Gov. candidate Cervantes brings experience, results

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By Harold Morgan

Joe Cervantes’ office is an old house a half block from the New Mexico State University campus in Las Cruces. His car (truck, really), a black GMC Yukon, tucks into an alcove under a tree next to the door. He doesn’t know the age of the house, though he notes that the thick walls certify that the house is old.

Cervantes, a state senator and a Democrat, is running for governor (joe4nm.com). The day we talk, a hot mid-September Wednesday, his attire is business casual, sleeves rolled up.

For those seriously undertaking a task as complex, difficult and expensive as running for governor – and Cervantes is very serious about this – all sorts of reasons appear. He is clear about what is not a motivation. “I am not running for governor to ascend” to a higher political position, he says.

Cervantes doesn’t name names, but the reference certainly is both to Bill Richardson, who became governor as a platform for running for president, and Susana Martinez, formerly touted for higher posts.

Results are Cervantes’ focus. “There’s a lot to be said” about having a governor knowing the process. Bruce King was the most recent to come from the Legislature. His final term ended in 1994.

Look what we’ve had since, he says, again without naming names. It’s a fair question. This column has cited observations of a 20-year slide for the state. My early description of Gov. Gary Johnson’s office was “David and the children,” referring to deputy chief of staff David Harris and the young staffers.

Outsider governors “have struggled,” Cervantes says. His approach will be to “take (his) experiences where things need to be changed” and “take them to a higher level.”

Then there will be the money, the millions of dollars. Cervantes didn’t get specific. He grinned a little and said, “I will have plenty of skin in the game. Let’s put it that way.”

The results focus must come, in part at least, from Cervantes’ training as an architect. Two of his three degrees are in architecture. The third degree is in law. Cervantes liked the science and engineering of architecture and “approaching things methodically. You expect to see a result.”

Cervantes’ senate district is one of those sprawlers that goes everywhere, a function of  thinly distributed population.

Basically the southeast corner of Doña Ana County, it includes southern Las Cruces, Santa Teresa, Anthony, the White Sands post area and the Gadsden School District, locale of Cervantes’ job when he returned to New Mexico as a newly minted architect hired to build schools. He loves seeing people come into a new school, kids, parents and staff.

From the schools, Cervantes shifts. “New Mexico is in a crisis,” he says. “Our fiscal affairs are badly mismanaged.” The dilemma is a balanced budget versus program cuts. “We have very deep systemic problems in New Mexico.”

Cervantes knows about taking on vested interests. “Our budget used to be done in secret,” he says. He pushed legislation to open the process. Senior legislators were unhappy.

He continues introducing legislation proposing an independent constitutional revision commission. “It’s the most important thing we can do.” Having an outside group study the Constitution is best, he says.

A shorter term important matter is freeing up capital outlay money, maybe $1 billion. “The first order of business for the next governor,” he says.

Then there is crime. To attract businesses, “we have to get a better handle on our drug problems. Who is going to bring their family to New Mexico” with the drugs and crime?

Cervantes is about jobs and better wages for New Mexicans. “New Mexico’s potential is so much greater than it has been realizing.”