BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Rep. Christine Chandler, who is running unopposed for House District 43, took the opportunity to speak and answer multiple questions during Monday’s virtual League of Women Voters Candidate Court. In addition to discussing state issues and expressing her optimism about the future, Chandler noted that her optimism is tempered by those that “espouse the big lies that our elections are corrupt, that the attack on our capital and law enforcement was a media exaggeration, that school curricula are brainwashing our children”.
Chandler is currently serving her fourth year as state representative. She is chair of the prestigious House Taxation & Finance Committee and a member of the House Judiciary Committee. She also serves on 11 House Interim Committees including as chair of the Revenue Stabilization & Tax Police Committee.
Chandler’s comments and answers to questions at Monday’s forum are presented below:
Many thanks to the league for hosting this candidates forum.
First what an honor and pleasure it is to serve you. I feel very lucky to know so many engaged and thoughtful constituents and to serve in a legislature where my colleagues work collaboratively with each other and our Governor. While we do have disagreements, our productivity has been extraordinary – particularly when compared with the previous 10 years where gridlock was the norm, where education, healthcare, behavioral health and infrastructure needs were at best ignored and at worst actively dismantled.
While many good things have been happening in New Mexico and while I am very optimistic about our future, that optimism is tempered by the continuing pressure from political figures, pundits, and activists both here and nationally that espouse the big lies that our elections are corrupt, that the attack on our capitol and law enforcement was a media exaggeration, that school curricula are brainwashing our children. Many now believe book banning is acceptable – and our rights to privacy and bodily autonomy are being routinely challenged.
Maybe you wonder why I am focused on these “national issues” in a “local” race – Well that’s the crux – these are not only national issues. We have state and local candidates who hold these views, some boldly, and some who, in strongly blue New Mexico, seek to downplay their convictions. We live in a state where many sheriffs and other officials feel emboldened to declare which laws they will enforce and which they won’t. These activities are not harmless. They reflect a lack of respect for law and for accepted social norms. These efforts at the local level are extensions of organized national movements. We should all be concerned that behavior that was once considered abhorrent is now becoming normalized.
So what do we do about this dangerous trend? First it is important for us to know our candidates and reject those who either refuse to answer questions or obfuscate. Be leery of those who say their views on the presidential election or the insurrection are irrelevant to running for local office. Of course they’re fair questions – they reveal the person’s respect for law and for decency and their proclivity to latch on to conspiracy theories.
Ask direct questions about their views – Are our elections fair and secure? Ask them their views on facilitating access to voting – do they support having ballot drop boxes and mail-in ballots? Do they support access to access to abortion care?
Now – more than ever – is the time to be an active and engaged voter.
What are the greatest opportunities for high-impact spending in the legislative session?
First I think we need to look to invest in funds that can support us when these high volume revenues that we are experiencing taper off. Many of us have been talking about investing in the Early Childhood Fund to support activities, perhaps creating a fund for behavioral health so that we can support behavioral health activities as we move forward. I think we also need to be looking at putting additional monies into severance tax. The Permanent Fund – we’ve been drawing on that and if we invest more in the Permanent Fund, it will be a cushion for us when our revenues begin to taper off. Of course we need to continually invest in broadband and other infrastructure. I would point out, however, that we have about $100 million in the Connect New Mexico Fund, which I think is adequate for now to kick-start where we’re going in terms of broadband expansion. But we need to not only invest in programs but I do think we need to be looking at funds that will help us smooth out revenues when the oil and gas surplus is in decline.
If Constitutional Amendment 2 passes, how can the required implementing legislation safeguard public funds?
The implementing legislation will establish the criteria for which those funds can be used. If you will not that we attempted to draw the language on that fairly tightly so it’s only the state that can create programs and it would require any law that is based on that constitutional amendment to be passed obviously by a majority of the legislators and we as legislators will have a responsibility to make sure that the appropriate checks are in place just as checks are in place now when there is spending and funds are designated for certain kinds of activities. The check would also be the Legislative Finance Council that also does analyses on spending and provides a check and reports to the legislature to ensure that funds are spent properly in accordance with their implementing legislation.
What legislation would you support to improve our elections?
A whole litany of things. I think that we need to pass laws that encourage voting, so the things that I mentioned in my opening statement are examples of ways to increase access to ballots, for example the drop boxes some have questioned and opposed. I strongly support them and think they’re very important in terms of providing access to voters. Convenience is very important, I think. Ways to improve access to absentee ballots I would support – things of that nature I definitely would promote and advance in the legislature.
Do you have a comment on Constitutional Amendment 3?
(Constitutional Amendment 3 would have a judge serve at least a year before an election was held for the office the judge was appointed.)
I support that provision. It’s really hard on a judge to be appointed for three months and then have to run for election so I think it’s reasonable to give them a year in office to get themselves established and then face an election. It also gives them a record for the voters to have a better understanding of how that judge comports him or herself, conducts him or herself in trial and so on. I think it’s an advantage to both the judge and the public who has a way to assess what a judge has been doing in the last year.
Any plans to replace the tax and jobs income that are going away due to the closing of the San Juan Coal Plant?
The ETA, which I think we enacted during my first year in the legislature, we funded job training programs, educational programs, a severance package and a number of things along those lines. The bill itself had a number of provisions intended to support those displaced workers who were affected by the closure of the plant. I also know that the Secretary of Labor and the Department of Labor have been actively going out to the area and meeting with workers to try and ensure that they’re getting connected with training programs and all of those kinds of things that the legislature funded in the previous bill in 2019.
Would you be supportive of all mail-in ballots such as Utah has?
Yes. I think mail-in voting is the most accessible way for voters to participate and whatever we can do to expand access to voting and make it as accessible as possible is a very important goal. I think many of my colleagues share my view on this and I would support all mail-in voting programs. We do it in Los Alamos, We have done it in Los Alamos for bonds and so on and it has gone very well.