Howie Morales, Jeff Apodaca campaign in Farmington

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FARMINGTON — Democratic Party candidates who have visited San Juan County within the past week say the top concerns they have heard from citizens have dealt with economic conditions and the lack of jobs in the state.

State Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City visited Thursday, and former media executive Jeff Apodaca visited on May 12.

Morales is one of three candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination for lieutenant governor while Apodaca is hoping to be the Democratic Party nominee for governor.

Morales is running against Doña Ana County Commissioner Billy Garrett and former state Rep. Rick Miera of Albuquerque. Apodaca is running against U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state Sen. Joe Cervantes.

The primary elections for Democratic, Republican and Libertarian candidates are on June 5.

The winner of the Democratic Party lieutenant governor primary likely will face Republican lieutenant governor candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes and Libertarian candidate Robin Dunn. Neither Garcia Holmes nor Dunn have an opponent in the primary election.

The winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary will face Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce and Libertarian candidate Bob Walsh.

Morales said he has heard a lot of optimism that conditions will improve. He encouraged registered Democrats to go to the polls and vote.

“Now’s the time to make the change,” he said. “You don’t have to wait until June 5.”

Apodaca highlights plan for investment into New Mexico

Apodaca's plan if he is elected relies on the $23 billion state permanent fund. He said he would take $1 billion from the fund and invest it in businesses in New Mexico. He said the move could generate 225,000 jobs.

When reached by phone, Apodaca said 95 percent of the New Mexico economy is made up of small businesses. He said small businesses are over regulated, have higher taxes than large corporations and struggle to obtain low-interest loans. He said he would work with community lending institutions to offer loans with a 2.5 percent interest rate.

Morales talks about education

Morales has a doctorate in education and worked as a high school teacher and baseball coach. He said education is an issue that is close to his heart and one he has worked on while serving as a senator.

Morales has criticized the state's PARCC testing system, as well as the state education department's practice of grading schools on an A-F scale. He has sponsored bills to change the teacher and principal evaluation system, but the governor vetoed the legislation in 2013. A bill he sponsored in 2017 would have created a council to develop a new evaluation system. The bill passed the Senate but did not make it through the House of Representatives.

He said he plans to continue championing education causes. One of the things he would like to accomplish is to create an early learning department.

“I’m not advocating to grow government,” Morales said.

He said early childhood education is spread out over five different departments.

Candidates address closure of San Juan Generating Station

Morales serves on the Legislative Finance Committee and visited San Juan County last year for a meeting focused on the planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station.

He said one option for making up for the plant's closure is to use the facility to generate power using alternative fuel sources.

Apodaca said the economy needs to be diversified, and he highlighted agriculture — including growing hemp and cannabis — and renewable energy as sectors that could be expanded.

Apodaca said expanding broadband access in rural New Mexico and increasing access to coding classes could provide young New Mexicans with the ability to get high-paying telecommuting jobs. He said the telecommuting jobs pay similar to what coal mining jobs pay.

Morales said he believes he is the most qualified candidate for lieutenant governor because he has experience in education, finance and business. He is also the only candidate who has served in the state Senate.

“I want to be that bridge between the governor’s office, the administration and the Legislature,” he said.

Apodaca praises Farmington schools

Apodaca also cited education as a concern he has heard from voters.

He said the Farmington Municipal School District is a model for the rest of the state. He said the school district has been focused on getting more resources into classrooms and developing new technologies.

"Your two high schools are some of the best in the state," he said.

Apodaca said the school district could do even better if it had more resources from the state public education department.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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