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Congressional candidate talks local issues during Roswell visit

"It's about those issues that hit the pocketbook and the kitchen table as opposed to what gets the national news or is the best tweet," says water attorney Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces, who hopes to turn New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District seat blue. She has one opponent in the Democratic primary. Four Republicans also are running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs). (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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(Editor’s Note: This has been updated to correct the definition of “Dreamers.”)

A key Congressional seat representing southern New Mexico is up for grabs, and a Las Cruces Democrat said she would bring the focus back to local communities if elected.

Water attorney and New Mexico native Xochitl Torres Small visited Roswell Wednesday to meet with supporters for the second time since announcing her candidacy in January for the state’s District 2 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During a year when a question exists about whether Congress will remain in the control of Republicans, the seat has opened up as Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) makes a run for New Mexico governor.

“This is going to be a moment of change no matter what,” Torres Small said, “and I think the representation we need is someone whom everyone feels they can have a relationship with and someone who is willing to work on local issues that matter in a federal space. I think that is what Washington isn’t doing right now. They are allowing themselves to get distracted by these super-polarizing issues that really don’t serve constituents on the ground, don’t serve local communities and certainly are not what we face day to day in terms of economic development, in terms of losing friends and family who are leaving New Mexico because they feel they can find opportunities elsewhere. Those are the (issues) we need to be focused on.”

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A former field representative for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-Santa Fe) for more than four years and former clerk for a federal judge, Torres Small at this point faces one opponent in the Democratic primary, Madeline Hildebrandt, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran and a college history professor.

Republicans who have qualified for the ballot include state Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo, real estate professional and former Hobbs mayor Monty Newman, business professor and former Trump Administration appointee to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Gavin Clarkson of Las Cruces and Clayburn Griffin of Lovington, a digital marketer who worked as a staffer for Libertarian Gary Johnson in his 2016 presidential campaign.

While working for Udall, Small, a 2015 University of New Mexico Law School graduate, said she developed relationships with members of various communities in southern New Mexico as they discussed providing broadband service to rural areas, finding funding sources for local building projects and retraining people losing jobs in the mining industry, the issues she said that matter to voters.

Her endorsements have come from New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) as well as several political groups. Making her first run for public office, she spoke about several issues affecting the region.

• She said she wants to ensure adequate funding for federal early childhood education programs in the area, for programs that connect K12 with community colleges and universities, and for job readiness programs.

• Torres Small talked of the need for programs to reduce crime, substance abuse and domestic violence, especially as those problems affect youth.

• The candidate said she would work to ensure that area Bureau of Land Management offices have adequate staff and resources to process oil and gas permit applications and respond to industry needs.

• She talked about her willingness to support hangar expansions at the Roswell International Air Center and her view that the U.S. Air Force should consider local concerns about the impact of a possible expansion of military airspace use in the region. She said an expansion needs to consider effects on commercial airlines, aviation businesses, medical flight services and private pilots who monitor oil and gas lines.

• She characterized the current Justice Department’s decision to prosecute “minor” marijuana law violations as a “misaligned priority.” She said the money and effort would be better focused on addressing the opioid misuse and abuse crisis in the nation and state. She said any consideration of legalizing medical marijuana at the federal level would need to address driving under the influence provisions and possible second-hand impacts on children.

• Torres Small voiced support for comprehensive immigration reform. She said that New Mexico agricultural producers, including political conservatives, have for about a decade wanted flexibility to hire immigrant workers as the U.S. pool of agricultural workers shrinks and as the average age of farmers and ranchers rises.

Torres Small’s primary opponent, Hildebrandt, declared her candidacy in January 2017 and has been endorsed by Our Revolution New Mexico, which supports the issues voiced by Bernie Sanders in his 2016 presidential run, and Tech Solidarity, which represents workers in the tech industry.

She said she became interested in public office after the Women’s March of 2016 and decided to run for the Congressional seat after seeing a small child cry because she was worried about her grandmother from Mexico being deported. Although she said she is conservative on some issues, including gun ownership, she said she feels a need to stand up for immigrants and Dreamers, children brought to the United States by non-U.S. parents or guardians.

“This whole thing, me running for Congress, has never been and is not about me. It has always been about other people,” she said. “For me, it is a moral imperative.”

Hildebrandt said she has visited Roswell several times since starting her campaign and plans a return visit at some point before the primary.

Primary elections are June 5. The general election will occur Nov. 6.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.