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Luján touches base with visit to Los Alamos

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By Bennett Horne

Ben Ray Luján brought his campaign back to familiar territory on Sunday with stops in Los Alamos at the Sierra Club and the John F. Kennedy Dinner.

Luján, the Democratic U.S. Representative for New Mexico’s 3rd congressional district, grew up in Nambé and said he is happy any time he can return to the area.

“It’s always important to be home,” he said Sunday afternoon at the Betty Ehart Senior Center. “I take advantage of every opportunity I can to be here. We’re on a plane every week and when we’re in New Mexico I’m on the road. We’re honored to represent a district of about 47,000 square miles. It takes about eight and a half hours to drive across it. It’s a beautiful district, but because of the number of counties we represent we do our best to make sure we get into every county.”

A member of the cross country and track teams in high school, Luján recalled many times when he competed against the Los Alamos Hilltoppers, some he calls friends to this day.

“I had a lot of fun during those times,” he said. “We had an incredible coach, Alan Lockridge, and we had some great meets – several of them right here in Los Alamos. Back when we ran cross county the course was still in the canyon.”

He continued, “It was always a fun meet and always a battle. Growing up I had a lot of great friends from here in Los Alamos that were runners, not just with cross country but also track. In the summers we used to run junior Olympics from junior high on up to our freshman year in high school and had a lot of great meets just over there at the Los Alamos High School track. I have a lot of fond memories of competing and running against a lot of folks who I actually became friends with later in life.”

He added, “It seems like when you were running you were always trying to catch up with that green and gold.”
Now his races are of a national, political nature, like the one he’s currently running against Republican Jerald Steve McFall, of Angel Fire, and Libertarian Christopher Manning.

Sunday Luján spoke of the importance held by the community in which he used to compete years ago.

“Los Alamos is real important, not just to New Mexico and to our country, but to me it’s because of the incredible asset we have in the Los Alamos National Laboratory,” he said. “I’ve been honored to take advantage of many, many leaders with briefings on a number of subjects here in Los Alamos that have helped me be a better representative and helped me share important information with our colleagues as well.”

The campaign trail has held a lot of excitement lately for Luján, who said this year it seems like more people are turning out to work and get involved in the process.

“We’re always enthused when you have organizers and volunteers showing up,” he said. “There are more people getting involved this year than I’ve seen in a long time and that’s encouraging. Here in New Mexico we want to make sure that everyone’s getting out, not just for these primaries, but also going into the general election. If the enthusiasm is an indicator we should have a higher turnout than we’ve seen in recent memory.”

And of course there are plenty of topics to be discussed, from last week’s defeat of the massive Farm Bill to issues like global warming and the nation’s veterans.

And he said it all seems to start in Los Alamos.

“The way that I often talk about Los Alamos is that anytime you see something bad happen in the world, someone from Los Alamos is there trying to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “Anytime you see something good happening in the world, oftentimes it’s someone from Los Alamos lab that was out there contributing to what that positive environment was.”

And the talk about Los Alamos is always complemented by talk of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“Investing in our national labs, especially here with Los Alamos National Laboratory, is critically important,” Luján said. “We’re trying to make sure that we’re fighting for those budgets and investments, looking at the mission and always trying to find new projects in conjunction with the leadership here in Los Alamos. As much as I work with our colleagues to advocate for Los Alamos – we also work with our colleagues who represent the 1st Congressional District, (Rep.) Michelle Lujan Grisham, and our two senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, with Sandia National Lab and the Air Force Research Lab – New Mexico is a mecca when it comes to research and science. That’s always No. 1.”

On the subject of the Farm Bill, Luján called it a “tragedy” that “our Republican colleagues turned this into such a partisan fight.”

Noting that this particular bill has a history of being a strong, bi-partisan bill, he said, “You always work together, not just Democrat and Republican, but rural and urban. You come together and put together an important package for people across America that are growing their food, out in rural parts of the country, ranchers and farmers, but you also make sure that you have investment so that people who need a meal have access to those important safety net programs. That’s the strength of how this package has always been put together.”

Luján noted that not all the support that should be going to the nation’s farmers and ranchers was put into the bill that failed in the House.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars that were cut from conservation programs when it comes to making better use of water, especially in these times of drought … cutting those resources really hampers investments that our farmers, ranchers and local communities can be making when it comes to water scarcity,” he said. “And that’s not right.”

He added, “And I didn’t even get a chance to mention the $23 billion that was in the bill to be cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Those are programs that are going to be taken away from seniors, from people with disabilities, from our veterans and our children and it’s just not right.”

He said he was hopeful changes to the bill would result in a stronger Farm Bill.

“I’m hopeful that in the U.S. Senate that they will move together and work on a bi-partisan bill that will come back to the House in a way that Democrats will work with whichever Republicans are willing to work with us to be able to get a strong bi-partisan bill passed,” he said.

On the subject of support for veterans, an issue that is near and dear to Luján, he said he is constantly working to help veterans with whatever problems they’re facing.

“In my district, some of the most important work that we do is that of case work, working one on one with veterans I represent through veterans’ organizations,” he said.

The work is being hampered, he said, by the direction the president wants to take the VA.

“Right now we’re fighting against President Trump’s direction to privatize the VA,” he said. “I’ve not met one veteran in the district I represent, which is a very big district, that supports privatizing the VA.”

Luján said he welcomes discussion on these issues – as well as any others – from those residents of his district, which is one of the reasons behind his visits back to this part of the state.

Another is to personally thank those who continue to support him in his work.

“You’re always humbled with the support from your constituents,” he said. “I was raised by my mom and dad and my father was a local county commissioner and a state representative and later was the speaker, and dad taught me you don’t ever take anyone or anything for granted. You have to work to make sure you’re getting across that district and that you continue to earn the trust of the voters who’ve entrusted you with the important responsibility of representing them and fighting for them.”