As of last month, there’s officially a challenger for the Second Congressional District of New Mexico.
Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez has thrown his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination, that primary election will be held in June of 2022.
Reporter Taylor Velazquez sat down with Vasquez to talk about climate change and immigration policy.
GABE VASQUEZ: First and foremost, I am here to serve people and I have experienced serving people and serving communities. That's a duty and a responsibility that I take seriously. Before I was on the city council, I did get an opportunity to work for Senator Martin Heinrich’s office, where I quietly did the work to bring resources to rural communities all across this district, from transportation services for veterans, to wastewater systems in our colonias, and economic development grants and initiatives to help local governments create jobs. And as a member of the Las Cruces City Council for the last four years, I focused on reinvesting in my district. Although it is one of the lowest income districts in the city. It's also one of the richest districts in culture, in history, in hard working people. So I led just recently a task force to create a metropolitan redevelopment area that will provide for millions of dollars of investments to build back economically depressed neighborhoods and commercial corridors. I also champion the city's first sustainable streetscape redevelopment project called the Nevada Neighborhood Cooling Corridor in one of our most low income areas to give kids a safe place to walk to school.
KSFR: I wanted to pivot to the 2nd Congressional District itself, you know, this has been seen as a Republican stronghold, with only a couple of Democratic representatives winning the seat in the past. If elected, what would it mean to unseat a Republican and how would that impact the district?
GABE VASQUEZ: Yeah, you know, I think it's about bringing results home to our people. And it's about focusing in on the things that will improve the lives of Southern New Mexicans that involves listening and again, understanding the challenges and the opportunities. So, I don't see this so much in a partisan lens, although clearly, all house races are.
But Southern New Mexico to me is the place I call home. I think it's the most beautiful place in this entire world. You know, for me, reinvesting into our borderland economy is a critical thing that I want to accomplish as a representative of this district. We have tremendous economic opportunity, and already economic prosperity related to international trade and commerce. So we have an opportunity to create more vibrant communities that are really growing at a record pace in Doña Ana County. And that's a story that doesn't get talked about a lot because our district tends to be dominated in conversation by the oil and gas economy. But Doña Ana County did outpaced Bernalillo County as the state's largest net exporter, thanks to this wonderful relationship that we have with our southern neighbors. And so, for me getting elected, this seat gives me an opportunity to drive home a positive narrative about the border and to both reconcile relationships, but also grow economic development in the area.
We also have a tremendous potential to focus in on our outdoor recreation economy, these small towns, Silver City, Cloudcroft, and Ruidoso, and even a place like Animas. They are seeing tremendous increased visitation and economic activity from folks who are coming out here to hike on the Continental Divide Trail or fish for Gila trout that's only going to continue growing in the coming years. And so I'm extremely excited to be able to support and invest in that sector as a house member.
We can talk also just about renewable energy production in this part of the state that continues to grow. We have, you know, some of some of the largest energy projects here in this district, but also the potential to build a transmission line that could deliver the power to other markets where we can actually grow our renewable energy and economy that could be complementary to our agricultural economy. And we can, you know, capitalize on these different sectors. And I'm excited to do all of that here in this district.
KSFR: And I want to go back to your point about you bringing a positive narrative about the border. You have said that there must be a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented people in this country. In your opinion, what should Congress be considering when it comes to citizenship? And if elected, how would you change immigration policy or what’s missing?
GABE VASQUEZ: This is an issue I'm extremely passionate about. I'm a first generation American. And so we have to absolutely be able to give folks who are undocumented in this country, a pathway to citizenship, and they have more than earned it. Our immigration system is broken. Neither Democrats or Republicans have been able to come up with a solution for the 11 million undocumented people who are here in this country that are already contributing greatly, not just financially and monetarily, because they certainly are, but also to the culture of our communities. They're our teachers. They're our neighbors. They're our doctors.
I think that a representative in this part of the country that represents such a large border district has a responsibility to bring these folks into our formal economy as American citizens, and that pathway to citizenship needs to be real for them. And we have to get there. You know, we have to understand that in places like Southern New Mexico, where the border crossed us after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase, that these really aren't, to me undocumented people. These are folks who have been here, you know, for many decades for many generations. And so we have to allow people to live with dignity with certainty. And I think that's something that has to start with leaders who represent border communities.
KSFR: Now I want to talk about climate change. Can you describe how you have already fought to tackle climate change. And what policy changes would you implement if elected?
GABE VASQUEZ: You know, climate change is a critical issue and, you know, the Permian Basin, let's start there, because that's always the elephant in the room. Has you know, undoubtedly contributed as one of the largest reserves of fossil fuels of oil and gas in the world to our changing climate. It has also provided for families and for the state, one-third of our state budget comes from oil and gas. But it's also an opportunity for us to have that conversation today so that we can make changes tomorrow.
Here in the Southwest, you know, we had a severe period of drought for several years, they're impacting our communities in different ways and impacting different economic sectors in different ways. In some places, they're destroying entire neighborhoods and cities, and the livelihoods of Americans. So, we have to wake up, we have to do more. And so I do think it does have to start with some of our largest emitters of methane and pollution. And so that is our fossil fuel industry.
Now, the fossil fuel industry isn't going anywhere for a long time, the industry has enough leases, you know, to continue essential production of oil and gas products for the next 15 to 20 years. And so even if we said we wanted to stop fossil fuel leasing at the federal level tomorrow, that folks would still have 15 to 20 years to use. And so we have to be smart and come up with a plan to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
And we have to ensure that frontline communities, like those in the Southeast are prepared to transition into that economy, we do have to start with some base level reform. And that includes increasing the bonding requirements for producers so that we are not left as taxpayers with abandoned wells that are polluting our watersheds. So we absolutely must do that. We have to increase royalty rates, as we do have oil and gas production in the state that we are getting our fair share from these royalty rates that haven't been updated in far too long. And so the industry has to pay its fair share.
And then we have to capture methane, right? We have to be extremely responsible from both a financial perspective but also an environmental perspective. Vented, leaked and flared gases, methane gases, are causing both our economy and our environment harm. And I'll put our environment in front of that, because that's really the larger problem that we're going to have to deal with. And so enacting stronger methane regulations, and making sure that producers, even small producers, are capturing methane, and during this entire process of exploration, and production just absolutely needs to be written into law.
KSFR: And Something that is on a lot of people’s minds is the special legislative session that’s just on the horizon for redistricting. What would you like to see come out of this session? What would you like to see coming out of this session? And Do you have any worries about District 2, specifically? What about other districts?
GABE VASQUEZ: I've heard a lot of people that were surprised that a candidate here would step up to run for the seat before seeing the new map, before seeing the redistricting process play out. To be honest, I would have ran anyway, even if the map didn't change. Our legislative leaders have a task at hand. And it's quickly coming to ensure that we do draw fair and balanced maps that reflect our growing and our changing population. You know, we get a chance to do this every 10 years, and certainly we've seen some really impressive population growth in places like Southeast New Mexico, in particular amongst the Hispanic community. I have my thoughts, but I will leave that to the citizens redistricting committee to the advocates in a state legislature to figure out what is fair, what is balanced and what makes sense for New Mexico.
I am confident that we will get a good map that is more representative of this district and it gives people in Southern New Mexico the power that they deserve, but I really am running regardless of the maps because I think we can win with our message and I can win with understanding the challenges and the opportunities that exist here today.