Republicans had the opportunity to raise their hands and voices Saturday in a public forum with Republican gubernatorial candidates.
Four of the five candidates — Janice Arnold-Jones, Pete Domenici Jr., Doug Turner and Allen Weh — attended the forum hosted by the Albuquerque Tea Party. Absent was Susana Martinez, who was excused for a family emergency.
ATP board member Patricia Morlen said the ATP hosted the forum — attended by more than 350 community members — to help educate the community on what is happening in government and how it affects them.
“These things do matter and I think for too long the average citizen didn’t get up and speak,” she said.
On June 1, the winner of the Republican primary election will face incumbent Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, the only competing Democrat.
Each candidate was asked five questions on issues of interest to the ATP, such as fiscal responsibility and limited government. The remainder of time was spent answering questions from the audience.
All the candidates agreed that the main initiatives of the new governor would be fixing the state budget and creating jobs.
Weh said he planned to divide the budget into two parts: “need to have and nice to have.”
He said the simple solution is not to spend more than you make, which is a big change from Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration.
“We are going to be in a declining-income period for the next couple years, until we can turn the economy around,” he said. “It’s like the sink rate of an airplane. You can pull the throttle back but you’re still going to be sinking for a little bit until the aerodynamics come into play.”
The candidates also agreed that ending corruption in government was a top priority.
Turner said he doesn’t carry any political baggage, which sets him apart from the other candidates.
“You’ve got to deal with corruption but I think that is pretty quick. You just fire everyone that this administration hired,” he said. “Then you have to work on retooling our regulatory environment, so it is a better state for companies to do business in.”
Domenici Jr., son of former U.S. Sen. Pete V. Domenici, said bringing specialized companies to New Mexico is an important aspect of creating jobs and retaining students from state universities.
“Everyone wants those companies. They have so many choices they won’t take risks,” he said. “You have to cut the risk for the company. They have to say New Mexico is a no-risk place.”
Arnold-Jones, incumbent state representative in Bernalillo County, said among her priorities were the “Four E’s” — economy, ethics, energy and education. She said UNM has a big role to play in the state.
“We can’t treat our university system like a jobs program. It needs to be revered and held out like an educational system of excellence,” Arnold-Jones said. “As long as we treat it as if it is the largest employer in any of our small towns … then we lose our focus.”
Weh also offered a couple of suggestions relevant to UNM.
“Our flagship University has been tarnished recently,” he said. “I am going to pay attention to the problems at UNM and work with the Board of Regents to insist that there is fiscal responsibility down there, and that there is money going to pay our faculty members, so we are not losing our best and brightest.”
Republican voters must now decide which candidate is most likely to beat Denish in November. Domenici, Jr. boasted that according to a current Public Policy Polling survey, he is indicated to be the best contender against Denish, trailing by 5 percentage points. However, a recent straw poll in Clovis showed Martinez as the Republican front-runner.
Morlen said the ATP plans to have similar forums for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor and other county offices.
“It is a matter of pushing forward and continuing to get people involved,” she said. “If we never try then we can never change anything.”