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A woman’s right to choose, strengthening New Mexico’s economy, developing alternative energy and investing in public education were just some of the questions lobbed at candidates for the District 43 House seat during a forum Thursday night.
White Rock Baptist Church served as the backdrop for the forum, which was organized by the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos and was moderated by the league’s president, Barbara Calef.
The candidates for the 43rd District seat, Republican Jim Hall and Democratic challenger Stephanie Garcia Richard, however, seemed to handle the questions with ease and even seemed to somewhat agree on a few issues.
When one resident asked about how was the best way to update the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s mission, Hall said though New Mexico is “suffering from a deficit of senior leadership” in Washington at the moment, he had no doubt that with time, the lab will modernize its mission into more peaceful and scientific endeavors. “But its main mission will always be to safeguard America’s nuclear stockpile,” Hall said.
Garcia Richard said that she too agreed that “our flexing muscles got flabby” when it came to advocating and lobbying for the future and well being of the lab. However, she said the problem can be overcome by investing in other states and powerful individuals in Washington that also have an interest in LANL.
“We need to be building support and coalitions around folks like that, folks that have leverage,” she said.
When it came to education, both candidates had some tough words about New Mexico’s public education system.
“It seems to me that education demands two things: resources and reform,” Hall said. “Both matter.”
Hall emphasized getting students to learn reading early was an important goal in Washington and that much funding has been given to public education to make that happen. He said after a certain time, kids “stop learning to read and then start reading to learn.” The earlier that happens, the better,” he said.
While Garcia Richard agreed with that statement, she said the way to go about it is making pre-K education a priority. She also emphasized that ever since the recession hit, New Mexico schools have suffered. “I would like to see us come back and fund our schools by at least the ’08 levels,” she said. One way they could do that is by using some of the interest from New Mexico’s Permanent State Land Grant Fund to fund pre-K programs.
Probably the most controversial question was when a resident asked where the candidates stood on a woman’s right to choose and on abortion in general.
Richard replied simply that a woman’s right is protected already by federal law.
“The issue really has to do with women’s health and access to choice ... that is a federal right protected under Roe vs. Wade,” she said.
Again, Hall agreed with his opponent, but also made his answer into a state issue. He told the audience he sees the heart of the issue in the influence a teen’s parents have over a teen’s decision to have a baby, or not. “... they are legitimately afraid of their parents and the reaction,” Hall said. “There should be a track for them to be able to go around parental approval.”
Residents attending the forum said for the most part, they learned a lot.
“I think it went well,” Andrea Determan said. “I think everybody got a chance to say what they could, time allowing. We can always have more information from our candidates, but I think they had some really good answers.”
Also in attendance in the forum were Supreme Court candidates Barbara Vigil-D and Paul Kennedy-R and Judge of the Court of Appeals candidates Monica Zamora-D and J. Miles Hanisee-R.