Q&A – District 42 Senate candidates answer questions

By David Arkin, CNJ Correspondent

The following is a question and answer session with Sen. Gay Kernan and William Palmer, Republican candidates for state senate in District 42.

What do you think eastern New Mexico’s most pressing issue will be if you are elected to office and how would you address it?
Kernan: In eastern New Mexico the immediate focus should be on supporting the efforts of the Military Base Planning Commission as it studies the United States Department of Defense criteria for base realignment and closure. This commission will also develop recommendations for strengthening the state’s ability to retain the military installations including Cannon Air Force Base. I would support those recommendations and work to assure that Cannon Air Force Base remains a vital component of our national defense system.
Water is also important — it’s an issue that all New Mexicans are concerned about. As a member of the Water and Natural Resources Committee, I had the opportunity to be involved in the discussion of statewide water issues.
I would support the development of a stable and long lasting water supply. Conservation is also an important water management tool. I would support legislation that encourages agricultural water conservation by providing tax credits for the utilization of improved irrigation technology.
Palmer: I believe there are two pressing issues facing eastern New Mexico: Depleting water sources and education. In order for eastern New Mexico to prosper, we must seek new sources of usable water. I propose drilling water wells into the brackish water basin and cleaning that water to be used in agriculture and industry. This has been proven that it can be done economically and should have state support. New Mexico continues to be at the bottom of just about every educational ranking nationally. Proposals that I have seen over the last two years, which my opponent has endorsed, do little to ensure that our children receive the education necessary to succeed. Pumping money into bureaucracies does little for our children. Job-skills training should be re-introduced to the schools. Personal responsibility of the child, the teacher, the school system, and the parent should be promoted.

What do you think should happen financially to ensure that Cannon Air Force Base doesn’t fold during the upcoming BRAC process?
Kernan: I supported (senate bill 333), which provided $400,000 from the general fund to the Economic Development Department to study and develop recommendations for retaining our bases. An investment in the infrastructure surrounding the base is critical. The renovation of the overpass at the entrance of the base and the improvement of streets that lead to and from the base are important enhancement measures.
Palmer: Cannon Air Force Base is crucial to both Roosevelt and Curry counties. The fact is that bases don’t stay open because of financial inducements; they stay open because they are crucial to our nation’s defense. I believe keeping Cannon open involves promoting the concrete benefits for air operations found here such as the flying weather, good rail system for fuel delivery, sparse population in the event of an aircraft accident, good schools for service personnel in ENMU and CCC, and the fact that a terrorist will be easier to spot in Clovis or Portales than in Phoenix. Promote these assets along with increasing the available airspace for operations and provide a long-term water supply in cleaned brackish water, and CAFB should be seen as the premier site for an air base in the United States.

What should be done about the county and state’s ongoing jail funding problem?
Kernan: The increasing numbers of DWI and drug abuse convictions have placed a tremendous burden on our detention system. I would focus on long-term solutions including treatment centers and programs that would provide early identification and counseling of young people who are at risk of being drawn into the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. Short term, we must address the high cost of housing and transporting prisoners at the county level. I supported legislation introduced in the 2004 session to provide funding to reimburse counties for inmate extraditions. Unfortunately it did not pass. I would focus on passing legislation to assist our counties as they face increased costs related to the housing and transporting of state prisoners.
Palmer: This is a serious issue that should be dealt with immediately. Curry County currently has to ship prisoners to neighboring counties in Texas in order meet the demand for cells to imprison these criminals. Raising taxes to build larger jails in not the answer. Privatization of the prison system would go a long way toward helping to solve some of these problems. Harsher punishments for repeat offenders would lower the number of crimes committed in our district. I believe we should use inmates for trash pickup and grounds maintenance where state employees are currently being used. The jail could be paid a minimal amount thus lowering the cost for the state and providing much needed moneys for the jail system.

How do you see eastern New Mexico changing in the coming years and what will you do if elected to see that happen?
Kernan: Although most of the population growth will occur in the Rio Grande Valley, most counties in eastern New Mexico will experience some growth. Providing a long-term source of water will be critical to the future growth of the area. Dairies have a $2.1 billion impact on the state each year and many of them are located in eastern New Mexico. The cheese industry has followed and will also continue to contribute to the growth of the area. I would focus on renovation and repair of the infrastructure in the communities and counties of eastern New Mexico. County road and street repair, reduction of leaks in municipal water distribution systems and investment in job training programs will provide an environment that will attract businesses to the area. I will continue to support legislation that is pro-business. As a small business owner, I know the negative impact of over-regulation by government. Most of the jobs in our nation are created by small businesses. To make certain more jobs are produced and current jobs remain, government must not overburden businesses with regulation and taxes. I would like to see our governor and state Legislature come up with ways to make small businesses stronger by letting them do what they do best: Take care of business. I supported and will fight to keep in place the reduction in personal income tax passed in the 2003 session.
Palmer: Eastern New Mexico is truly the land of opportunity. With the addition of the new cheese plant on the Roosevelt and Curry county line, new jobs and growth will bring new economic value to the area. Eastern New Mexico has a unique opportunity to become a pro-business sector that encourages new industries to move here and create jobs for the citizens of our area. Legislation that encourages enhancement and expansion of existing industry while attracting new industry will be a top priority of mine. Easing environmental regulations for agriculture and cleaning up, and using, brackish water for agriculture and industry are a definite part of that priority.

Do you believe the Ute Water Project is the answer to the area’s water needs and if not what is the solution?
Kernan: The Ute Water Project has been under consideration for many years. The local leaders of the participating communities are committed to the completion of the project. If federal funds can be obtained, I would work hard to secure the 10 percent state portion required for the project. It is critical to continue to evaluate and update the projected costs involved in completing this project in order for the recipients of the water to be aware of the financial commitment they will be required to make.
Palmer: The Ute Water Project has long been a debatable project for this area. The problem is that the longer it takes to implement the project, the higher the price. The cost of the UWP should be compared to the cost of cleaning the brackish water that is already in place beneath our existing groundwater. I believe the cost of drilling for and mining water from the brackish aquifer, cleaning it, and then using it for industrial and agricultural purposes would make much more sense than piping water in from Ute Lake. Let’s keep our existing groundwater available for human consumption by using cleaned brackish water for agriculture and industry and practicing conservation techniques. This is a solid answer to a lot of the water problems of this area.

Why should citizens vote for you?
Kernan: When I was appointed by former Gov. Gary Johnson in 2002, I pledged that I would run for election if I thought I was an effective legislator. I believe I have been effective. I believe that I have proven that I can be a leader who listens. Serving District 42 is a balance between representation and trusteeship. It has been my goal to provide for the needs of my constituents and also to serve with the knowledge that I am doing those things that provide for the well being of all New Mexicans. Through my years of service to my community, I have earned a reputation for accepting a responsibility and then following through with that responsibility to its conclusion. My teaching experience in public and private schools gives me the ability to know whether our education dollars are being spent wisely. As a businessperson, I understand the challenges that small businesses face in meeting payroll, paying taxes and providing a quality service to my customers. I believe that ideas must be followed by action, that listening before acting is essential and that serving the people of District 42 is a privilege and responsibility.
Palmer: I believe that I am the best candidate to represent District 42 because I am the candidate who believes in what our area believes in. My opponent supports such issues as the two constitutional amendments that changed our state education system, when every county in District 42 voted against them. I believe that I will take the views of my constituents to Santa Fe. Before every decision is made, I will constantly be in touch with the people in my district to see that their interests are represented. I will be their elected representative in Santa Fe, and I should support those issues they strongly support. I will not carry my own agenda to Santa Fe; I will carry the people of eastern New Mexico’s agenda to Santa Fe.

What are your views on the state’s DWI fight and legislation?
Kernan: I supported the legislation to increase penalties for repeat DWI offenders. I also supported legislation to increase penalties for providing alcohol to minors to a fourth degree felony. I did not support the legislation to install interlock devices in all new and used vehicles because of the cost incurred by innocent drivers and because the effectiveness of installing the device on every car has not been studied.
Palmer: Let’s enforce laws that are currently on the books. We need legislation that punishes only the criminal. Legislation, such as the breathalyzer interlock system, punishes all citizens instead. We must support our law enforcement personnel, the DA’s office, and provide the courts the needed funding and resources to do their jobs.

What should be done about Medicaid during the next session?
Kernan: I did not support the $8.82 per day bed tax or the 1 percent premium tax on insurance. This attempt to obtain additional federal funding through the 3 to 1 match using the bed tax was poor policy. I am concerned that the federal government may not agree to pay and that our long-term care facilities will be harmed by this legislation. The issue of Medicaid eligibility and co-pays will have to be addressed. Any further reduction in provider reimbursement could have an impact on access to care.
Palmer: We must investigate how efficiently state money is being spent. Medicaid patients should be required to pay a co-pay for using the emergency room and a smaller one for using the clinic. This would discourage recipients from arbitrarily using the higher priced ER versus the more efficient clinic for most illnesses.

What should be done with the Lottery Scholarship?
Kernan: I would not support a change in the Lottery Scholarship with the exception of allowing a one-year layout for students who wish to postpone enrollment.
Palmer: The Lottery Scholarship should stay the way it currently is. I look forward to a non-partisan effort with Sen. Michael Sanchez along with Associated Students of New Mexico Director Bob Cornelius to ensure this worthwhile cause is not tampered with.

What do you think about redistricting the state?
Kernan: I would oppose any attempt to redistrict before the next U.S. Census taken in 2010.
Palmer: I would like to see Roosevelt and Curry counties become part of U.S. Congressional District 2. Also, I would like to see the folks in the Clovis area have the ability to elect their own state senator.

Should the Legislature handle gay marriage and if so what should they do?
Kernan: The state should clearly define that marriage is between a man and a woman through passage of a Defense of Marriage Act.
Palmer: Yes, the Legislature should handle this issue. I am not, and will never be, a supporter of gay marriage. I would support an amendment to our state constitution that defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.