Incumbent Matthew McQueen and challenger Jarratt Applewhite faced off at a candidates forum hosted by the League of Women Voters in Eldorado this week.
McQueen, a Democrat, is up against Jarratt Applewhite, an Independent, are both seeking to represent the state House of Representatives District 50.
The district includes part of Edgewood, part of Moriarty, Stanley, and a large portion of the Estancia Valley, excluding Estancia—along with a very small piece of Valencia County near Belen, and the Eldorado area just south of Santa Fe.
The room was crowded and the forum was fast-paced, with questions from the floor presented by the League of Women Voters, and two minutes to answer most questions, without the opportunity for rebuttal.
There is no Republican in the race, which will be decided in the Nov. 6 general election.
The two candidates agreed substantially on most issues.
McQueen said his top priorities in office if re-elected would be education, economic development and ethics, along with the environment. “All legislators come with certain expertise,” said McQueen, an attorney. “When you get there you become a generalist.”
He said he would work to expand early childhood education and to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
McQueen also mentioned exposing public corruption and “game commission reform” as priorities.
Applewhite said what he would work on if elected to the Legislature would depend in part with “how the partisans work with somebody who is not a partisan.”
He expanded to say that because he belongs to neither Democrat nor Republican parties, that he believes both parties would seek his support on legislation.
His priorities also include schools and economic development, Applewhite said. “All the states around us are prospering and we aren’t.”
Applewhite said he would also work “making our election system more open to more voices” to attract both voter turnout and more candidates to run for public office.
On education, Applewhite described himself as a fiscal conservative and cautioned against spending a projected financial windfall. He said he would like to change the culture in schools, and move authority over education away from the state’s Public Education Department in favor of local school districts.
McQueen, for his part, said he would pay teachers more and “back off on constant testing,” adding he would “restore dignity and independence to teachers.” He would also like to add media literacy, financial literacy and adult life skills to high school graduation requirements.
On healthcare, McQueen said “we need to make sure we can afford it” with respect to a Medicaid for all proposal. He said the state’s mental health system was “destroyed” by Gov. Susana Martinez and needs to be rebuilt.
“I agree with everything [McQueen] just said,” Applewhie said, adding, “I want to be a voice for making [healthcare] rational.” He added, “Our GDP is consumed by healthcare” but “outcomes are mediocre” with too many special interests.
Asked about immigration, both men said that immigration policy is a federal issue, not a state issue.
Perhaps the most contentious moment of the forum came with a question about campaign finance reform and whether candidates accept money from PACs, or political action committees.
McQueen said campaign finance reform is needed, but is a federal issue. He said he does take PAC money, adding, “I can’t drop $50,000 on my race like my opponent can.”
Applewhite responded, “Nothing is more important than extracting the kind of money that corrupts,” adding, “My opponent has acquired $100,000” from PACs.
Both said they would favor an independent commission on redistricting, with Applewhite saying that District 50 is gerrymandered to keep it “forever blue” and McQueen saying that having an “odd, challenging shape” doesn’t mean it’s gerrymandered.
The two candidates were largely in agreement on gun safety issues, with Applewhite saying that “public dialogue has become so polarized nobody is willing to accommodate each other,” adding, “As an Independent I can bring both sides together.”
McQueen said “common sense” gun laws “have been blocked by the NRA and to large extent the Republican party.”
Both candidates favor reforming the state’s gross receipts tax laws to eliminate exemptions
Both are in favor of creating incentives for renewable energy sources.
Both men pointed to water protection when asked about their positions on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, in which chemicals and water are injected underground to break rock to release oil and gas.
“We need to protect our water resources,” McQueen said, adding, “We need to look at where we won’t allow fracking” to protect natural resources like Chaco Canyon.
“Water is our most precious asset by a long shot,” Applewhite said, adding that until it can be proven that fracking doesn’t contaminate groundwater it should be restricted.
Both candidates oppose trapping of animals on public lands and would reform the state’s Game Commission, which is currently comprised of appointees.
Asked about how they would best represent the large and diverse District 50, Applewhite said he has “four campaigns” for the various areas of the district. He said the people in the Belen area are the most disenfranchised by the boundaries of the district.
“The people in Chilili are just as important as the people in this room,” said McQueen. He said it is “hard” to represent the district, adding, “But that doesn’t mean I don’t do it.”
Asked about women’s reproductive health, both men said they support leaving those decisions in the hands of women.
Asked about legalization of marijuana, Applewhite said, “I’m fine with legalization for recreational use” and development of industrial hemp.
McQueen said he supports medical marijuana but has concerns about legalized recreational use, chiefly impaired driving and “how do we keep it out of the hands of our youth?” He is in favor of decriminalization.
Asked about term limits, McQueen answered, “I used to always support term limits, but now that I’m there…” He trailed off to laughter in the room.
Applewhite said he is in favor of term limits “as a last resort” and said, “We need new blood in the Legislature.”
Both men have agreed to participate in a candidate forum hosted by The Independent in the Edgewood or Moriarty area; details are still being finalized. The candidates for the District 22 House seat, covering the area west of District 50 including the East Mountains, have also been invited.