Gabe Vasquez will take his post in January representing New Mexico’s Second Congressional District, after a narrow victory in the November general election.
His victory ousted Republic Yvette Herrell who served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives before losing in a razor-thin race to Vasquez that wasn’t called until days after the election.
The Second District is New Mexico’s largest geographically, covering almost all of the southern portion of the state from border communities and ranches in the bootheel region and around Las Cruces – the state’s second-largest city – to the Permian Basin oilfields where the industry drives a large segment of the state’s economy.
The district, which was recently adjusted to also include suburban areas south of Albuquerque is also politically diverse, as it contains the deep-red southeast region along with left-leaning urban areas.
Vasquez’s seat repeatedly passed between political parties leading up to his election, from Republican Steve Pearce of Hobbs, to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces and then to Herrel who hails from Alamogordo.
A former city councilor in Las Cruces, Vasquez said he planned to unify the region, focusing on the needs of its people, and hoping to push New Mexico into an era of economic diversity.
The Carlsbad Current-Argus sat down with Vasquez to talk about how this can be achieved, along with his stances on several key issues and how he plans to address them in Congress.
What are your first priorities when you head to Washington, D.C. in January?
“A strong focus for me will be making sure we’re creating good-paying jobs in New Mexico, that we’re protecting workers rights, that we’re raising the wages of New Mexicans, that we’re standing up to corporations and making sure people are getting paid a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.
“I also want to focus on immigration reform. We need solutions and we need them now. We need a predictable immigration system that really allows those who want to come to this country and those who are already here, who want to work hard and follow their dream, to reach their American dream.
“The climate and public lands will also be a big focus for me. Our natural resources are finite. We have to protect them for future generations. They’re not making mountains and rivers anymore.”
Are you satisfied with current immigration policies like Title 42 which blocked migration during COVID-19?
“I think Title 42 is an example of a chronic disfunction in Congress when it comes to mitigating the effects of mass migration and asylum seekers to this country. Title 42 was supposed to be a temporary, short-term measure during the health crisis that is now being turned into de-facto immigration policy. We can’t do that.
“We are supposed to be the most advanced and intelligent legislative body in the world, and we have not come to solutions when it comes to how to process and handle asylum seekers at the border.”
What should the U.S. do to address the causes of migration at the southern border?
“I think we need to invest in immigration judges, immigration courts. I think we need to speed up the time in which asylum seekers have their cases heard here in New Mexico and across the country.
“We really have to work through international diplomacy, as we are seeing more and more people coming to our borders seeking asylum, to truly reach decisions and consensus with other world leaders on how to stem the flow of folks.
What needs to be done to address pollution from oil and gas without impeding New Mexico’s economic growth?
“I understand how valuable the industry is to our economy, to our state, and to the communities that depend on it. Truly, we all depend on it. I’m going to fight to make sure that workers are being paid what they deserve, that their health, the health of their families are protected and that they have a future for generations to come in places like Carlsbad, places like Hobbs.
“Along with that, I want to hold polluters accountable. I want to make sure the industry is investing in keeping our environment safe and protecting our watersheds and our wildlife and eliminating methane pollution as much as possible. New Mexico could actually be a leader in this.”
Do you support a transition to renewable energy?
“We should be taking a dual-track energy approach. We could be adding jobs and investment in renewable energy, in addition to the jobs that continue to grow in the fossil fuel industry. I think we need a champion in Congress who supports that growth.
“We could be doing both. We should be looking to the future.”
How can you in Congress affect federal policy that impacts oil and gas production in New Mexico
“I think we have to follow the science. We have to understand the short-term, mid-term and long-term impacts of hydraulic fracturing to understand the cost-benefit to our communities. If more research needs to be done, if we need to understand, for example, the sources of some of the earthquakes that we’ve seen in the Permian Basin area and their relationship to hydraulic fracturing, and the data’s not there and the science is not solid, that’s something I support.
“We have to understand the greater impact on future generations and the health and safety of these communities.”
How do you plan to staff New Mexico, and interact with constituents on their concerns?
“I’m focused on hiring, on being able to hit the ground running on day one. I plan to open two offices in Albuquerque and Las Cruces on day one. I do plan to hire staff that is representative of our district, that is diverse and represents the issues of our district. Having people representing the southeast will be an important task for our office.”
Now that all three of New Mexico’s seats in the House are Democrat, why should conservatives feel represented?
“There’s a lot of unique needs across our district. My goal is to represent everybody equally whether they voted for me or not. I want to bring results home to our district. For folks who don’t agree with me, I’m still going to show up and be a champion for their communities.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.