Without the two highest-polling contenders, a trio of gubernatorial candidates took to the campus and airwaves of Eastern New Mexico University to make their pitches.
Republican governor hopefuls Janice Arnold-Jones, Pete Domenici Jr. and Doug Turner faced questions in front of about 100 audience members Tuesday at the Becky Sharp Auditorium, two weeks ahead of the June 1 primary elections.
The forum was also broadcast on KENW-TV, the university’s public broadcast station.
The winner of the five-way race will face Democrat Diane Denish, who is unopposed within her party in her attempt to ascend from her current post as lieutenant governor.
The candidates in attendance Tuesday face uphill climbs in the days leading to the June 1 Republican primary. A poll released Sunday by the Albuquerque Journal had Allen Weh and Susana Martinez, who did not attend Tuesday’s forum, each garnering about 30 percent of the vote, with another 20 percent of respondents still undecided.
However, appeals are still to be made to Roosevelt County, where voters backed John McCain by a 4,311-2,303 margin in 2008 and provided nearly half (2,915) of George W. Bush’s margin of victory (5,988) for New Mexico in the 2004 general election.
“If we don’t elect a Republican governor, we will continue with one-party rule,” Domenici said, in reference to a state Legislature controlled by Democrats. “We don’t have debate with one-party rule. We don’t have discussion. We don’t have challenges to ideas.”
Their ideas, as in prior forums, often ran against the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson. All three said Richardson has hurt businesses and citizens with government bureaucracies, which Turner said often exist with only a primary mission to stay in existence.
“What we need is somebody who doesn’t need the job,” Turner said. “My vision will probably make people angry in the first few months. But if that happens, I know I’m doing something right.”
Candidates faced numerous questions, including:
• Abortion: Turner said, “I abhor abortion,” and would seek a ban on abortions after 35 weeks of pregnancy. Arnold-Jones said adoption should be easier. Domenici said the state has many pro-life residents, but no common-sense laws like parental notification and consent to abortions.
• The death penalty: All three were in favor of the death penalty, abolished by the state last year, but had divergent views. Domenici felt the death penalty was a deterrent and would seek reinstatement. Turner said, “I don’t believe it’s something that prevents crime, but it’s a tool that a governor should have.” Arnold-Jones voted against the death penalty twice as a state legislator, but said it was because the state’s legal process resulted in decades-long appeals that took away any element of deterring crime.
“We have not had the political will,” Arnold-Jones said. “The last person we executed was Terry Clark (in 2001); he requested it.”
• The Arizona immigration law: Arnold-Jones said, “It’s a good law, and I encourage you to read it; it’s only 17 pages. It’s really quite eloquent.” Domenici said the state needs to pursue avenues like those in the city of Albuquerque, which is weighing checking immigration status only on people who are arrested, so witnesses and victims aren’t afraid to come forward. Turner said Arizona did the country a favor, and if the federal government doesn’t enforce the borders, the states have no choice but to act.
• Joining in a lawsuit against the federal government over health care: All three were in favor. Domenici said the new health care legislation is an unfunded mandate, Arnold-Jones called it an $880 million assault on individual liberties and Turner said legislation makes it cheaper for businesses to pay fines than insure their employees.
• The Rail Runner and the spaceport: The trio all hated the idea of the Rail Runner, a public commuter train that runs from Belen to Santa Fe, based on costs.
“Most public transportation does not make money, I’ll acknowledge that,” Turner said. “But I’m not sure they lose as much money as this does.”
Regarding the spaceport, Arnold-Jones said, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut,” and the spaceport could make money if it gets into the business of launching satellites.
“There are communication companies that are dying to launch their small satellites,” she said.
• Corruption: All three said the key was electing an honest government, and that everything starts with who is elected governor.
• How to help small businesses: Arnold-Jones said two changes are needed — a one-stop department to let businesses know all of the permits they’ll need, and a time limit on the permit process so businesses aren’t hung out to dry by a slow-moving process. Domenici said the state has unnecessary layers that politicize decisions, and they needs to be eliminated. Turner said he’d focus on lowering the tax burden, and adopting policies similar to Texas, which is adding jobs while other states are losing them.