On Wednesday New Mexico’s only Republican representative, Yvette Herrell, drew a serious challenger who happens to also be a serious progressive. Las Cruces City Councilor Gabe Vasquez, a self-proclaimed “son of southern New Mexico,” announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the state’s Second Congressional District, which has typically (though not always) been held by a Republican.
Vasquez was born in El Paso, Texas. He is a first-generation American with roots in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico, saying he was “raised in the borderlands.” Many know Gabe from his extensive public and private service, including his environmental justice work, as the executive director of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces and as an aide to U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich.
“Our nation, our state, and our district is being torn apart. We are losing grip on the American dream,” says Vasquez.
He came out swinging in our interview about his candidacy, continuing with, “Too many of our families are lacking the support and the investment that they need, and that they deserve to lead meaningful lives.”
The Paper. asked the candidate more about his position on the issues people are facing in his district. In a wide-ranging interview, Vasquez drove home his message that Herrell is spending more time playing dangerous politics than bringing home results.
The Paper.: Following up on that first statement, how exactly has our country lost sight of the American dream, and how do you think you can help us see it again?
Vasquez: I have had the opportunity and blessing to work all across this district for many years. I have seen that each community in this district has different strengths and different challenges, and people choose to live in southern New Mexico because of the culture, because of the history, because of the lifestyle.
But there’s a variety of things that are contributing to the decline in the opportunities for people to lead meaningful lives in this district, starting with economic inequality. Republicans have been hell-bent on helping the mega-rich get richer, watching as the working class fight for scraps. Meanwhile, they’re providing tax cuts to the 1 percent. Republicans like Yvette Herrell are still reluctant to raise wages for working families, and they refuse to give the proper investment to social services, infrastructure, and education.
Also, I’ll say that the foundation of our democracy is in peril. Republicans in State Legislatures across the country are severely limiting the ability to vote, making it almost impossible for underserved communities and people of color to vote. I see that as a gross abuse of power.
What should a US Representative be doing to help New Mexico transition away from fossil fuels to an economy that supports our climate, but also replaces or supplements revenue for the state?
We have to talk about transitioning to a new energy economy. The state of New Mexico has enough existing federal leases to keep the oil and gas industry going for the next 10 to 15 years, at the very minimum. When people talk about oil and gas jobs going away tomorrow or next week or next year, that’s disingenuous. Those leases are already assigned to the industry.
That means we have some time to think about what a just transition looks like. We have time to make sure that we set ourselves up for success as renewable energy leaders. We have tremendous opportunities in wind and solar development, and so the people that are working incredibly hard in the oil and gas industry in the southeast part of the state need to be prioritized when it comes to transitioning to clean and renewable energy.
There are about 5,000 Afghan refugees who were recently evacuated from the country who are now in your district. How should the US Representative be supporting them right now?
I’ve heard from veterans and active military folks about this issue. Overwhelmingly, I hear that they are incredibly thankful that the Afghan allies risked their lives to save the lives of Americans. These are sons, these are daughters and fathers, you know. They’ve worked with us as a country to help Americans stay alive in an incredibly hostile environment for more than 20 years.
We owe it to those who saved our American soldiers to return the favor. I think that’s the American way; those are the values that I think this country really embodies. I’d rather listen to the men and women on the front lines than I would to folks from the extreme right about what we should do with refugees in New Mexico. Our diversity makes us who we are.
What do we need to do to make sure that that gun use is safe in the United States?
We have to reduce gun violence in this country; we can do that while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners. I grew up learning to be a responsible gun owner for my grandfather. It’s a responsibility that I take very very seriously – just like so many others in my district.
There are some common sense things we can do to reduce gun violence in this country. We need to expand and strengthen background checks for those who want to purchase a firearm because it shouldn’t be easier to get a gun than it should [be] to get a driver’s license. In my opinion, we should make sure that guns don’t fall into the wrong hands. Folks that have been convicted of things like domestic violence or other violent offenses, those who have shown signs of danger toward themselves or others don’t need to have a firearm. … Domestic abusers overwhelmingly are committing gun-related violence. It’s a public health crisis.
What would a fair and just immigration system look like, especially for border communities like your district?
First, we have to find a solution that creates a pathway to citizenship for the over 10 million undocumented immigrants that currently live in this country. These are folks who have been integrated into our communities, to our schools, to our society, and our economy for many, many years. These are folks that have honestly been living in fear. We’re talking about people who are taxpayers. People who contribute to our communities and to our economy deserve a path to citizenship.
Our economy depends on immigrants and that’s the bottom line.
We need a predictable, fair, and transparent way to allow folks to live in this country, one that eventually leads to citizenship status, and one that acknowledges the problems that they face in their home countries. That includes climate refugees, that includes women and children who are escaping unspeakable violence in Central America, and political refugees.
We tell folks to wait in line, but there is no line. We need to get back to our true principles as a country, thinking about the message on the Statue of Liberty. Let’s go back to being a melting pot of cultures and identities and languages and religions. We are better off when, when we accept people for who they are and the many things they bring to the table.
Given the Supreme Court’s recent inaction on Texas’ SB8, the bill that effectively banned all abortions, what will you do as a congressperson to support people who need access to reproductive health care?
Congress has to codify Roe v. Wade so that states like Texas cannot bend the law to support right-wing policy positions which take away a woman’s right to choose.
The Supreme Court’s not taking up the Texas case was an act of cowardice. Congress must step in, especially in a moment like this, to champion women’s rights.
While Democrats have the majority, we must come forward with a doctrine that protects reproductive health. Hopefully the Supreme Court, through the actions of the Department of Justice, will have to take this [Texas case] up, at some point. But as we know, with the recent appointments to the Court, it may not be a favorable outcome for women across this country. Congress should fix that.