COMMENTARY: When people enter the political realm, they can expect to be attacked. That comes with the territory. If those attacks are factual and honest, they’re fair game. Unfortunately, in our current political environment, people often mangle the facts and destroy nuance in order to reach their desired outcome.
This was the case with a recent column authored by MaryAnn Hendrickson attacking Steve Pearce, New Mexico’s only Republican congressman and a candidate for governor.
Hendrickson says Pearce believes New Mexico’s public lands have “no value,” a claim that is so absurd on its face that it should discredit her entire case against him. Pearce has lived in New Mexico since he was a young boy and is an avid outdoorsman, sportsman and backpacker. He’s spent his life enjoying the natural beauty of our state and has never once questioned the value of public lands and the treasures they hold.
Pearce has consistently taken a measured position on public lands, as he did during the recent review of national monuments by the Department of the Interior. He advocates striking a balance between protecting resources and allowing for responsible development. He’s said this for years. He supports multiple uses for public lands instead of using government mandates to shut them off from ranching, fishing and recreation.
Despite Hendrickson’s accusations, this hardly amounts to seeing “no value” in public lands.
Hendrickson also wanders down the road of the nakedly partisan, chiding Pearce for legislation he offered to prevent the Bureau of Land Management from tightening regulations on methane output from oil production, even though that output has decreased 21 percent since 1990 as production has increased 47 percent. In reality, this legislation protected thousands of oil wells at risk of shutting down under increased regulations – wells capable of producing 145 million barrels of oil in New Mexico.
These wells typically belong to small producers, and shutting them down would actually benefit large oil companies. Meanwhile, oil and gas revenues comprise up to 40 percent of New Mexico’s annual budget, which means Hendrickson is apparently advocating massive funding cuts to our public schools, indigent health care, and other essential services.
Pearce is a Republican representing a district with a majority Hispanic population, where Democrats significantly outnumber Republicans in voter registration numbers. And yet, Pearce has been elected to represent the Second District by wide margins, over and over again. It’s because he’s visited every corner of the district, spoken with residents and community leaders from all backgrounds and any political affiliation, and has always been willing to consider viewpoints different from his own.
When the Department of Interior announced its plans to review the legally questionable expansion of national monuments by the previous administration, Pearce held countless meetings in the Las Cruces area to make sure the community had a voice in the process. He’s rightfully earned a reputation as one of the hardest working elected officials in America, and when he remarked that businesses, ranchers, border security personnel, and outdoorsmen were negatively impacted by the expanded monument, it’s because he learned that information firsthand from people who were directly affected.
It’s unfortunate that the debate over the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument devolved as it did. Hardline environmental activists refused to budge an inch on the monument classification and misrepresented any thoughtful opposition. If you believe those activists, anyone who wanted to reduce the monument footprint by an inch actually wanted to sell off public lands altogether. This is perhaps Hendrickson’s most disingenuous argument.
Reducing the monument footprint, as Pearce favored, would not have affected public lands in Doña Ana County at all. It only would have affected how those public lands could be used by, well, the public.
As the chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, I’m fully aware that there’s a long campaign ahead of us and attacks will be coming from both sides as we debate the future of our state. As long as that debate is based in reality, it will be a healthy and informative campaign. But when accusations have no basis in the truth, those accusations need to be exposed and rejected. New Mexicans deserve a campaign that educates instead of blurs the lines for the sake of partisanship.