Sen. Sanchez eyeing the fourth floor
There are two business card holders on Sen. Michael Sanchez’s desk at his Los Lunas law office — one for Sanchez the attorney, the other for Sanchez the legislator. And he is thinking of adding another title to the mix: Gubernatorial candidate.
The 62-year-old Democrat has spent 21 years in the New Mexico Senate, rising to the height of majority leader. Now he is considering how a statewide campaign for the state’s highest office would effect his family and law practice.
If his family is behind it, and the time away from the office wouldn’t be detrimental, Sanchez said he would take the next step of putting together an exploratory committee to analyze his chances.
Going further down the “what if” road, when asked just what he would do as governor, Sanchez pauses and chuckles.
“Oh, a lot of things,” Sanchez says with a small smile.
One of the first things he would do is bring staffing levels for many state agencies back up to what he calls a necessary level. During the last few years, due to cost-cutting measures, vacated positions haven’t been refilled.
“There are services that need to be provided to the people of this state that are far below the level. If you look at departments like human services and CYFD, there aren’t enough personnel to provide the services,” Sanchez said. “We don’t need a mass hiring, but we need to bring the levels back up to what they were.”
Focusing on people who are the most vulnerable is a key role of government, Sanchez said, taking a quintessential Democratic stance on issues such as addiction.
He points out that 30 to 40 percent of the state’s budget is dedicated to incarcerating people, instead of funding programs in prevention, education and treatment — things that could prevent addiction.
“I hear our legislators say, ‘If they can’t take care of themselves, why should we?’ I’m sorry, that’s what government is all about,” Sanchez said. “Some people don’t have the option, the ability to get out of their situation.”
Sanchez says he would also take on the ever-present challenge of education reform. Under former Gov. Bill Richardson, the CEO model was implemented and now under Gov. Susanna Martinez, reform efforts focus on students’ testing abilities, he said.
Neither has been particularly successful, the senator says. Instead, he would like to see the state take a grassroots, bottom-up approach.
“We need to talk to the teachers who are teaching and the kids who are learning,” he said. “This isn’t something we as politicians should be mandating. And just because an idea comes from the top, doesn’t mean it’s the right one.”
Another big challenge Sanchez would try to tackle is getting the economy back on track; something that will be difficult, he says. It will be difficult for one simple reason — the water we don’t have.
“There won’t be new businesses if we don’t have water available,” he said.
Sanchez said he was disappointed and frustrated that neither the Richardson nor Martinez administration addressed the problem head on.
Now the state is embroiled in litigation with Texas — a lawsuit New Mexico should have initiated, he says — over the water compacts. The compacts were established in the 1990s when water was, and Sanchez asks the pun be pardoned, flush.
“We should have filed our own suit if Texas was unwilling to negotiate,” he said. “If we don’t resolve the water issue, it won’t matter what kind of tax breaks we offer. Businesses are not going to come.”
And speaking of tax breaks, Sanchez said the state needs to be careful just what breaks it is willing to grant.
With already one of the, if not the lowest, property tax rates in the country, the senator says companies shop around for the communities willing to go lower than their neighbors.
“If a company comes here and then Arizona offers something better, what kind of loyalty will we get from them?” he asks.
But above all, whoever the next governor is, he or she has to work with both sides of the aisle, Sanchez said.
“Sure, any governor is going to have their own agenda, but everyone has to work together,” he said. “I want to really see us go back to helping those in need and making sure they are getting services.
“There are a lot of good things about New Mexico. We need to look at what we can do to make it better.”
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