Q&A: Santa Fe physician to run for governor

Dr. J.R. Damron is president of Santa Fe Radiology. The Santa Fe Republican plans to run in the 2006 state gubernatorial race. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife, Barbara, an oncology nurse, and two children.

Q. How would you align yourself politically?

A. I’m conservative and moderate on some issues. I feel people should be responsible for themselves and each other, and many issues are non-partisan issues: They’re New Mexican issues which we need to address, whether it be education or healthcare.

Q. As a doctor, what should be done to improve health care in New Mexico?

A. We have 1.9 million people in our state — 420,000 of those people are on Medicaid. We have a high percentage of people who are uninsured. Less money from the federal government is coming down for Medicaid and then we have Medicare on top of that. We are seeing many people using the emergency room for their health care. We need to address a lot of issues, including affordability so that the uninsured can get health insurance. We need to make sure that we have accessibility to health care. We’re losing doctors to other states, especially in rural areas. We need healthcare providers in those locations. We need to make health care a win-win situation for our citizens, and I think, prevention is the key here, whether this be eating habits or routine checkups. Our focus should be on prevention.

Q. What do you think about the unique challenges New Mexico faces as a mostly rural state?

A. It’s a rural state but the majority of the population lives in urban areas, therefore, they get a lot of the dollars that are allocated to the different communities. I would like to see state government supporting all citizens. I would like to see state government support counties as well as municipalities.

Q. What can you say about educational projects for Clovis compared to those for Santa Fe?

A. It needs to be fair and equitable. We need to educate our children. My vision is that we have an education rate of 90 percent, up from the 60 percent graduation rate that we currently have, that we educate our children to go into college or vocational school and be productive members of society. That’s my vision and that’s what we need to do. I’m very upset with the educational process that is occurring in New Mexico. We’re at the bottom of the list for graduation rate, 47th, 48th, 49th or 50th. I’m not saying we need to be number one but we should be in the low 30s or mid-30s within the next four years.

Q. Is this about money (graduation rate being low)? Is the money there but is not being allocated appropriately?

A. I’m not for raising any taxes or fees. Out of the education budget that we have, which is approximately $2.1 billion out of the total budget for the state of about S4.4 billion, only 56 percent of that went to the classroom. The average across the country is 61.5 cents of every dollar. I think it should be at 65 cents. I think, over a period of time, we could reach that goal. Sixty-five cents of every dollar going into the classroom. Where does that come from? It comes out of the administration bureaucracy. So more money for classrooms, more money for teachers, more money for salaries more money for supplies — I hear about this all the time. Teachers don’t have enough money for supplies, they have to go buy them themselves.

Q. We spoke of education and health care, but what are some other things that you would do differently than Bill Richardson? If you won, what would be some of the first things that you would change?

A. Economic development is extremely important. I do not feel that the economy of New Mexico is growing in a robust sort of way that our surrounding states are, like Texas and Colorado and Arizona. We need economic growth. To do that, I propose that we have a tax rebate. The oil and gas industry has been extremely good to this state. It’s been very generous. We have excessive energy taxes somewhere in the $500- to $600-million range. Richardson wants to give a small portion of that back to the citizens, back to the taxpayers. And I advocate for a higher tax rebate. I’d have to look at all the numbers, but somewhere in the $400 to $450 per taxpayer range. This is their money, that’s like we’ll give you this small amount and then keep the rest for government and that’s unacceptable. We need to look at the regulations that we currently have on industry and businesses operating in the State. We’ve got a lot of great industries in this state, but people aren’t going to come here if they think that we have over-regulation. Some regulations are good, but we don’t want to be over-regulating to the point where we’re hurting businesses and keeping economic growth down.

Q. What do you think about the death penalty?

A. The death penalty — that’s an interesting one. Being a physician, my feeling is that I preserve life. I try to preserve life at all costs and that’s where I’m coming from, but there are people out there who are really evil, that do bad things to other people. And, knowing that, I feel that we need to keep the death penalty intact. Even though I’d do anything to preserve life, I really feel that we need the death penalty at this time, unless somebody can convince me otherwise.

Compiled by CNJ staff writer Andy Jackson. She can be contacted at 763-6991 or: andy_jackson@link.freedom.com