Albuquerque, NM – With polls continuing to show that the New Mexico governor's race remains fairly tight, the two candidates for that office are doing all they can to position themselves in voters' minds as the best choice given the challenges that lie ahead. In their second debate of the election season Sunday in Albuquerque, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish and Republican Las Cruces District Attorney Susana Martinez each made their appeals on jobs, taxes, and immigration. KUNM's Jim Williams reports.
Williams: Martinez clearly believes that voters are fed up with the direction in which New Mexico is headed. In her opening statement at Congregation Albert, she continued to promise, in her words, "bold change" that would be a 180-degree difference from the last eight years. She said as a prosecutor, she's been a fighter for those who can't fight for themselves, and that she'd bring that spirit to the Governor's office. Denish was on the offensive from the start, saying Martinez's television ads are a misleading distraction from the issues in the campaign.
Denish: My opponent, she's running negative ads, going after a teacher, going after me and my family. Non-partisan groups have called her out, and they've said those ads are false, and that she's lying. But she's not talking about some things. She's not talking about what really matters to New Mexico families.
Williams: Denish said those things are education, energy, environment, and jobs. One of the things on voters' minds, as well, is the state budget deficit, and what impact it will have on taxes. Both Denish and Martinez have said they won't raise taxes, Martinez pledging not to do so in her first four years, Denish pledging not to do so in the first several years. But if raising taxes isn't an option, how would they deal with the budget shortfall? It's an issue Martinez first uses to slam the current administration.
Martinez: Two hundred million dollars is the current deficit, and that's without the removal of the stimulus dollars. Once we do that we will be facing clearly anywhere near a half a billion dollar deficit. That is the record of the Richardson-Denish Administration. And what I propose first is a zero-based budget growth in state government. We have to get our fiscal house in order. We cannot afford to continue to spend as though we have the money in the bank.
Williams: Martinez says all state agencies and programs will need to be audited to find and eliminate waste. She said, though, that she'll oppose cutting from education and Medicaid. For her part, Denish again highlighted a 36-point plan for New Mexico to, in her words, tighten its belt.
Denish: Cut political appointees with high-paid salaries and save New Mexico ten million dollars a year. Propose voluntary buyouts for people who might wanna retire and Save New Mexico between 25 and 30 million dollars a year. And let's make sure that we're doing smart reorganization, combining departments, combining back-office efforts, and make sure that we're saving money for New Mexico taxpayers.
Williams: Denish proposes cutting the state's car fleet as much as possible, and reducing per diem and travel expenses by using technology to better link state workers and agencies. On Sunday, as she has in the past, Denish said Martinez's budget as a district attorney grew 160 percent since 1997, 70 percent since 2003. Earlier this year, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce gave Denish the "Budget Bulldog" award for her opposition to increases in the state food and gross receipts taxes that were considered by the legislature. Denish highlighted that Sunday as well. And she reiterated that she has a comprehensive plan to cut state government when Martinez has not been very specific. The issue of driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants came up in the debate. A state law passed in 2003 allows people without citizenship papers to obtain licenses in New Mexico. Martinez said it's time to repeal that law.
Martinez: I also propose to revoke those driver's licenses that have been issues to over 50-thousand individuals in the state of New Mexico, many from other parts of this country who have come here for that very specific reason. We have to make New Mexico less attractive. And the reason we have to do that is because they see "sanctuary" here. They see that they can receive sanctuary even when arrested for criminal activity, and that is where my focus is.
Williams: Denish said she agrees that the driver's license law needs to be repealed because it's, in her words, "horribly flawed".
Denish: But I refuse to accept the fact that she has a plan. She has no plan to go out and revoke those licenses. If we repeal the law, it'll take care of itself. They'll start to be revoked when they come up for renewal.
Williams: But Martinez said that's not enough.
Martinez: Actually, I'm not willing to wait eight years for individuals who have received their driver's licenses and paid for an eight year driver's license. I'm not willing to wait for those eight years to come about before their licenses are no longer valid. And actually it's very simple. All we do is send them a notice that their license has been revoked, and it's been revoked because of a change in the law.
Williams: There was a question about jobs leaving the state, with both candidates asked what can be done to stimulate job creation in New Mexico. Martinez said she doesn't believe that state government creates jobs, but should create an environment in which jobs can easily be created. She said the state should start by cutting the number of taxes in place on small businesses. And then she emphasized a point on which Denish has been criticizing her of late.
Martinez: We have to get rid of the regulations that are killing our jobs as well that are not scientifically based. We have jobs that are being lost because of the green building codes. We have to provide incentives for those to exist in our state absolutely but to make it mandatory during this recession, is only more and more difficult for the families who are being required to pay those costs.
Williams: Denish said Martinez's plan to roll back regulations is in part payback for industries that are helping to fund her campaign. She said the state can create jobs by offering a 25-hundred dollar tax credit for each job created and investing 2 point 5 million dollars in New Mexico's community banks so they can make small business loans.
Denish: When I became lieutenant governor the first thing I did was take the roundhouse on the road small business forums all across New Mexico. I listened to the people of New Mexico. They said "we need access to capital". And I launched the microlending program. Today, 2,000 businesses have been able to expand, create a job, maybe they bought some new equipment.
Williams: Reaction afterward was mixed, though many seemed to feel that the tone of the debate was somewhat negative. Agnes Maldonado said she felt like Denish especially seemed a little angry.
Maldonado: I wanna say that I'm a Democrat supporting Susana as a Republican because I really believe we need change in the state of New Mexico. The corruption has gotta end, and this administration has done that to us. As a Democrat I strong very firmly about that. I think what they have done to this state is horrible.
Williams: Bill Kennoff, an independent voter who said he's still undecided, said he felt like specifics were somewhat lacking in the debate.
Kennoff: Particularly, unfortunately, from the lieutenant governor, who should have the knowledge, because she has been involved for eight years. But what we heard was more comment about this action that was taken by her opponent or that action that was taken by her opponent. And from Martinez's side, what we seemed to hear more of was taking shots at mistakes that the administration has made instead of discussing in-depth with some specific focus, how they're gonna address solutions.
Williams: It will be undecideds like Kennoff who will sway this race one way or the other. The Denish campaign spent Monday trying to get the word out about a new poll that shows the race tied at 46 percent, with 7 percent undecided. Other recent polls have shown Martinez with a slight lead.