CONGRESSIONAL SERIES: Post-COVID Optimism

We hope you’ve been able to tune in for our annual Congressional Series, where our state’s federal representatives give us the latest on what’s happening on Capitol Hill.

Last week, US Senator Ben Ray Luján joined the GACC for a conversation about the latest happenings in Washington. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the business community loomed large over the conversation, but New Mexico’s freshman junior senator expressed optimism.

After leading the country in vaccination rates, he said, “New Mexico is ready to build back better.” He described some ways the American Rescue Plan will help get the economy back on track through programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and the Restaurant Revitalization Program. Similarly, the bipartisan US Innovation and Competition Act will revitalize America’s science and technology sectors, bolster national labs with $17 billion in new funding, and set up a foundation to support the partnership between the US Department of Energy and the private sector to facilitate energy transition and foster innovation. He said the future looks bright in New Mexico, where people continue to move to the state in search of the West’s wide open spaces.

When Carolyn Ingram of Molina Healthcare asked how the business community can help tackle state and national challenges with unemployment, Senator Luján shared his hopes that the state’s reopening on July 1 will create renewed excitement around a return to normalcy that will allow employers to leverage state and federal programs even more efficiently. He said programs that help families, like tax credits and childcare assistance, will also improve New Mexicans’ ability to get back to work.

On inflation, he said prioritizing manufacturing in the United States will put people to work and cut down on supply chain disruptions; closing the digital divide will also lower costs for New Mexicans where healthcare, travel, and education are concerned.

In response to Sunny505 CEO Joanie Griffin’s question about his position on charter schools and continued federal funding for them, he described his education – starting with Head Start as a preschooler and traditional public schools for the rest of his K-12 career – and asserted students have the right to a great education, no matter their zip code. He also said increased broadband and early childhood programming are critical to improving education.

PNM Resources’ President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn brought up the growing polarization in American politics and how we can help. “Is this too bleak of a picture that I’m painting here, or is this a real problem that’s getting worse?” she asked. Senator Luján agreed it was a disturbing trend and said it’s important to remember how fragile our democracy can be – and it’s critical to work to find common ground and build lasting relationships in the service of that democracy.

Modrall Sperling’s Meg Meister asked the Senator about energy and federal leasing and drilling moratoriums. Senator Luján addressed the urgency of diversifying New Mexico’s economy, and noted that he and Senator Martin Heinrich wrote a letter to the Biden Administration expressing their concern about an indefinite ban. But he also said we need to take note of large oil and gas producers and other manufacturers that are increasing their investments in renewables, and make sure we follow suit to stay competitive and develop new partnerships.

He also gave some updates on the infrastructure bill – and the enormous national deficit it contributes to. He also said the decision to locate the US Space Force headquarters outside New Mexico is still under review.

Just yesterday, two of our state’s new Congresswomen joined us for a panel conversation that shared their perspectives on federal developments and what they mean for New Mexico.

Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez, from New Mexico’s Third Congressional District, said one of her biggest priorities is to create opportunities in places of poverty and to give communities the tools they need to thrive, like infrastructure, affordable housing, and meaningful progress in combatting the climate crisis.

Similarly, Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury, who was sworn into the First Congressional District seat just two weeks ago, said she hopes to help New Mexico cultivate a business-friendly environment for mom-and-pop businesses, even through the economic downturns that make them so vulnerable. She said addressing homelessness and child hunger are key to helping communities prosper, and that she plans to champion infrastructure and science and technology investments.

GACC President and CEO Terri Cole and GACC Board Chair Kyle Beasley then led the group in a conversation on important issues that are of special interest to the business community.

On the topic of increased political polarization, Rep. Stansbury emphasized the need to find common ground and to commit to digging into policy work together. Rep. Leger Fernandez added that leaders should keep in mind that our country needs government to work now during the pandemic more than ever, and that they first serve diverse communities with shared needs, not parties.

With regard to oil and gas and energy transition, Rep. Leger Fernandez said innovative change and forward thinking is imperative for protecting and strengthening New Mexico’s economy, like the proposed billions in federal funding to support the nation’s national labs. “We need to take bold action at the federal level,” she said. Rep. Stansbury said New Mexico, as one of the country’s leading states in energy production, is poised to be a leader as we move forward too.

Next, the group tackled the complex issue of immigration. Rep. Leger Fernandez said we as a country need to stop politicizing immigration and instead value our shared humanity to work to understand why people come to the US, so we can in turn help immigrants contribute to our economy.

Before wrapping up, both Congresswomen discussed the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent and continuing rise in consumer goods. Rep. Stansbury pointed to indicators that the economy is returning to a more stable and healthy state, with the workforce returning to work and gas prices recovering. “All the economic signs are good,” Rep. Stansbury said. “We just need to get everything to cool down a little.” Rep. Leger Fernandez agreed we’re on our way to recovery, but also noted that the pandemic has highlighted our communities’ vulnerabilities, like broadband deficiencies that made distance learning so difficult for our students, and housing challenges that are quickly becoming a crisis for Albuquerque residents. It’s time to address these issues that have persisted for years, she said.

Did you miss the events? You can still watch the event with Senator Luján here and the event with our Congresswomen here. These will be our last events for the summer, but we’ll be back with more relevant and interesting speakers this fall, and hopefully in a welcoming, in-person format.

Thanks again to Senator Luján, Representative Stansbury, and Representative Leger Fernandez for taking the time to sit down with us and share their perspective on these important issues, and to all of our participants for your thoughtful questions. We’ll see you next time!

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