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Los Alamos County Council Chair Geoff Rodgers announced his candidacy for House District 43 earlier this week.
“We’ve had over six decades of unbroken single party control of the legislature. And I think it’s time to try some new ideas,” Rodgers told the Los Alamos Monitor.
Rodgers is currently serving his second term on council. He first served from 2001-2004 and was elected again in 2010. This is his second year as council chair.
Rodgers served five years in the U.S Army and eight in the U.S Army Reserves as a helicopter pilot. He was director of transportation for Los Alamos Public Schools for twelve years and was secretary/treasurer for the North Central Regional Transit District board of directors for two. The NCRTD is honoring him for his service this Friday.
Rodgers is one of two Los Alamos Republicans to throw a hat into the ring for House District 43 this week — former Republican county councilor Vincent Chiravalle has done likewise.
The seat is currently occupied by Democrat Stephanie Garica Richard, who defeated another Los Alamos Republican, Jim Hall, in 2012. Hall was appointed by Susana Martinez to the post.
Rodger’s calls himself “a pragmatic problem solver” who will apply lessons learned in local government at the statehouse if elected.
“I think what’s important for this race is my experience in the community here,” Rodgers said.
“My two terms on the council span the rebuild after the Cerro Grande fire, the Las Conchas fire and dealing with the severe economic downturn that impacted county revenue. If I am elected, I will go to Santa Fe with the experience of how the action or the inaction of the State directly impacts local communities.
Rodgers also brings the perspective of a small business owner and caretaker for his sons, Garret and Jason.
Rodgers manages a small property rental business he owns with his wife, Marla, but noted that the business takes a secondary role.
“The most important job I do is I’m the stay-at-home dad,” Rodgers said. “Marla is a wildland firefighter and she goes off on fires at a moment’s notice. So our family Plan B was for me to work from home.”
Rodgers believes that role, combined with his work on council, gives him a unique perspective.
“I have real world experience working with the problems families face.”
New Mexico’s short 30- and 60-day legislative sessions will not interfere with his main responsibility.
“Legislature is not during fire season,” Rodgers said. “There’s a lot of heat and smoke that goes on down there, but it’s not during fire season.”
Rodgers is passionate about addressing some of New Mexico’s problems.
“New Mexico as a state is on the wrong end of every list that matters, everything from child wellbeing to economic recovery. All the obvious standards by which states are judged, we end up at the wrong end of those lists. Saying, ‘Thank God for Mississippi’ is not funny and it’s not an economic recovery plan.”
The two issues that take priority for Rodgers are fixing what he calls our “failing educational system” and the economy.
New Mexico ranks in the bottom third of state spending on education in the nation.
“I don’t have specific recommendations on how to increase spending on education, but I recognize that if we are going to fix our educational system, it is going to take more resources and it’s going to take a balanced approach that includes parents and teachers.”
Rodgers believes that improving the educational system and economic development go hand-in-hand.
“State government does not create jobs. Private investment creates jobs. And what private investment is looking for is a return on that investment, and we need to create an environment that includes an educated workforce that will attract private investment.”
When asked how he would translate his experience dealing with the county’s financial downturn into working with the state’s poor economy, Rodgers said there “definitely are inadequate resources.”
“But all too often I think elected officials tend to focus on what they can do with public dollars rather than focusing on that. It is the private dollars that we need. To make the state attractive to that will ultimately solve the problem.”
Rodgers sees public/private partnerships as one way to address that.
“In my experience on the local county level, I have seen public/private partnership that has worked, that has attracted private investment, and there are models out there that we can use. But the goal has to be attracting the private investment and not passing a lot of bills to get reelected.”
Rodgers also has ideas about what type of private investment to target.
“The first industry — and it’s not sexy like high tech or things like that — but New Mexico is blessed with many natural resources, and one of the sectors that is a driving force now and we need to continue working toward it is the energy sector. And that includes gas, oil, wind and solar.
“And the other sector that I’d like to focus on is high tech. We have lost a lot of high tech jobs. We have lost a lot of high tech businesses, but we still have the capabilities within our workforce, because of the national laboratory facilities that we have here to capitalize on.
He pointed to the New Mexico Consortium, located in the county, as a contributor to both the high tech and energy sectors.
The Consortium is also an example of a public/private partnership. In 2011, council approved $2 million in Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) funds for the construction of the new facility and provided a lot in the Entrada Research Park, valued at $640,000.
The consortium currently has 100 employees and is bringing in $8 million a year for programs.
Rodgers would like to be part of a functioning legislature that addresses New Mexico’s issues.
“We need people in Santa Fe who have the courage to reach across the aisle and work with people with whom they disagree,” Rodgers said. “When our representatives vote along party lines and do what the special interests tell them to do, our voice in the legislature is put to somebody else’s ends.”