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AZTEC — U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján says he will continue to build on what he has already accomplished if he is re-elected this year.

Luján, a Nambé Democrat, is running against Republican Michael Romero, a Vadito resident, for New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District seat, which he has held since 2009.

During a phone interview this morning, Luján said the most pressing issue for New Mexico is the economy.

“New Mexico has always been a leader when it comes to energy,” he said.

Lujan said there needs to be “common sense” regulation when it comes to the energy industry.

While the state has a strong energy presence, Luján said the economy also needs diversification. Luján highlighted Raytheon as an example of a large industry that has located in the Four Corners area that provides employment opportunities that are not tied to the energy industry.

He supports investment in renewable energy, as well as working with the national laboratories located in New Mexico to produce new technologies. He also supports raising the minimum wage.

The education system is also key to improving the economy, Luján said. He said schools need to prepare children to enter the work force. He supports a hands-on learning environment, less testing and greater investment in early childhood education.

When it comes to higher education, Luján said college should be more affordable for students. He supports legislation that would allow people with student loan debt to refinance their loans.

Over the course of the campaign, Luján and Romero have shown differences in opinion on what role the federal government should play in New Mexico.

Luján cited Romero's stance on the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as one of the main differences between him and his opponent. Romero told The Daily Times in an interview earlier this month that he supports abolishing the 17th Amendment, which gives people the right to elect their U.S. senators. Romero said abolishing the amendment would allow state lawmakers to choose U.S. senators from their state.

"For some reason, my opponent believes that we can't trust our people to elect our U.S. senators," Luján said.

Another difference Luján highlighted between him and Romero is the stance Romero has taken on the Department of Veterans Affairs. During the interview with The Daily Times, Romero said the Veterans Administration has consistently failed veterans and should be abolished. He told The Daily Times veterans should be given vouchers to see doctors of their choice.

Luján said the Department of Veterans Affairs provides important services for veterans.

Some of the work Luján said he is most proud of is case work he did behind the scenes, including work to help veterans get access to health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Luján has also co-sponsored legislation to improve veterans' access to health care.

In addition to sponsoring legislation and working with individual veterans and their families to help them access health care, he said he has also helped veterans receive a Medal of Honor for their service.

In relation to the Four Corners area, Luján said he is proud of the local work he has done following the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015.

“I made sure that I was available from the very beginning,” he said.

He said he visited communities not only in New Mexico but also in Colorado that were affected by the spill and is working to make sure “the people responsible are held responsible.”

When it comes to illegal immigration, Luján said border security is important. He said there should be more border agents in both the South and the North.

“Immigration issues are not just a southern issue,” he said.

While many people think of illegal immigrants crossing the border, Luján said many of the immigrants simply overstay their visas. He said there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform that will provide more support for border security, as well as for immigrants to get citizenship.

Luján said he believes Republican and Democratic politicians can work together. Luján said he co-sponsored a bill with a Republican congressman from Florida to bring attention to prescription drug abuse, especially on the dispensing side.

“That's what has to happen. We have to be able to come together,” he said.

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

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