Republican Rep. Steve Pearce sat down with the Daily Lobo Saturday to discuss his run for governor in 2018, as well as the many issues currently facing New Mexico and the country. Discussion topics included the Lottery Scholarship, the GOP tax bill and the status of public lands in New Mexico. He visited the University of New Mexico Saturday to speak to UNM College Republicans.
Q: What brings you to Albuquerque today?
A: Just as always, the campaign. We’ve got a little bit of congressional work to do. Every weekend I come home, or pretty close.
Q: How do you plan on getting the vote in Albuquerque, specifically students at the University of New Mexico?
A: Everybody has pretty common desires. We just have to demonstrate that I know the issues, and that (I) can do something about it. So the idea of what we need to do is economic…We can’t keep exporting our young people to other states.
Q: Recently, under Gov. Martinez, Lottery Scholarship funding has gone down. As governor, would you look to increase Lottery Scholarship funding so that more students in New Mexico can afford to go to college?
A: Whatever we can do to keep people in (higher education), that’s the pathway to success...We’re going to make it possible for everyone to go to college.
Q: A couple of days ago, there was a tragic shooting in Aztec, New Mexico that resulted in two people being killed. As governor, what specific pieces of legislation would you support to make sure things like this do not happen in our state ever again?
A: The question is whether or not we think gun control legislation would be pushed or (if) it should be something else. I’m in the camp of other things. I believe we really (have) to address the mental issues that we’re facing. This young man surfaced to the FBI, and they let him go...Almost all across the spectrum we’ve had indicators, and we’re not doing anything. Myself, I don’t think gun control legislation works. Chicago (has) some of the strictest gun control legislation in the country, and they’ve got the highest murder rate, probably, in the world. Let’s take a look at what we can do to really affect the problem, not just say we’re going to do a lot of things that don’t show much effect.
Q: You did mention that the FBI knew (the shooter) and did nothing about it. Are you in favor of background checks in that case?
A: I think we’ve got plenty of information available right now. I think let’s just use what we have. I don’t think we need more laws. I just think we need to enforce the laws we’ve got, and dig a little deeper into the problems that do surface.
Q: 2017 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people in America. As governor, what would you do the protect this community?
A: Just make sure that violence against any community is just not tolerated, (we are) just not willing to tolerate it.
Q: New Mexico colleges have faced many budget cuts. What would you do as governor to improve college funding and the state of our education system?
A: You can’t do anything with what you don’t have. Right now we don’t have the money, so the task on us is to diversify and broaden the economy. But we’re not going to do those until we change the cultural biases against business in this state. How can we thrive and expand the economy if we have that kind of a culture? What we've got to do is change the attitude. We want safe work conditions, we want to protect our environment, we want to protect our water, but we've also got to have jobs...If we’re going to improve higher ed funding, we’re going to have to expand and grow the economy so that we have the money to do it.
Q: Recently the White House has moved to take away public lands from national monuments in Utah. How will you work to protect public lands in New Mexico?
A: I’m probably as strong as a supporter of public lands as there is. I love public lands. I love the outdoors. The fight we get into is how restricted we make those public lands...The big rural parts of (New Mexico) don’t have many opportunities for economies. What we’re doing is limiting our capabilities. So what we’re doing is working with Secretary (Ryan) Zinke, I know him well...We’ll protect our public lands, but we’ll also make them available to everyone...Let’s make sure our public lands are made available to all.
Q: When you say “all,” does that include businesses and corporations?
A: No, but I do mean business, like ranchers. You’ve got to have the ability to make a living...let’s do the right thing. Let’s start cleaning up our forests, create jobs, create an economy.
Q: Can you explain your plan to help students affected by DACA?
A: So you’ve got DACA recipients, who we always try to reiterate who they are…(They) grow up here, not knowing anything about the other country. And we need a solution other than the two that are on the table. One says amnesty for all DACA recipients, the other says they got to go back to their home country. I’m saying that both of those options are very difficult. Why don’t we find a middle of the ground? So we took the program and extended it for ten years, and then you can reapply for ten years after that. Ten years allows you to get your paperwork in order. Or if you just want to work and extend, that’s fine too. So we give them a permanent status to where you don’t have to fear deportation, you don’t have someone coming into your house and taking you out of your life. We don’t give citizenship, we don’t give them amnesty to it, but you also don’t live in fear. It seems to be the compromise bill for the entire Congress.
Q: What do you say to critics of the plan who may say that it doesn’t go far enough to protect DACA recipients and that in 10 years we’re going to be in the same situation we’re in right now?
A: Well, they can reapply again. So if they’re in a situation right now — many of them do express appreciation for the DACA program — if they’re satisfied now, they’ll be satisfied continually. It’s not like it ends in 10 years…it just continues on.
Q: As governor, do you plan on making New Mexico less reliant on energy sources like oil and gas and more on renewable energies?
A: Well, again, you have to think about scale. We get about 40 percent of our teacher pay from oil and gas. You’re not going to convert over to wind and solar and get 40 percent teacher pay from that. I’m very happy expanding those — I’m very supportive of the alternative energies, but we also have to look realistically at the budget of the state, and so the people who are saying get rid of oil and gas are (not) looking at the facts clearly and closely enough.
Q: Our current governor, Susana Martinez, is a Republican like yourself. How would your term as governor be different from hers, even though you are part of the same party?
A: Her background is law enforcement, she was (District Attorney). My background is business. I know far more about what to do about creating jobs in the economy. I also know more about the management of processes — that’s my experience. Looking at the (education) system, I don’t think that teachers are the great source of problems. I think the management decisions are the great source of the problem. So we simply make different decisions than what are being done right now.
Q: Recently, you voted for the new tax bill, which will raise taxes on graduate students by thousands of dollars. As governor how would you plan to help these graduate students who are now unsure how they will pay for their education?
A: I just don’t believe it’s going to raise taxes on graduate students. What we did was double the standardized deduction, so it went from $12,000 to $24,000. Very few people are going to have deductions greater than that. If they’re writing off their college, it’s not going to be greater than that...so, No. 1, I just don’t believe that. No. 2, if there is an effect, then I’ll try to lead an effort to stop the effect from happening.
Q: What it says in the bill is that the money that graduate students receive, (like) research and grants, is now going to be charged as income, where it wasn’t before. So, what would you recommend to these students (on how to pay for college)?
A: I doubt that anybody’s getting $30,000 a year for research grants. The grant itself might be that much, but individuals probably are not. And when you have a standardized deduction of $24,000, I just don’t think it’s going to be a problem...Right now, I think the standardized deduction being doubled is what’s going to be the thing that causes everyone to reach balance.
Q: New Mexico politics, like nationally, have been plagued by extreme partisanship on both sides. As governor, what would you do to bring these two together?
A: I take the lead nationwide. I’m very conservative, but I also work with people who are extremely liberal, not just a little liberal...I have a deep respect for people who get elected. Let’s get something done — the worst thing we can do is do nothing.
Q: Let’s say I’m an incoming freshman at UNM, I just turned 18. Why should I vote for you as opposed to any other candidate? What do you offer me?
A: A future. People want big magnificent answers, and they want big government projects to solve things. In my experience...you have to find individual answers to individual problems. We should be able to answer every problem with only two million people here...I know what we need to do to expand our economy, to fix our education system, to pull people out of poverty and back into useful and productive lives.
Kyle Land is a news editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.