Sen. Richard C. Martinez, top left, speaks during Monday evening’s LWV virtual candidates forum as challenger Leo Jaramillo, bottom right, listens. Also pictured are LWV timekeeper Lynn Jones, top right, and moderator Barbara Calef. Screenshot/Los Alamos Reporter
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Incumbent Sen. Richard C. Martinez and his opponent Leo Jaramillo participated in the May 4 League of Women Voters of Los Alamos virtual candidates forum, fielding questions on topics ranging from broadband to the budget deficit.
In his opening statement, Martinez said he wanted to let everyone know that he is interested in running again.
“I’ve served in the senate as your senator for District 5 for about 19 years – I’m in my 20th year I believe. During my tenure I have introduced legislation that has affected my constituency very positively. It has affected a lot of my constituents especially the elderly, seniors, the veterans, disabled and regular veterans,” Martinez said. “I’ve always introduced legislation that takes care of my constituents and I want to continue doing so. I am looking forward to the questions and answers. I hope that the questions are not personal by any means but I will answer any questions that we have.”
Jaramillo introduced himself as a native son of the Espanola Valley and currently the chair of the Rio Arriba County Commission . During his 16 months in office he said he has taken on some really big initiatives.
“I worked on ensuring that our employees received their first pay increase in several years. I’m the only elected official that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency when they threatened to walk away from the plume that is threatening the drinking water on our Espanola west side. I challenged them when they were leaving after their 10-year time period stopped,” he said.
Jaramillo noted that a second toxic plume was found and that he challenged the EPA insisting that their timeline should start again.
“When that that didn’t happen, I then championed a resolution with my fellow commissioners and it got the attention of our national delegation who are standing beside Rio Arriba County to find a solution to that issue,” he said.
Jaramillo said he also challenged the Sonic Corporation from moving next door into a predominantly residential area and stopped them from the effects they could have on the acequia in the San Pedro community.
“That enthusiasm and what I’m doing as a commissioner, I want to bring to the Roundhouse as your senator. As your senator I can make sure that I rebuild and strengthen our economy, provide access to affordable housing, ensure that every child has a secure, safe and quality education, safeguard our drinking water and restore credibility back to the District 5 seat,” he said.
“I’m happy to be with you here today even though it’s virtually because Los Alamos is my home away from home. I’m a chief of staff/admin officer at Los Alamos National Laboratory for one of the associate Laboratory directors where I advise in human resources, finances and strategic planning,” Jaramillo said. “Believe it or not I’m a former coach and educator who worked on building a cohesive community with rival schools in Espanola Valley High School and Los Alamos High School, and by building that relationship I was then named the New Mexico Activities Association coach of the year. So Los Alamos is definitely my second home.”
He said most importantly he is “one of your northern New Mexicans who want what’s best for our communities, who want to see us strive and move forward and by being one of you, collectively we will move northern New Mexico forward”.
The first question posed to the candidates was whether or not New Mexico should consider alternative types of voting systems such as ranked choice voting. Jaramillo responded that what the state should do is ensure that the primary election is open.
“What we’re seeing in New Mexico is typically the winner of the primary is the winner of the take-all election. So in these types of elections I really believe that we need to open up the primary so everyone has a chance to vote for the candidate of their choice immediately during the primary,” Jaramillo responded. “We’re seeing something interesting with COVID where we’re now starting to see a different way we can elect candidates by doing the absentee ballot to make sure everybody is safe but yes, I definitely believe in the time that we’re in we should be looking at alternative ways of ensuring that we can elect candidates increase voter participation.”
Martinez said he has never been the biggest supporter of ranked choice elections but that he felt that something needed to be done about the elections.
“I think now would have been the perfect time to be able to do the vote by mail in. I think that is very important. This is a time that we could have used it and the only thing is that we would have to do it legislatively and the timing is not there for us to have a special session before running the election being that it’s only four weeks away,” Martinez said. “I think that we do need to make some changes and I think that we’ve got a secretary of state that really knows a lot of work and she introduces a lot of really good legislation. She’s doing a really great job and I will support her in whatever she chooses. We’re always looking for change.”
The candidates were next asked what plans they have to deal with the budget deficit they will face when they take office. Martinez said he thinks the governor has already made a lot of changes in the budget.
“She’s cut quite a bit. In Rio Arriba alone and in some of our districts I believe she cut like $4 million out of each capital outlay appropriation that we got so that’s one way. Another way is to decrease spending. We cannot be dependent on oil and gas so we need to find other revenues such as renewable energy,” Martinez said. “We’ve got the perfect climate for it. We’ve got plenty of sun and I think that we need to open those avenues. We’re caucusing right now so I should know a little better what the caucus ends up doing within a week or so.”
Jaramillo said what needs to happen is that the legislature needs to make sure to get some economists in who help in their field of expertise to steer New Mexico in the direction. He said not only is it the time to handle the budget deficit but it is the perfect time to look at the diversification of the state budget.
“We rely heavily on oil and gas. We then can look at different revenue sources to make sure that we can build up our budget and continue to move forward if we look at the new Green Deal, and look at solar and wind, and how we can work on making that a revenue source,” Jaramillo said. “We’ve heard from the governor who really championed recreational marijuana and how money comes into states who have done that. We need to diversify New Mexico’s economy but the hard thing about this is we’re going to have to take some hard cuts to programs and pull money back in areas where it’s felt statewide that the budget is thin. We’re going to have to start pulling back from social programs, and other programs throughout the state until we balance that budget, until we get the economy up and running again.”
When asked to name the top two reasons that are motivating the them to run for the senate, Jaramillo said he has always been a community advocate – somebody who has wanted what’s best for his community.
“I don’t have children so I think of my community as my child, raising it the best way that I can, leaving it better for whenever somebody else comes. The whole thing is I want to be part of a solution. We always hear people who talk about issues happening. One, I want to be part of a solution and two, I’m a servitude leader. I roll up my sleeves and get to work. I want to make sure that I can move northern New Mexico forward. I’ve got the passion. I’ve got the drive and I’m ready for the challenge,” Jaramillo said.
Martinez said he also thinks he is a very community oriented individual.
“I’ve been serving in my community for quite a few years now. This is my 20th year as a state legislator. I also served in other capacities throughout the County of Rio Arriba and I’m very proud of my voting record. In the past, I’ve introduced legislation that has really made an impact in all the communities that I serve,” he said.
He noted that last year he introduced SB 186 which made changes to the oil and gas industry. It changed how “bad actors” are treated, he said, giving the Energy and Minerals Division the resources to levy some penalties against them.
“I introduced a lot of legislation and I wish we would have more than this allotted time so that we can explain some of these bills to the audience,” Martinez said.
Another question asked was how can New Mexico increase access to broadband internet? Should there be a minimum standard of internet access guaranteed to every resident and how can we achieve that?
Martinez said that in the past New Mexico has “already been attempting that”.
“I think in Rio Arriba right now they have the program that the state has. We have been financing that program for a long time. It’s very important that everybody have access to internet especially in rural New Mexico with all these telemarketing and telemedicine things that are happening now. But the thing is that everything is changing so fast that we don’t have the opportunity to keep up with it. But we definitely need to work more on it,” Martinez said. “I sit on the telecommunications interim committee and I’m hoping that we can push harder to make sure that everybody has access to internet.”
Jaramillo said New Mexicans definitely need to be connected with broadband and internet.
“I’ve heard from all the Congressional District 3 candidates who also agree that this is part of the infrastructure New Mexico needs. We need to make sure that we connect everybody globally and by connecting people community to community,” Jaramillos said. “One of my fears with COVID-19 is telemedicine and education – the two bookends if you think about it – our youth and our seniors.”
He expressed concern about the number of students even in Rio Arriba County who don’t have access to internet, who are going to fall behind from their classmates and who are not going to be able to keep up.
“That’s a major threat because that’s going to roll into the years to come because that’s our generations of our workforce that’s going to come up. If you look at the opposite end at our senior population, when it comes to telemedicine, some seniors don’t have broadband, some don’t have a computer, so that will put them at risk when we send them to hospitals during this COVID time to get checked on,” Jaramillo said. “By ensuring broadband is given to every New Mexican we can connect them globally and make sure that we connect them in ways where things are definitely easier for them.
Jaramillonsaid broadband is not the only problem.
“We’re going to have to ensure that they get the proper equipment so that they can access internet and make sure that they can do the things necessary to survive during our crisis,” he said.
The next question was where the candidates stand on gun control.
Jaramillo said he understands the importance of northern New Mexico gun culture when it comes to hunting.
“So that’s something we want to protect when we do it the right way. But I think about the story of young Cameron Martinez who was gunned down near the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo when somebody who had a weapon that shouldn’t have been in his hands violently shot at a vehicle killing young Cameron and hurting his friends,” he said. “ And I also think about an uncle who committed suicide in front of my father. He showed signs of mental illness but there were no programs or any laws that could have helped if we would have called and said we needed the assistance. My uncle shot himself in front of my father and the effects of that lasted for years with our family.”
Jaramillo said he understands that part of it is protecting the Second Amendment right for that hunting culture.
“But I also understand the importance of bills to protect each one of us so that we no longer have to hear of school shootings or we no longer have to hear of somebody with mental or health issues who took their life or even the life of someone else,” he said.
Martinez said he thinks it is important that we have legislation that controls firearms in New Mexico.
“That’s one of the reasons why I chose to sponsor and carry SB 8. The bill was for firearms sales background checks, a very simple no-nonsense bill that I felt that we needed to have. You need a background check when you apply for a job at the Laboratory. You need a background check when you accept an appointment for the governor for one of those commission duties or whatever, so why not have one when we have transfer of guns,” Martinez said. “I think this was one of the most common sense bills that we’ve ever had and thank God that we were able to pass it. It didn’t pass with a lot of majority but it did pass and the governor signed it and I was very happy.”
He said one of the first things Jaramillo did was introduce a resolution to make Rio Arriba a sanctuary city.
“And all we did was require a background check on a gun sale. I feel that we need to do more towards this issue and I’m sorry that my opponent felt that he didn’t agree with the bill,” Martinez said.
Asked what reforms they suggested for the tax system, Martinez said there are many tax credits and tax breaks out there that the legislature was supposed to have worked on a couple of years ago but for whatever reason hasn’t.
“I think that we need to continue. That’s one of the reasons why the legislature created the tax reform subcommittee. We have not seen many reform bills come to the committee. If you have a committee and there is an issue before it comes to a regular committee they ask that we send it through the interim so this is why it’s important that some bills go through this revenue stabilization tax committee so that we can see what bills have to be revamped and what credits have to be removed,” Martinez said. “ I don’t have a solution for it because I serve on senate judiciary and I serve on conservation but I feel this is one of the reasons why I also ask that they should alternate all the members of the legislature so that we can all serve in either senate finance or house appropriations.”
Jaramillo said when he is talking to small business owners in the Espanola Valley the one thing they talk about is corporations getting tax breaks whereas “mom and pop shops” don’t get that.
“Those ‘mom and pop shops’ are the ones really trying to make the community thrive and make themselves and their families thrive. They deserve that tax break and so I agree that small business needs to have tax breaks. I also believe that it’s a progressive tax structure and we’ve got to revise our higher tax brackets, so that’s one way that we can reform tax,” Jaramillo said. “We’ve definitely got to look at that upper tier and see how we balance that and make sure that small business gets part of that tax break as well.”
In closing comments Jaramillo noted that although Martinez supported the background check bill, he then voted against the Red Flag Law “and was quoted as saying he was worried about losing votes during the election”.
“As a voter you have a decision to make. You can vote for a senator that’s been in office for 20 years that the governor asked to resign his position, who stepped down from his chairmanship roles and doesn’t have the power that he did have in the senate before. And you have a chance to take a chance on a freshman senator – one who is ready to roll up his sleeves as a servitude leader and spread the power of wealth with each one of us to ensure that we will move forward. Somebody that is ready to work hard for northern New Mexico for all of us collectively. I want to remind you that I am you and together New Mexico, we are stronger together,” Jaramillo said.
In his concluding comments, Martinez said he is running on his record.
“If anybody wants to know what I’ve done in the last 20 years I would be happy to introduce them to my website to see the bills that I have introduced – the magnitude of the bills that I have introduced that have benefitted my district. Not just Rio Arriba but all of Los Alamos because I take care of Los Alamos also,” Martinez said.
He said he makes sure that if there is a bill that affects Los Alamos that he contacts either the superintendent (of schools) or the county manager and makes sure that the bill is not going to affect them in any way.
“I did make a mistake and I’m sorry. I’ve regretted it ever since it happened but I’m moving forward and I do have the seniority that I always had. I may not be the chairman of judiciary and nobody removed me, I removed myself. I chose to do that because I felt that since we hear legislation that deals with DWIs and a lot of other things, that I thought I shouldn’t be the one in control of the agenda, but I’m very much in control of my vote and I do care about the people that I represent. And I want to come back. I want to stay there,” Martinez said.