By David Arkin: PNT Correspondent
In 2002, with two weeks to go before the primary, Keith Gardner’s campaigning for a seat in the House ended.
His mother, who was living in Arizona, died.
Gardner, who was running against Rep. Earlene Roberts, R-Lovington, left New Mexico — leaving behind his run for a seat in Santa Fe — because of the family death.
“My mother died and I unfortunately had to leave in a hurry,” he said. “I didn’t even make it back for the primary and I didn’t get to finish. That is my big motivation to run again.”
This time, Gardner has all intentions of finishing his campaign. He again is running against Roberts. They will face off for the Republican ticket for District 66 in June.
“We need some new blood,” Gardner said.
And his campaign manager, Bob Wooley, who is also Gardner’s neighbor, said the Roswell man is the person to bring new ideas and energy to Santa Fe.
“Keith is one of the finest people I know,” Wooley said. “He is a man of high integrity and treats everyone fairly. He cares about what is happening in his district and the people. He is a good leader who can take control of a situation and doesn’t believe in doing anything that’s not right.”
Even though Gardner has never served in a public office, he is knowledgeable of the state’s issues, Wooley said.
“He is already unbelievably informed on the issues,” he said. “This week I spent an afternoon with him in Portales knocking on doors and I was so impressed with how much he knew.”
One issue in particular that interests Gardner is water.
“We are a little different in our section of the state with that we have an oil- and gas-based economy,” he said. “Water is our lifeblood and if we don’t have water our core industry cannot survive.”
He said the Ute Water Project continues to be a “burning issue” for many eastern New Mexico counties.
On economic development, which Gardner calls one of this election’s “great buzz words,” there needs to be more regional programs offered, he said.
“Communities are fighting each other,” he said. “I remember when 1-800 Flowers wanted to put a call center in New Mexico. We had three or four cities in a bidding war. Instead of looking at what was best for the state, we were fighting. We need to be more aware of the region and what its strengths are.”
Getting economic development programs implemented in New Mexico will take a “strong voice” in Santa Fe, Gardner said.
“We need someone to really step up,” he said. “The eastern side of the state got pretty beat up with capital outlay monies this last session.”
Gardner is particularly critical of a measure last session that would have required all vehicles to eventually have interlock ignition systems. A bill supporting the interlocks system eventually died.
“It just seems crazy to force all citizens to have interlocks,” he said. “If you read national publications, they made fun of New Mexico for considering it.”
Gardner said what’s most important is for him to be active in the communities that he represents.
“Places like Roosevelt County and Portales aren’t just important during election years,” he said. “It’s important that there is someone there who cares all year long.”
If elected, Gardner said he would be dedicated to holding meetings in communities throughout his district where he could hear concerns and update residents on what’s happening in Santa Fe.