Campaign trail brings Jeff Apodaca to Farmington

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FARMINGTON — While the general election is more than a year away, several Democratic hopefuls for the governor's office in New Mexico have begun campaigning.  

Candidate Jeff Apodaca, 55, met with a small group of people from both sides of the political spectrum Wednesday evening at the Farmington Civic Center. Audience members included two county commissioners, a local small business owner who is registered Republican, a former Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives and a man who traveled from Albuquerque to hear him speak.

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Other Democratic candidates running for governor include U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, 57; Peter DeBenedittis, 58; and state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, 56. The winner of the primary election likely will face Republican candidate U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, 69. Pearce is the only Republican who has announced his candidacy, and two-term incumbent Gov. Susana Martinez is barred from seeking re-election because of term limits.

DeBenedittis is the creator of an alcohol abuse prevention curriculum for young people. Apodaca is the son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca and has a background in managing broadcast television. Cervantes is a lawyer in Las Cruces and represents Doña Ana County in the state Senate.

Both Apodaca and Cervantes are campaigning to create jobs and policies that they hope will help keep young New Mexicans from leaving the state.  

"Our kids are giving up on New Mexico," Apodaca said.  

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He said young people are "leaving New Mexico in droves" because there are no opportunities for them here.

Apodaca told The Daily Times that the creation of telecommuting jobs could provide rural New Mexicans with more opportunities for young people. He said that will require investing in broadband infrastructure, especially in rural areas.

Cervantes could not be reached for comment by deadline today. When he announced his bid for governor in early July, Cervantes told the Las Cruces Sun News he would focus on the economy and education.

Apodaca is campaigning on a promise to create 225,000 new jobs. His plan to spur job creation involves investing 5 percent of the state's $21.6 billion investment fund into small businesses, education, health care, technology and other sectors each year. According to the New Mexico State Investment Council, which manages the fund, the state has the third-largest fund in the United States.

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During his speech on Wednesday, Apodaca noted that oil and gas exploration make up 35 percent of the state's economy and cannot be replaced. Apodaca said he would work with those industries to invest in technology that would recapture fugitive methane. He also highlighted opportunities for developing renewable energy, such as solar power. 

Lujan Grisham also cited a focus on job creation in an email to The Daily Times. She highlighted her career accomplishments in policies aimed at creating jobs, helping veterans, investing in law enforcement training, and ending abuse and neglect at nursing homes in the state. 

"We need a governor who will work with local leaders and community members to create and lead a comprehensive strategy to plan for new jobs in the Four Corners, including the Navajo Nation," she said. "That means giving local communities the tools to ensure our economic development efforts to be both proactive and more flexible toward emerging needs in various communities."

She said the state must capitalize on existing opportunities, such as developing wind energy.

DeBenedittis is working to brand himself as a political outsider and a progressive Democrat. His campaign focuses on promoting universal health care and increasing the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour. He favors renewable energy development, creating a state bank and marijuana legalization.

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DeBenedittis' vision includes increased renewable energy development. He said he would work with the Public Service Company of New Mexico to build a solar array at the location of the San Juan Generating Station, a coal-burning facility that could be shut down if a PNM plan reaches fruition.

DeBenedittis said he would encourage PNM to hire current power plant workers to build the solar farm "because they're already familiar with the plant."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652. 

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