Thursday, May 17, 2018

House Candidates Discuss Immigration, Poverty at Forum in #ABQ

Davis, Arnold-Jones, Princeton (standing), Lara, Haaland, Sedillo Lopez, Moya, Martinez (off frame)
On Wednesday, May 16, the eight individuals seeking to fill the soon-to-be vacant New Mexico Congressional District 1 seat in the House of Representatives participated in a discussion on immigration and other issues at First Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque. The race has drawn six Democrats (Pat Davis, Debra Haaland, Damian Lara, Damon Martinez, Paul Moya, Antoinette Sedillo Lopez), one Republican (Janice Arnold-Jones) and one Libertarian (Lloyd Princeton). The seat is currently held by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is leaving to run for governor of New Mexico.

The forum was organized by the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Among the immigration issues that were discussed were the role of local police in enforcing immigration policy, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and locations within the city where immigration enforcement personnel should not be allowed to seek undocumented immigrants.

Poverty and Economic Development
One of the "other" issues that were discussed was child poverty and poverty in New Mexico in general.  As one who works on addressing hunger and poverty in our state, our country and overseas, this was an area of particular interest. The candidates addressed this issue in a somewhat superficial manner. To be fair, they couldn't go in depth because they were given 90 seconds to make a statement.

Here are some comments that stood out for me that were directly or indirectly relevant to the Bread for the World Offering of Letters, entitled For Such a Time as This. In New Mexico, the focus of our letters is on protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which affect so many individuals and families in our state. Haaland addressed this issue directly. "Kids cannot learn when they're hungry," she said.  However, Martinez spoke of protecting safety net programs, and Sedillo Lopez spoke of the need to "radically expand" the earned-income tax credit (EITC), which is a position that Bread has supported.

Sedillo Lopez and Davis both spoke of the need to increase the minimum wage, although the former mentioned a specific figure: $15 per hour and then link any increases to inflation.

Another area that was discussed was education--specifically early childhood education, which the  candidates agreed could use more support. "The surest way out of poverty is to fix education," said Moya.  This was also a point of emphasis for Martinez, Sedillo-Lopez and Davis.  Lara mentioned the need to expand Headstart.

Arnold Jones addressed the need to reduce overregulation to promote economic growth in the state, while Princeton suggested that more effort should go to programs like vocational training in the state to help boost employment.

Letters to Candidates
While the forum did not lend itself to a broad discussion on hunger and poverty in New Mexico, we are hoping to raise the issue to the candidates between now and the November election.

After June 5, only one of the six Democrats will remain in the race, along with Arnold-Jones and Princeton. We hope to promote letters to the three candidates as part of our ongoing Offering of Letters efforts in New Mexico (along with continuing letters to our current House and Senate members).  The Congressional seat in the 2nd district is also open, so we may address letters to the eventual nominees seeking to replace Rep. Steve Pearce, who is also running for governor.  Stay tuned for more details.

As of May 15, four churches had written more than 500 letters to Reps. Lujan Grisham, Pearce, and Ben Ray Lujan and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich (who is also running for re-election this year).

I was pleased to learn that the location of the congressional debate, First Presbyterian Church, is planning an Offering of Letters on May 20, a fact that Rev. Matthew Miller, pastor of the church, proudly pointed out to me. The letters written on May 20 will be dedicated on  May 27. Special thanks to Kirsten Marr for organizing this effort at First Presbyterian Church.

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