The Elections and CNM: U.S. Senate Race

Fourth in an occasional series

The Chronicle has been interviewing candidates on their thinking about community colleges, specifically CNM, and how their ideas would translate into their jobs following the Nov. 6 general elections. This package offered candidates for U.S. Senate an opportunity to respond, in the order of their positions on the ballot: Martin Heinrich, Democrat; Gary Johnson, Libertarian; and Mick Rich, Republican.

By Audrey Callaway Scherer

Chronicle reporter


Heinrich: Opportunities in Education, Jobs


Martin Heinrich

Photo courtesy of Martin Heinrich           

Martin Heinrich is focused on building a New Mexico where all students, no matter their background, have the opportunity to get world class, highly marketable degrees in anything from art to engineering and to graduate with no student loan debt, he said.

He has worked to strengthen the ladders of opportunity by modernizing student loan repayment and investing in apprenticeship and workforce development programs, he said.

He introduced the Degrees Not Debt Act to significantly increase the number of families who qualify for Pell Grants and increased the grants’ value, so they could cover the cost of attending any of New Mexico’s public colleges and universities.

He also partnered with CNM in creating legislation to support apprenticeship programs for the tech sector, to continue to strengthen the STEM pipeline and help New Mexico develop its vibrant technology economy, he said.

“By connecting students, training programs, and community colleges in New Mexico to the growing tech sector where jobs are opening up every day, we can create a more prosperous future for our state,” he said.

 He has also advocated for a two-generation approach to support programs that provide opportunities and meet the needs of parents and their children together – helping families as a whole, he said.

 “We need to make sure that earning a college degree isn’t a luxury and that we prepare students for jobs of the future,” he said.


Johnson: Reforms in Schools, Spending


Gary Johnson

Photo courtesy of Gary Johnson

Having to pay for the country’s rising debt and for programs they won’t be able to participate in should be important issues for students, said Gary Johnson, discussing what he would address in the Senate.

He linked much of what he would address to the rising debt of the country, saying that he would at least like to look to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, reduce military spending and adjust infrastructure spending to be more efficient. He also argued that bringing competition to the public sector of education would revolutionize the education system.

“Spending is always the bottom line,” he said.

He questioned whether degrees result in jobs and said that more students have been enrolling simply because tuition is covered by guaranteed loans. They have no excuse not to go if they know it can be covered, he said. In addition, colleges raised their tuitions because they knew the loans were guaranteed. He said he would argue that if government-guaranteed loans never existed, tuition would be half of what it is today.

“The most important issue is relevancy,” he said. “What’s the degree going to be worth, and is it relevant?”

He thinks that education should wake up, rather than be made more affordable, as the majority of people running for political office would say, he said.

Colleges have been immune to relevancy, but students are making it more relevant right now, he said. Young people are taking it into their hands and saying they’re not going to school unless there is a benefit. The downturn in college enrollment is a positive thing for education, compared to increases in enrollment based on supply and demand.

“I applaud young people, who will inevitably bring cheaper tuition,” he said.

Adding competition and allowing educational entrepreneurs into the public education sector would dramatically improve education, he said. He speculated that offering alternatives to public education by allowing a private section with vouchers would bring a revolution unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime. Improving the education system is proving not to be relevant to spending; he said he would argue that school choice would be better than putting more money into the system.

“The curriculum needs to match today,” he said.

If elected, he would potentially be the swing vote in the Senate, in which case he would like to get a position on the Senate Budget Committee so that he could submit a balanced budget to Congress, he said.

“My priorities, they also should be important to students,” he said.

We incur $1 trillion in debt to pay for ongoing government programs, he said. When interest rates go up on the debt one point, it adds $200 billion of interest alone. If interest rates return to historical norms, it would add $1 trillion plus in interest, affecting everybody responsible for paying it back, he said.

In addition, if not reformed, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid won’t be around for the young people strapped with paying for it, he said.

“It’s going to catch up,” he said.

Borrowing money without the ability to repay it back does not lead to success.

He argued that the Constitution does not justify certain U.S. incursions into other countries and that the nation can cut military spending if it recognizes that.

“I’d get out of Afghanistan tomorrow,” he said. There would be many consequences, but he would argue that the same consequences will still be around 40 years from now. “Didn’t Afghanistan bankrupt Russia?” he asked.

He added that military assets uniquely belong in New Mexico because things don’t rust, and we have plenty of ground and air space for practicing maneuvers. We also have the only supersonic corridor in 48 states.

He advocates for the U.S. to utilize existing infrastructure in New Mexico for more labs, rather than spending more money for new infrastructure in other parts of the country.

“Spending that money in New Mexico would be most efficient,” he said.

Johnson said he was influential in protecting military assets in New Mexico during a federal Base Realignment and Closure process that slated New Mexico for cuts and outright elimination.

He differs with Heinrich on the issue of opening the biggest F16 base in the world at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Johnson welcomes it with open arms for the thousands of jobs, while Heinrich opposes it because it would negatively impact the Gila Wilderness experience.


Rich: Family, Community, Future


Mick Rich

Photo courtesy of Mick Rich

Rather than telling students what they should be concentrating on, Mick Rich used his experiences to share what was important to him when he was looking toward the future: considering his personal life in addition to his career, looking to help his community and family along the way, and getting engaged and active in the political process.

First, students are attending school here at CNM not because of where they want to be today; it’s where they want to be tomorrow, he said. When he looked at his future, he looked at both where his career was headed and his personal life.

“The career isn’t the goal in itself. The goal for me was always to be a great dad, meaning to give my kids what contractors would call a good, solid foundation to follow their pursuits and what they want to do,” he said. His oldest daughter is a physician’s assistant and second-year medical student at UNM. His son got his Associate’s Degree from CNM and is finishing his degree in construction management at UNM. His second daughter ended up with a Ph.D. in physical therapy and his youngest daughter is in college now, he said.

Forty years ago, he came here for a good-paying job with the construction company he worked for, but he fell in love with the people of New Mexico and decided to start his family and construction company here because of the sense of family and community here that wasn’t in other places, he said.

Second, when students get out and look to the future, they do it for themselves but also their community and family and to help others along the way, he said. He has always done that, and he thinks it’s true for students no matter where they are in the world, graduated or in school.

Since he moved here, he has been committed to improving New Mexico communities and the state, he said. As a commercial industrial contractor, Rich and his company, Mick Rich Contractors, build and contribute to communities throughout New Mexico.

He helped start one of the first construction apprenticeship programs in New Mexico that didn’t require union membership, a joint effort between CNM, back then TVI, and Associated Builders and Contractors, he said.

He’s helped multiple projects and training programs get started since then, including HelpStar, one of Albuquerque’s first charter high schools, and the bandshell at the zoo. He did the renovation of the Old Town Church for the Tricentennial and has done construction at all the military bases, including at Los Alamos labs for 25 years, he said.

He’s been on the board for Catholic charities, Albuquerque Economic Development, and Associated Builders and Contractors as the chairman of the board.

He has also always helped people with their careers, he said. Everyone who comes to work for his company is in better shape when they leave than when they came because of the training and education opportunities that he gives his staff. Those who joined with no real career or future, he helped get on track, he said.

One example was a young man who was two courses short of getting his Bachelor’s in construction management but was unable to finish it where he worked before, because taking time off for school wasn’t an option.

“I said, ‘Look, you need to finish school. The difference between having a degree and not having a degree is huge; you’re two courses away. Take the time you need and go to class,’” he said.

He made it work for him, and he got his degree and is now working for another company.

He has helped friends of his youngest daughter get into college, too, he said.

So education is important, and he’s spent a lifetime advancing education in our state, he said. He has also written construction-related eBooks and blogs, one of which addressed getting New Mexico green chile certified, and another that brought up how important it was that the Department of Tourism put out information on where all the artists’ studios and galleries were across the state to lead tourists into rural New Mexico.

Last, it’s important that students get engaged and active in the political process, he said. He went to his first legislative hearing when he was in high school and was surprised by what he discovered within two hours of attending the hearing, he said. It seemed that the decision was made behind the scenes before all the people gave their testimony.

“It didn’t seem democratic to me. … That’s not right,” he said.

“But to your readers, I think it’s important that they vote. … And if they don’t vote this election, then vote the next one, but at some point, get engaged, because they can make a difference,” he said.

He added that with politics, people should listen to everybody.

“I have gained so much by sitting down with people who didn’t agree with me, to hear what direction they want to go in,” he said.

If people are unhappy with the partisanship that goes on in Washington, then it starts with us – by looking at the candidates, not the party, he said. It surprises him how many people say they are not voting for Republicans because they are tired of the partisanship. He tells them to investigate, look at it, and choose who they want to vote for based on the person and what he or she stands for and believes in, he said.

“Never get too worked up; the world is not going to come to end with this election, one way or the other.” He said people hear it every election: This election is the most important election you’ll ever participate in. But, like in the movie Men in Black, there is always going to be another catastrophe, he said.

 “It’d be nice if they voted for me, I’m asking for their vote, but most importantly is that they get engaged. It starts with voting, but it doesn’t end with voting,” he said. “Just get active in the political process. Go and see it.”

When he looked around at what was going on in New Mexico, he saw people leaving the state for jobs and safety, he said. One daughter still calls up to say that more friends have left for good-paying jobs, while another daughter calls saying there are gunshots near UNM campus. She was also given two personal canisters of mace by visitors who were leaving town, he said.

“Security, safety shouldn’t be a matter of being able to afford living in a gated community so you can walk your neighborhood at night,” he said. As a private citizen, he makes sure his family is safe and taken care of, but people need to do more than just that, he said.

“I decided that we needed a senator in Washington that was focused on good paying jobs, safe communities, and schools that work,” he said.

He’s a Catholic, so the sanctity of life is important to him, he said.

He also thinks it’s important to have a secured border so that people come here through the border crossings rather than an open border. This also ties into the drug trade, which is killing our city and state, he said.

“We need to keep the drugs out, and we need to make sure that the physicians aren’t prescribing where it isn’t appropriate, and that the federal government has provided guidelines for prescribing where it doesn’t make sense for pain management,” he said.

He said the things important to him – good-paying jobs, safe communities, and schools that work – are not important to the current senator he is running against, because his family doesn’t have to personally worry about those issues. He said that his opponent is dialing it in and disengaged and has become another Washington politician who votes as the Democratic leadership tells him he’s supposed to.

“If you’re not in the middle of it, you don’t see the challenges,” he said.

It is important for people to be engaged with New Mexico, and giving New Mexicans a voice is why he is running, he said.

“I care about the people of New Mexico. They deserve a voice,” he said.

He does support the president’s policies, because he believes in open and fair trade and thinks what we’ve had over the years has been open, but not fair. He said the NAFTA renegotiation will leave all people in the U.S. in fairer shape, especially in New Mexico.

He said that it’s unnerving how the president negotiates, but when it all comes together it looks OK, and that this was true for North Korea, for Israel and for Palestine agreeing to move the embassy, and NAFTA, he said.

Lastly, when it comes to Kavanaugh, he said, he is a Catholic and believes in redemption and that one mistake doesn’t mean your life is over.

“As a dad, as a husband, as a human being, it’s that if you stumble and make a mistake, you brush yourself off and you get started again. … Whether it’s during a day, a week, a month or a year or a lifetime, if you stumble, pick yourself up and get moving again,” he said.

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