Corruption, illegal immigration top attorney general debate

Argen Duncan

New Mexico’s attorney general candidates debated illegal immigration policy, health care reform and fighting corruption Tuesday night at Eastern New Mexico University.

Incumbent and Democrat Gary King and Republican challenger Matt Chandler, also the Ninth Judicial District attorney, are contending for the office.

Portales Mayor Sharon King moderated the debate, hosted by the ENMU Student Body Association and the Clovis High Plains Patriots. High Plains Patriots President Kim Runyan said 105 people attended.

A straw poll taken after the debate showed 75 votes for Chandler and 11 for King.

During the debate, the candidates spoke on:

• Restoring confidence in state government:

Chandler said public officials need to be held accountable.

“I think it’s time in New Mexico to put people before politics,” he said.

King said he and the state investment officer had put out a request for proposals to find council to go after potential investment fraud. He worked to prosecute in scandal in which two state treasurers were accused of running a kickback scheme.

• Sealing the border with Mexico:

King said his office had worked to put National Guard soldiers on the border.

“And frankly, the U.S. attorney said last year the amount of illegal border crossings in New Mexico was down about 70 percent, because of the work we’re doing,” he continued.

King also said his office was helping train law enforcement officers in Mexico, as well as working to stop the flow of illegal guns and drugs across the border.

Chandler said New Mexico had failed to secure its borders, and the people who lived along them said that.

He said he would work to remove the state law allowing illegal immigrants to receive driver licenses to make the state a less attractive destination for them, Chandler said.

• Federal regulations requiring people to buy health insurance or face a fine:

Chandler said he was opposed to forcing New Mexicans to buy any product under penalty of tax. He said the issue isn’t one of health care but of standing up for the Constitution.

If elected, Chandler said, he would join attorney generals from other states in a lawsuit filed in Florida disputing the rule.

King said he opposed the funding mechanism Congress instituted in the health care law.

However, he said he needed to analyze if joining the case and spending the money on it will benefit the state. The decision in the Florida lawsuit will affect all states whether or not New Mexico participates, King continued.

“When we decide what’s in the best interest of New Mexico, what works for New Mexico, we’ll represent New Mexico in the case,” he said.

• Investigating accusations of conflict of interest on the state Environmental Improvement Board when it was handling petitions for cap-and-trade regulations:

King said he made sure laws were followed. He said he couldn’t act to change the outcome and knock people off the board.

King said he advised the board to hold a public meeting and reveal any potential conflicts of interest, which they had done.

Chandler said the board had major conflicts of interest and was on a quest to institute a cap-and-trade system that would put many resource-providing people out of business.

“The EIB needs to let the Legislature and those who are elected decide what regulatory processes we’re going to follow in New Mexico,” Chandler said.

• Improving the effect illegal immigrants have on the state with extra costs and more crime:

Both candidates said there are social reasons to help others.

Chandler said foreign nationals were impacting health care on the border.

New Mexico needs more “boots on the ground” and more technology, Chandler said. He said he would work with the governor and other states’ attorneys general to combat the problem.

King said his plan to fight illegal border crossings was successful, and he had done everything he could with it.

King also said treating Mexico nationals would prevent serious diseases such as cholera from spreading to New Mexico.