexico women and families?

Ben Ray Luján: I think maybe the only other thing I would add … is that just as we about the importance of comprehensive policy surrounding women, often the conversation centers in healthcare and reproductive health, which is critically important. But more needs to be talked about when it comes to equal pay for women, when it comes to family leave and sick leave, access to daycare and daycare programs, and education. We already covered housing and SNAP, but these are all important programs as we talk about protections for women and policies that impact women. I think people forget that every policy that is enacted impacts women, and they need to be part of that important debate and conversation.

All of this week’s candidate Q&A’s were edited for clarity and length, although we did not edit the meaning of candidates’ answers. We did not include, however, tangents or off-topic issues candidates raised during the course of the conversations. It’s also important to note that the candidate’s answers aren’t annotated and we don’t point out any possible inaccuracies or misstatements.   

Update: Changed some areas to reflect that Luján is the incumbent and running for reelection.