Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of articles by the Daily Lobo about individuals running for public office in New Mexico this year. An earlier version of this article state rainy day funds totaled $23,000, when they are $23 billion. The Daily Lobo apologizes for the confusion.
The office of New Mexico governor is up for grabs in 2018. Jeff Apodaca is one of three Democrats running in the race. He will go up against Michelle Lujan Grisham and Joseph Cervantes in the primary elections this June to secure the Democratic spot on the ballot.
Apodaca said he joined the race for governor not because he wanted a career in politics or because it was “his turn,” but because he was tired of New Mexico being ranked last in everything.
“When you watch your state lose 146,000 jobs, when you watch your state have the highest unemployment rate in the country and be ranked 50th in job creation and 50th in education, you get tired of sitting around doing nothing,” he said.
Apodaca grew up in Las Cruces and Santa Fe, New Mexico. When he was a teenager, his father, Jerry Apodaca, became the 24th governor of New Mexico. He said his parents encouraged their kids to get involved in activities and work summer jobs, meaning he spent time working as a page at the state capitol and sitting in on committee meetings.
“Growing up in politics, you quickly learn how it all works,” Apodaca said.
Apodaca went to the University of New Mexico and played football for the Lobos. He went on to work a career in broadcast management and moved out of New Mexico to work jobs with companies including CBS Sports, Aol and Univision. He and his wife Jackie later returned to Albuquerque to raise their two sons.
He said that working outside of politics and living outside of New Mexico has allowed him to see things in a different way, and see different solutions to the state’s issues.
“It doesn’t make sense that we sit on $23 billion in rainy day funds when we’re right in the middle of a hurricane and our roof just got blown off,” Apodaca said.
He added that he wants to take 5 percent of that $23 billion and invest it back into New Mexico to improve jobs, industry, education and more.
According to Apodaca’s plan, he immediately wants to get capital going and create jobs. He said his plan is to invest in small and local businesses, increase workforce training available to New Mexicans and revamp the state tax system to encourage companies to grow their business inside the state rather than outside of it.
He also plans to put New Mexicans to work on repairing the state’s roads and infrastructure. One thing he said is different from his opponents is his plan to expand hospital residency programs.
He plans to invest in biotechnology and increase solar energy and other forms of renewable energy in the state. He said he wants to diversify the economy in hopes of making the state not as dependant on oil and gas.
Another part of Apodaca’s plan that he discussed is to appoint a new secretary of education who has been a teacher in New Mexico and understands the state’s educational problems, adding that he wants to immediately give teachers and state employees raises. He also said he wants to help higher education, in the form of stopping tuition hikes and raising the Lottery scholarship.
Apodaca said students should vote for him because he knows what it is like to be a struggling student at UNM and how how hard it is for young people to find jobs in the state, and he is going to fix that.
“I have walked in your shoes,” Apodaca said.
Peter De Benedittis was another candidate running on the democratic ballot for governor earlier this spring. In March, De Benedittis withdrew from the race. He said he realized his chances at winning were slim — he spoke with each of the three other Democratic candidates and ended up joining Apodaca’s campaign team.
“(Apodaca) already had big ideas like legalizing cannabis and $15 an hour living wages,” De Benedittis said. “We came to agreement on how to implement affordable universal health care and creating a publicly owned state bank. The rest is history.”
Apodaca said having De Benedittis on his team has been a great thing for both of them.
“It wasn’t something that was malicious or strategized, it’s just something that worked out,” he said.
The primary election for New Mexico governor will be held on June 5, 2018.
Catherine Stringman is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cathey_stringam.