Under the heat of lights from the television studios of KENW, Ben Ray Lujan and challenger Tom Mullins put heat on each other
Eastern New Mexico University’s Broadcast Center was the site of Saturday night’s debate for the future of New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. Incumbent Lujan, a Democrat, is being challenged by Farmington Republican Tom Mullins.
The two traded barbs over taxes, health care and immigration, among other topics put together by a panel of residents from Curry and Roosevelt counties in a three-hour town hall preceding the debate.
The hour-long show was moderated by Sam Donaldson, and sponsored by New Mexico First and the state’s public television networks. The candidates and the small studio audience were civil, a tone Donaldson asked for just before going on air.
“You’d feel passionate, or you wouldn’t be here,” Donaldson said, but he asked the crowd to neither cheer nor jeer individual questions and answers.
Throughout the debate, the candidates took different sides on:
• Taxes. Mullins said the problem is overtaxing, but also overspending.
“We need to not have any sacred cows, so to speak, since we’re in dairy country,” Mullins said. “That includes defense spending, education spending.”
He chided Lujan and the Democrats who control Congress for leaving necessary budget issues and tax cut votes for a lame-duck session, and that a philosophy of taxing the rich backfires.
“When you tax the wealthy, they take that out on the working class,” said Mullins, who would like to modify the tax system into a flat tax.
Lujan said the tax Mullins is talking about would raise taxes on what he considers middle class, families making between $19,000 and $200,000 annually, with huge taxes levied on basic items like milk, bread and peanut butter.
• Immigration. Lujan said there are ways to include immigrants into society, like the DREAM Act, which he supports.
“But when we do so, they need to learn English, they need to pay taxes, they need to get in back of the line and they need to clear a background check.”
Mullins felt the top priority was border security, and he would like to send the National Guard down to the borders.
“When I hear, ‘comprehensive,’” Mullins told Lujan, “I hear, ‘amnesty.’”
Mullins called the DREAM Act, a conditional path to citizenship requiring completion of a college degree or two years of military service, a “political football.” Lujan responded that the act was a bipartisan effort that makes sense.
• The environment and energy. Mullins said Lujan has passed up numerous chances to say whether he supports nuclear power, and Lujan pointed out Mullins’ desire to store nuclear materials in Yucca Mountain.
“‘Stick it in the ground’ is not a solution,” Lujan said.
When speaking about the state’s rules on mining, Mullins — who owned a petroleum business — said an impossible standard is created and a profitable industry decides to leave New Mexico for states with friendlier legislation.
“I’m a small business owner,” Mullins told Lujan. “You spent your time as a regulator. I think I know when my taxes are going up.”
Mullins said he was also against cap and trade legislation, both federally and in New Mexico.
“I believe carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It’s plant food. The science is not settled with regards to climate change, in my opinion.”
Lujan said there was a difference between the small amount of carbon dioxide that comes from a person and the tonnage that comes from industries.
• Health care: Lujan said he wants to get to a system where at least 85 cents of every dollar spent by insurance companies must go towards patient care, and it’s wrong for insurance companies to make record profits when so many American families are hurting.
Mullins said it’s best to not interfere with the free market, and he wants to repeal recently-enacted health care legislation if elected.
“He believes the federal government can control costs,” Mullins said of Lujan. “I see an incredible bureaucracy.”
Lujan countered the free market helped create the problems he spoke about.
The debate is the first of three throughout the state.
Donaldson said the next debate will be Friday in Albuquerque, between 1st District candidates Martin Heinrich and Jon Barela.