Congressional candidates spar over taxes, immigration

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Sam Donaldson, left, moderates Saturday’s 3rd Congressional District debate from the studios of KENW at Eastern New Mexico University between Tom Mullins, center, and incumbent Ben Ray Lujan.

Kevin Wilson

Under the heat of lights from the television studios of KENW, Ben Ray Lujan and challenger Tom Mullins put heat on each other.

Eastern New Mexico University’s Broadcast Center was the site of Saturday night’s debate for the future of New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. Incumbent Lujan, a Democrat, is being challenged by Farmington Republican Tom Mullins.

The two traded barbs over taxes, health care and immigration, among other topics put together by a panel of residents from Curry and Roosevelt counties in a three-hour town hall preceding the debate.

The hour-long show was moderated by Sam Donaldson, and sponsored by New Mexico First and the state’s public television networks. The candidates and the small studio audience were civil, a tone Donaldson asked for just before going on air.

“You’d feel passionate, or you wouldn’t be here,” Donaldson said, but he asked the crowd to neither cheer nor jeer individual questions and answers.

Throughout the debate, the candidates took different sides on:

• Taxes. Mullins said the problem is overtaxing, but also overspending.

“We need to not have any sacred cows, so to speak, since we’re in dairy country,” Mullins said. “That includes defense spending, education spending.”

He chided Lujan and the Democrats who control Congress for leaving necessary budget issues and tax cut votes for a lame-duck session, and that a philosophy of taxing the rich backfires.

“When you tax the wealthy, they take that out on the working class,” said Mullins, who would like to modify the tax system into a flat tax.

Lujan said the tax Mullins is talking about would raise taxes on what he considers middle class, families making between $19,000 and $200,000 annually, with huge taxes levied on basic items like milk, bread and peanut butter.

• Immigration. Lujan said there are ways to include immigrants into society, like the DREAM Act, which he supports.

“But when we do so, they need to learn English, they need to pay taxes, they need to get in back of the line and they need to clear a background check.”

Mullins felt the top priority was border security, and he would like to send the National Guard down to the borders.

“When I hear ‘comprehensive,’” Mullins told Lujan, “I hear ‘amnesty.’”

Mullins called the DREAM Act, which conditional path to citizenship requiring completion of a college degree or two years of military service, a “political football.” Lujan responded that the act was a bipartisan effort that makes sense.

• The environment and energy. Mullins said Lujan has passed up numerous chances to say whether he supports nuclear power, and Lujan pointed out Mullins’ desire to store nuclear materials in Yucca Mountain.

“‘Stick it in the ground’ is not a solution,” Lujan said.

When speaking about the state’s rules on mining, Mullins — who owned a petroleum business —