State congressional candidate names jobs as top issue

Jeff Byrd is a Quay County rancher and former environmental engineer.

The Mosquero native is running as the Republican candidate for the two-year congressional term. His opponent is the incumbent, Democrat Ben Ray Lujan. The two also ran against each other in 2012.

What do you think is the top issue for this area of the state?
The number one issue for the district is jobs, and it’s because of things like listing the lesser prairie chicken, the sand dune lizard, the meadow jumping mouse. (We’re) getting pushed out of business by BLM, EPA, Forest Service, Fish and Game, Army Corps of Engineers. These organizations are impacting businesses all across New Mexico. Whether it’s the rules going into effect for the dairy industry, the rules from the EPA about the chicken, they’re impacting businesses in New Mexico and we’re losing jobs at a phenomenal rate when every state around us is growing.

What does Congress need to do regarding the Ute Water Project and other water issues?
Water’s a big issue across this district. In Logan, we’re trying to get surface water from Ute Lake. You’ve got Las Vegas, trying to maintain their water from Storrie Lake. You’ve got Farmington, Espanola and Farmington fighting over the Rio Grande Valley surface water. You’ve got Rio Rancho, which is mandated to purchase more water rights in the district. You’ve got Gallup on the west side that is trying to get surface water from Navajo Lake and building a pipeline with no guarantee of being able to put water in it.

The issue is we’re all squabbling over surface water in the desert. We need to be looking at how to grow the pie. Where can we get more water? What Congress needs to do is fund more research in New Mexico that will get us desalination plants. Texas has more than 100 across the state, and the world’s largest is in El Paso. California has more than 40, and it’s building more. In New Mexico, we don’t have any.

We need to find ways to get more water, because it’s clear that in this district, it is a major concern.

Currently, Clovis Mayor David Lansford is looking to apply for a USDA program that pays farmers by the acre for converting to dry-land farming for a three-year period. Do you think programs like that are the right approach?
We have the edge of the Ogallala here, but we know it’s being drawn down. The issue from the farmers is they need water to grow food, which we all need at Wal-Mart. As long as they’re purchasing that water and not taking it, that’s part of the market.

When the city starts turning those wells on 24/7, 365, the drawdown is going to increase because there’s no time for recovery. We need to look at where there might be another source of water. We know the Ogallala’s drawing down, we’ve already lost a lot of the wells west of Portales and Clovis. What we’re doing right there is a stop-gap that makes sure Clovis continues to get water. That’s fine while we’re building that pipeline north. It’s good business practice, but it’s not a long-term solution.

What concerns do you have about military spending, and do you believe a BRAC round is possible?
We have Cannon, Los Alamos National Labs based in this district. Those are two branches of defense we have to fight to keep in New Mexico. They provide jobs for not just the military, but all of the businesses downstream. Keeping that funding secure has to be a top priority.

Todd Hathorne, campaign manager: It’s important to address the political climate as well, how long the current Congress continues this stalemate. BRAC is something that’s more likely in the current conditions. If it changes, that likelihood decreases. It’s important to make the change in Congress so the BRAC is pushed down. The other thing is the unique missions; Cannon had a mission change, and that’s part of the evaluation process.

We talked about local issues, but should you be elected you’re one of 435. What’s the biggest issue Congress needs to tackle as a whole during the two-year term you’re running to serve?
The priority’s got to be getting the financial house in order. We cannot keep spending $1 trillion plus a year that we don’t have. We’ve got $17 trillion in debt, probably $18 trillion by the time we (start the next Congress). We’ve got to establish a budget that doesn’t spend more than it brings in. It’s not going to happen next year, but there have to be steps and they have to happen soon.

A step to fix the issue is to get rid of baseline budgeting. That’s a process where the Congressional Budget Office projects a 5 percent increase based on inflation and the population growth. The budget is already set up to grow every year. We have to get rid of that to make some cuts. The rate of increase we’ve seen in the last six to eight years, those rates have grown faster than the rate of inflation.

— Compiled by staff writer Kevin Wilson