John Sanchez visits Tucumcari

Russell Anglin

John Sanchez, New Mexico’s Lieutenant Governor-elect, stopped in Tucumcari Wednesday night for a one-hour listening session with local residents who had a lot to say.

Sanchez addressed a crowd of about 55 people at the Tucumcari Convention Center. His major talking points included a “common sense” approach to state politics and decreased government regulation of New Mexico industries.

“We (Sanchez and Governor-elect Susana Martinez) think both the federal and the state government has simply overstepped their reach,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez voiced his opposition to state cap-and-trade regulations, which call for reduced greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities that produce them.

“I think it has the potential, in our opinion, to destroy New Mexico’s economy. I think what it does, it puts the entire country at a complete disadvantage. So I can report to you that the Martinez administration and the transition team is looking very, very closely at all the legal tools she has made available to her as the new governor to undo that, and not only cap-and-trade, but ending the pit rules as well,” Sanchez said, referring to the state Oil Conservation Division’s rules on oil and gas drilling.

Pat Vanderpool, Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation director, also expressed concerns about carbon emission caps.

“I don’t know how many people in this room are aware, but speaking of common sense, the environmental improvement board on Monday also passed, by a four-to-one vote, greenhouse gas caps on industry in New Mexico as well,” he said.

“That’s right. Well we’ll push back on all of those,” Sanchez replied.

Quay County Commissioner Bill Curry told Sanchez county road maintenance and the county’s requirement to house some state prisoners before their transport to state prisons are big expenses on the Quay County budget.

“The state appropriates about $5 million (to counties for housing state prisoners). Our county gets $5,000 for that. We have one that’s well over a year here who has not been transported and it gets to be very, very costly to us, but it’s mandated that we’ve got to take care of that prisoner until such time as he can be transported,” Curry said.

“It is very important that everybody understands here in Quay County that this administration is not looking at the Rio Grande Corridor as the center of the universe or New Mexico,” Sanchez replied. “I hope that me being here tonight is a very clear indicator of where this administration is going. That is, to treat the entire state equally, on a level playing field. I do want to make y’all aware that this isn’t just a one-time gig for me here in Quay County. Once we get done with this legislative session, I look forward to coming back.”

Richard Talley, owner of the Motel Safari, asked Sanchez what he knew about the ongoing Raton racino licensing situation.

“Clearly the people of Raton and Colfax County would love to see that track opened up there. Right now I think there’s so much in flux. There’s a lot of moving parts there. I think that whatever decision the governor makes there, and the racing commission, the gaming boards, those people who are going to be making those decisions … A: Take out the politics of that decision. We have to,” Sanchez said. “I’m in support of a community that would be able to bring racing into their community as an economic driver, but it has to be done in such a fashion that it doesn’t come back and hurt the state, so that’s about as far as I know about that right now.”

Sanchez also said the Martinez administration would review state gaming and racing board commission members.

“I can tell you that that process has started right now. I think you’re going to see a wholesale change to make sure we have the right people,” Sanchez said.

Sharon Quarles, co-owner of Quarles Art Gallery, asked about the state’s commitment to the arts.

Sanchez responded by saying his administration would consider tax incentives for film industry projects in New Mexico and added that he considered tourism to be a vital aspect of any state’s economy.

Sanchez associated the State of Nebraska’s $100 million tourism budget with increased commerce and a 4.6 percent unemployment rate.

Local farmer Phillip Box brought up the problem of illegal diversion of water in the Arch Hurley Conservancy District. He asked for increased support of the State Engineer’s Office to monitor water.

“We’d sure appreciate getting them some help to … at least verify that the rainfall isn’t there or it’s been going the wrong way, or whatever . It’s cost this community anywhere from $20-40 million a year in lost production. That’s big economic development that’s being lost,” Box said.

“I think one of the most important choices the new governor is going to make is that position of the engineer. I believe that —a lot of power in that particular office. One of my heroes politically was Ronald Reagan and one of the things he stood for was, ‘Trust, but verify.’ Thank you for your comments, and water is a huge issue throughout New Mexico,” Sanchez responded.

Tucumcari MainStreet director Mark Lake asked for continued financial support for the city’s Main Street initiative.

“People will have my support because I believe in the redevelopment of our Main streets,” Sanchez responded.

Mesalands Community College President Phillip Barry expressed concern over proposed legislature by the state’s Educational Retirement Board that could make teachers work up to 10 years longer before qualifying for retirement.

“There’s a great deal of concern across the entire state,” Barry said.

“We understand that. We recognize that. We look forward to working with the legislature to ensure we do the right thing, and the fair thing as well,” Sanchez responded. “There’s a lot to be considered. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on state budgets around the country. It’s going to require that all parties involved come to the table.”

“Educators that I’ve spoken to, other college presidents and teachers here locally, they’re not concerned about adding additional money, their own contributions to the retirement fund. What they’re concerned about is changing the rules in the middle of the road after they’ve invested,” Barry replied.

“Those are valid concerns and I would agree. So the devil is in the details on those pieces of legislation. I’m sure we’ll be seeing you and others up in Santa Fe and the administration is going to be working closely with both sides, and our intent and hope is that … we do ultimately what is right for all parties involved,” Sanchez said.

In closing, Sanchez emphasized the need for New Mexico communities to be self-reliant and to communicate their needs clearly with the governor’s office.

“I just hate it when I hear of communities that for years, generations, have waited for crumbs off the table from Santa Fe. We’ll do everything we possibly can, but we believe that the future of Quay County and Tucumcari is home-grown businesses, right here. You guys know your community better than we do,” Sanchez said. “We want you all, this group, your leaders, to start thinking specifically about ways we can help, and that way when we come back together you guys have a framework.”