Xochitl Torres Small said her bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representative is based on the diversity of the Second Congressional District – especially underrepresented, rural communities.

A native of Las Cruces and southern New Mexico, the Democratic candidate recently took a tour of southeast New Mexico where growth in the oil and gas industry led to increased revenue for the state and federal government.

Torres Small said the power of economic growth in the district she’s running in must be harnessed by Congress to plan for the area’s future, amid a volatile boom and bust cycle.

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That could take the form of support for the federal Bureau of Land Management, which manages the tracts of federal land that much of the region’s oil and gas development takes place upon.

Revenue generated in southeast New Mexico must return to the communities that host the developments, she said, and regulations should encourage companies to come New Mexico, rather than neighboring Texas, which she said has less government oversight.

“You’re generating all this revenue to the BLM, and you need the support from the BLM to be able to do that. And you’re not seeing that get back,” Torres Small said. “There’s a federal component to that too. You need to make sure New Mexico is keeping up pace. Right across the state line is Texas, that’s all private land.”

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The BLM’s backlog of applications for permits to drill (APDs) must be addressed to encourage further development in New Mexico with the recent boom of the Permian Basin.

Encouraging ongoing growth in the industry is what’s best for her potential constituents, she said.

"It takes investment. It takes making sure you have a strong BLM staff available and ready, and has the tools to process things quickly, from rights of way to APDs,” she said. “Being able to get that work done quickly.”

Locally, Carlsbad’s BLM office is considered a field office with the main office in Roswell. Torres Small said this creates an issue with staffing further south, where federal lands are being developed at increasing rates.

“Right now, the BLM field office is a pilot program,” she said. “You’re still not seeing all of the staffing that you need through the pilot program. We need to experiment with the staffing levels to figure out how you can have the support that you need here.”

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Low staffing could be blamed for long wait times for permits, she said, and the federal government must address the issue so that southeast New Mexico can continue to grow while oil prices continue to grow.

“It sounds like you’re not balancing growth, because then what you have are wells going in on the Texas side without that same control,” she said. “What it means is that we need more resources to do the work that needs to be done to make sure we have that balance and responsible production. We need to have responsible production, and efficient production.”

But with the increased revenue and development, comes risk.

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The industry is booming right now, but could bust in the future if oil prices fall.

Torres Small said it is important for communities to invest in the future, and diversify local economies to survive the volatility of the extraction industry.

That can be achieved by partnering with the private industry, she said, to gain investments in local communities to ensure the quality of life is maintained.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re preparing for what the future holds, and that we’re continuing to diversify, we’re continuing to find other ways to support our community here,” she said. “We’re using this time to invest, so that we have responsible, efficient production now and a future as well.

“I trust that Carlsbad won’t lose sight of that balance.”

Surviving the bust also means addressing one of the most basic, contested and scarce resources in the American Southwest: water.

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Torres Small said local communities must come together to create effective water plans, and the federal government can help by providing the information needed.

She pointed to Interpid Potash, a potash mining company in Carlsbad, that uses byproducts from its operations to relieve some its freshwater needs.

“One of the things that I love about water is you have to believe in science to work on it,” she said. “The other thing that I love about water, is people have to be vulnerable enough to identify their needs and share that information, where people are competing over that finite resource. So water plans are essential.

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“What the federal government should do is support getting that information. The community doesn’t have the information they need to make that plan. That’s where there’s a great role for that.”

Water isn’t the only area where the federal government can implement regulations, and help constituents navigate the complex bureaucracy, she said.

So a focus on constituent services is crucial.

“In general, government has just become so impossible to navigate,” Torres Small said. “I know the importance of the constituent services part of it. I know the importance of a really robust state team. That’s how you’re helping people navigate this complex process.

“It’s also how you’re making sure that great ideas from home get translated into action in Washington.”

But in Washington, while congressional politics have seemingly become polarized, and either party accuses the other of “obstructionism,” Torres Small said she hopes to work across the aisle – regardless of affiliation – to bring rural issues to the forefront.

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 “We’ve got to make sure that instead, we’re building relationships,” she said. “That’s also investing time with people who don’t necessarily come from the same party, but I agree with on a lot of things.

“And it means that making sure I am always putting the people of the second congressional district ahead of the party, any party."

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The problems rural communities with lack of services such as access to healthcare, quality education and communications such as internet and cell phone service go under appreciated, she said, without strong representation for rural communities.

“It’s easier, I think, in a lot of ways if you’re serving in an under-served urban community and you’re a doctor. You can locate one place and then go and work in one place and then go back,” Torres Small said. “But you’re really committing to a community when you come out and work rural. That needs to be reflected.”

Torres Small is facing Republican Yvette Herell in the general election scheduled for Nov. 6.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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