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Pearce outlines ideas for tourism, ag and aviation growth

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce has more than aviation in mind when it comes to boosting Chaves County and the New Mexico economy should he be elected governor in November.

The seven-term Republican Congressman and oil industry services businessman from Hobbs was in Roswell Thursday afternoon to join Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh in a ceremony marking the passage of federal legislation that makes the Roswell International Air Center eligible for future grant money.

Pearce also answered a few questions about his campaign to become the state’s chief executive officer.

He is running against U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat and a lawyer who has represented the 1st Congressional District for three terms following stints as secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health and the Aging and Long-Term Services Department.

Pearce is a former U.S. Air Force combat pilot who served in Vietnam and then later founded a couple of oil field services businesses, including one that was sold to a public company.

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After serving as a New Mexico state representative for four years starting in 1997, he was elected to represent the 2nd Congressional District in 2002. He completed three terms until losing a bid to become a U.S. senator. He was elected back to his former Congressional District in 2010 and has served in the House since then.

Many recent polls show Grisham leading Pearce and predict that statewide votes will give Democratic candidates an edge, but Pearce said he expects strong support for his campaign from Chaves County.

“It is going well across the state, but Chaves County feels exceptionally strong,” Pearce said. “This is always a good area for Republicans here in this county, and we look for it to be one of the lead counties for us. I really love the people here every time I come here. I am excited about their enthusiasm about their community and for the potential that they have.”

In Chaves County, Republicans are by far the largest group of registered voters. By the end of September, they represented 48.2 percent, or 15,690, of voters. Democrats, the next largest group, had 29.2 percent, or 9,495, of voters.

Pearce has long been a supporter of Roswell’s air center — helping to secure an $800,000 grant for a hangar project in January and working to revise the FAA Reauthorization Act to benefit the air center this year — and he said during his Thursday speech that he sees the air center as a key economic driver for the region, drawing parallels between a legislative process that has helped usher in the current oil and gas revenue boom for the state with the economic change that could come to the state with a revitalized air center now that it is eligible for up to $35 million in grants.

He said his support for the air center extends to a willingness to approve state legislation to establish an independent air authority to manage the air field, if local leaders decide to push for that again. During the 2018 legislative session, a bill to establish the authority passed the New Mexico House and the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

“If it comes to my desk, I will sign that,” Pearce said. “I am comfortable either way the city wants to go. There are different ways to manage it, but, if they pass it and send it to me, sure, I will sign that … The airport authority will give direction, but it’s going to be the local leaders who identify the potentials and then the governor and the national leaders help make that potential actuality.”

Other ideas he gave for improving the economy of the region include:

• Developing infrastructure for the region and state, including better broadband connections, roads and sewer and water systems. He also said that he would work to develop means to clean the water that exists in the state for use in agriculture and in cities. “We actually have a lot of water in New Mexico,” he said. “It is just not very clean water.”

• Working with the U.S, Department of Agriculture to create four or five hydroponic greenhouses throughout the state by the end of 2018. “The productivity of the hydroponic greenhouses is stunning,” he said. “I think they will revitalize our rural economies.”

• Doubling the number of tourists visiting New Mexico and Roswell. He said he would promote the state and region as a destination, especially to baby-boomers, many of whom are retiring and have savings to spend on travel. He also said he would make it convenient for visitors drawn to high-profile state events to get to southeast New Mexico. “A lot of people come in for the balloon festival or come in for whatever, but we generally leave them in Albuquerque or Santa Fe,” he said, “If we set up, say, three-day trips on luxury buses out of Albuquerque, I think people would drive down here, see the alien museum, take a look at the agriculture we have in the area and swing back up to White Sands.”

Election day is Nov. 6. In-person absentee voting in Chaves County has started and continues until Oct. 19. Early voting begins Oct. 20.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.