By Tony Parra
Republican J.R. Damron sees a need for change in the governor’s office to improve education and stop illegal immigration.
Gov. Bill Richardson’s opponent in November’s General Election, Damron said students in New Mexico rank low in test scores compared with students from other states, citing a recently released report card from the American Legislative Exchange Council ranking New Mexico as 49th in education.
ALEC is the nation’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators.
“Only 65 percent of our kids are graduating from high school,” Damron said. “That’s not acceptable.”
Speaking at a Roosevelt County Republican Party luncheon, Damron said the keys to solving New Mexico’s education problem are increased funding, greater parental involvement and school choice.
Amanda Cooper, Richardson’s political director, said the governor has been innovative in finding ways to help education, including funding the three-tier licensure program and pre-kindergarten, putting physical education back into the classrooms and taking junk food out of the schools.
“Education is very important to the governor,” she said.
Cooper noted that the three-tier licensure program has kept well-qualified teachers in New Mexico.
Damron said he wants to stop illegal immigration into New Mexico, citing an increase in healthcare costs as a result of the number of uninsured people.
“We have to secure the border,” Damron said. “Illegal immigration has caused a burden on healthcare. No amnesty (granted to illegal immigrants). If they are illegal, send them back.”
In August, Richardson declared a state of emergency and received federal funds to stop illegal immigration.
The declaration cited human smuggling, drug smuggling, kidnapping, murder, destruction of property and the death of livestock. Richardson’s declaration made $750,000 in state emergency funds available to Dona Ana, Luna, Grant and Hidalgo counties, according to an Associated Press story.
“Nobody in the state or country has done more to secure our borders (than Gov. Richardson),” Cooper said. “He called the federal government out to do their job. Since then (August) there has been $1.7 million for law enforcement and homeland security.”
A physician from Santa Fe, Damron has been campaigning in New Mexico this week and will continue the trail next week.
“Any time someone comes to Roosevelt County running for a state office, especially the governor’s office, is a great opportunity for us,” said Matt Rush of the Republican Party in Roosevelt County. “It’s nice to have someone who will visit another part of the state besides the Rio Grande.”
Richardson visited Portales in early August to promote a tax-free holiday, in late August during a ceremony for the Abengoa Corp. ethanol plant expansion, and in April 2005 for a town hall meeting.
“For the first time in a long time, the state is going in the right direction,” Cooper said. “This governor is pro-education and pro-business.”
Damron disagrees and believes there should be a change in office.
“We’ve got a lot of great people here in New Mexico,” Damron said. “You deserve a lot better than you’re getting. I’m here to tell you that he (Richardson) can be beat, and he will be beat with your support.”