Obama discusses local issues with Freedom New Mexico

Editor’s note: Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama telephoned Freedom New Mexico on Thursday as he toured the state. The newspaper will also attempt to conduct a phone interview with Republican candidate John McCain in the coming days.

Q: Just wondering. Have you ever been to Clovis, Portales or Tucumcari?

A: I have not, but as I’ve traveled through New Mexico, it is just a remarkable state. The people are amazing. The landscape is breathtaking. Clearly, there’s a lot of progress that’s being made investing in things like clean energy.

But we still have more work to do. That’s true in the rural areas in particular. I’ve traveled up north to Espanola today (Thursday) and have had discussions with people about the need to create economic development strategies that can sustain communities for the long term.

Q: One of the big economic factors for the Clovis/Portales area is Cannon Air Force Base. What do you see as the future for Cannon? Will it continue to evolve as a home for Special Forces operations, or could it be targeted again for closure, as it was in 2005?

A: You know, I don’t see the necessity of another round of BRAC, partly because I’m calling for an expansion of our troop forces — 65,000 additional Army, 27,000 additional Marines. The Air Force has indicated it’s not going to be cutting back. Using Cannon for continued Special Operations command, probably at a time when we’re going to be relying on Special Ops for the more asymmetric conflicts that are more likely in the future, my instinct is that Cannon is going to continue to be part of our armed force structure.

Q: Should the federal government involve itself in water woes of small communities, such as Clovis, Portales and Tucumcari. Would you encourage Congress to fund the Ute Water Pipeline, for example, if residents of eastern New Mexico can’t pay for it themselves?

A: Each community is different, but I think the basic principle throughout the Southwest is that water is our most precious resource. The federal government has a role to play, working with state and local governments, first of all, to identify ways of conserving water, and second of all, to make sure we’re fairly allocating water between various stakeholders, whether it’s farmers, ranchers, (or) population centers, and making sure rural communities aren’t sucked dry by the growth of urban or suburban centers.

I think that is something the federal government should be involved in. I think the federal government has to do that in partnership with state and local governments, and not simply impose its views from a bureaucracy on high. That approach, of listening to local communities and their needs, I hope, will be a part of my administration.

Q: You have a pretty prominent New Mexico endorser in Bill Richardson. If you are indeed elected president, do you have a cabinet position planned for Richardson?

A: I’m not going to spill the beans right now, because I haven’t won this election yet. I can tell you I have great admiration for Bill Richardson. He’s a dear friend, he’s one of the finest public servants of this generation. I’m looking forward to being in a partnership with him for many years to come to solve the critical problems the American people are feeling.

Everywhere I go, whether New Mexico or elsewhere in the country, people are worried about job loss, home foreclosures, and particularly this week has been dominated by the meltdown on Wall Street. … We need fundamental change and that’s what I’m expecting to bring should I have the honor of being elected.

Q: The Democratic Party has adopted a 50-state strategy to improve turnout in downticket races. How does New Mexico fit in the strategy you’re employing?

A: New Mexico, I think, is a classic example of a state we should have won four years ago, but we didn’t show up. We’ve got to make sure we are actively campaigning, maintaining a strong Democratic organization, funding it so we can hire organizers.

One of the exciting things is all the additional new voters we are starting to bring into the fold. It’s really critical we make sure we’re showing up in these areas. That’s 90 percent of success and I’m glad to see that hard work paying off.

Q: What can an Obama administration do for eastern New Mexico?

A: Well, as a rural community, a rural area, I think the plans I have for developing clean energy, wind power, solar power … that can provide the potential economic development that still preserves the extraordinary landscape of eastern New Mexico. I think it’s important that health facilities are available. I’ve got a rural plan that’s posted on my Web site, barackobama.com, that talks about making sure we’re getting health care providers in these communities. School districts with lower tax bases are getting the help they need so they can get special math and science and they’re able to access AP courses. We’re laying broadband lines so businesses can locate in these communities. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got a federal government that’s respecting the ways of life of eastern New Mexico and that whether it’s agricultural communities, ranching or water conservation, that we have an administration that’s going to act cooperatively to preserve this extraordinary beauty that God’s created for us.

— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Kevin Wilson. Edited for clarity.