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Pearce focuses on solving NM’s financial, social problems

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By Tris DeRoma

To entrepreneur and gubernatorial candidate Congressman Steve Pearce, the preservation of New Mexico’s core industries – oil, gas, timber and coal – is the key to solving many of the state’s financial and social problems.

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For too long, he said, decision makers have chosen policy over people, and these same decision makers have fallen into a pattern of treating the symptoms of New Mexico’s problems instead of the problems themselves.

“You aren’t going to solve them independently. Education is not going to be solved until you begin to solve the poverty problem,” Pearce told the Los Alamos Monitor Wednesday.

“Kids that are going to school hungry are just not going to learn, and kids suffering tremendous abuse at home are not going to learn,” Pearce said. “They’re all interrelated, and we have to address them all at a pretty good depth.”
The Hobbs Republican has spent the past 20 years serving the people of New Mexico, and is known for his down-to-earth style and for meeting regularly with constituents to hear their concerns throughout the southern district.

He was first elected to Congress in 2002 in the southern district of New Mexico. He left that office to run against Sen. Tom Udall and was defeated. Pearce then was easily re-elected in 2008 for the southern congressional seat, which he retains today.

Prior to that, he was elected to the state legislature from Hobbs in 1996 and 1998.

He is also a Vietnam War Air Force veteran who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Air Medal.

Pearce is in a race for governor against Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democratic Congresswoman who serves the Albuquerque area.

The two candidates differ in addressing education, the environment and high-profile issues of gun control and the economy.

Pearce said he went on a recent fact-finding trip to Chama and the surrounding region.

While he said he understands the value, attraction and the need for the exploration of alternative fuel sources such as wind and solar, he also said the economic security of people that work in the oil, gas and coal industries also matters.

As coal-powered power plants like the San Juan generating station and others throughout the state are being phased out in favor of alternative energy resources, he said decision makers are not taking into account the coal miners that live and work in the Chama region, many of which Pearce said make at least $100,000 mining coal.

“So we’re shutting down billions and billions of dollars of capability, putting $100,000 a year miners back on the reservation living on government subsistence  at the expense of taxpayers. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Pearce said.

Pearce told the Daily Times of Famington this week that if he is elected he will work to prevent the closure of coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners area.

Pearce told an audience last week he would seek to find potential buyers for the San Juan Generating Station and other coal-fired power plants.

The San Juan Generating Station is primarily owned by the Public Service Company of New Mexico, which has announced plans to shutter the power plant in 2022.

Pearce said alternative energy technology is more costly to source and use than traditional energy sources.    

“We’re telling one of the poorer areas of the state we’re going to take away your $100,000-a-year jobs and we’re going to charge you more for electricity,” Pearce said. “For me as a policy maker, that doesn’t make sense. If we’re going to take poverty on, we need to try to put people into good jobs.”

Early childhood education

Pearce said taking more money out of the state’s $23 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education and other projects isn’t the answer.  

He noted that during a recent stop in Española, he learned that the school system was having a hard time filling at least 15 to 20 percent of its teaching positions.   

“There are some essential operating questions that really have to be answered before you say blindly you’re going to take money from the permanent fund,” Pearce said. “I’m not in favor from taking money from the permanent fund because, frankly,  we’re on a path right now that is not sustainable long term. We already got a big enough straw in there sucking the funding out. It can’t be sustainable over the next 50 years. “

LANL contract

During his visit to Los Alamos, Pearce also discussed the new management and operations contract for LANL and local officials’ concerns that the new contractor may turn out to be exempt from paying gross receipts tax.

The new contractor, Triad National Security, is mostly a consortium of nonprofits. Under New Mexico state law, nonprofits are exempt from paying some types of gross receipts tax.

For about 13 years, Los Alamos County has received about $20 million annually from proceeds from the tax, money that has gone toward supporting community and services and programs that helps Los Alamos support having a national laboratory in its backyard.

As New Mexico’s congressman for the southern part of the state for 16 years, and as governor, he said he would make sure Los Alamos County has the proper support it needs to host a national laboratory in its community, no matter if there’s an exemption or not.

However, he also said “very high level discussions” have been taking place on the issue in Washington, D.C., and that there should be more information coming out soon, and that people should be patient and see what Triad does next.

“There has been significant input on both sides,” Pearce said.

Water issues

As governor, Pearce wants to restore the state’s watersheds by revitalizing New Mexico’s long dormant timber industry.

“I already told the secretary of agriculture that we’re going to start cutting the trees when I’m governor,” Pearce said. “There used to be as many people in New Mexico working in timber as there were oil and gas. We’re going to restore the 123 mills that used to be across the northern part of the state.”  

Doing so, he said, would not only bring many jobs to the state, but would also protect the state’s rivers and lakes from erosion and ash pollution caused by the intense wildfires from the past decade that were caused through prescribed burning or natural causes.

“They’ve become dense because we’ve stopped cutting and started putting out all the fires. The result is instead of 50 trees per acre, we have about 5,000 trees  and they suck up all the water. Our streams don’t have all the water and our aquifers don’t have all the water to push the streams downriver and provide the communities with water,” Pearce said.

The plan to fix New Mexico’s watersheds also ties in with Pearce’s plan to make New Mexico food independent.

Pearce, who started his professional life as a small businessman repairing oil rigs, wants to create a network of small produce growing operations across the state.

“I want New Mexico to become self sufficient when it comes to food. I think it’s absolutely essential. We are developing the framework for hydroponic, organic greenhouses to be scattered all across the northern part of New Mexico,” Pearce said.  “We have abundant water, we have abundant land and I think its pretty reasonably priced land. Each one of the smaller greenhouses could be part of a co-op. That’s how the dairies market milk, and we’re thinking in terms of billions of pounds produce.”

Greenhouse plan

The greenhouses would be part of a co-op type of network aided by state resources.

“I want to re-establish small business entrepreneurship. I’m setting a system up where there will be small, independent greenhouses, Pearce said. “They would fit into the co-op system so they wouldn’t have to do the marketing themselves and we would open them the worldwide market, not just the New Mexico market.”

Pearce said his plan may sound impossible, but he said it’s grounded in real-life examples.

“Some people may think that’s impossible, but there’s one 31-acre greenhouse in Arizona that produces about 3 billion pounds of tomatoes a year so, the quantity and scale are definitely possible,” Pearce said. “I want to re-establish small business entrepreneurship so I’m setting a system up where there will be small, independent greenhouses but they would fit into the co-op so they wouldn’t have to do the marketing themselves and we would work it in the worldwide market, not just the New Mexico market.”

Protecting gun rights

Pearce is also for protecting New Mexico residents when it comes to gun control. The new legislation New Mexico Democrats plan to introduce in January in regards to gun control is too much. Pearce said. Much of the legislation revolves around requiring background checks for individual sales and exchanges between family members.

“We have enough laws relating to guns. Anything that they do is going to restrict the Second Amendment and I’m steadfastly opposed taking guns from people that are law abiding citizens,” Pearce said. “They’re planning laws to take them away from the people that use them normally. We just need to enforce the laws and strongly support the Second Amendment.”