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Lt. Gov. Howie Morales spoke about the state response to coronavirus at the end of the round table forum

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AZTEC — The seven Democratic congressional candidates vying for the party’s nomination say the world will not return to normal after the coronavirus pandemic has passed, and that’s a good thing.

They said the pandemic revealed flaws in the system — such as tying health insurance to employment — that must be fixed.

The candidates participated in a virtual round table discussion hosted by the Taos County Democratic Party on April 13.

Taos County Democratic Party Chair Darien Fernandez said New Mexico's Third Congressional District is one of the largest geographic congressional districts in the country, representing all or part of 16 of the 33 New Mexico counties.

“This is a race that is going to be decided in the primary, given how blue this third district is," Fernandez said.

The primary election is June 2.

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The round table gravitated primarily around three main topics: the ongoing pandemic and its associated economic consequences, a transition to renewable or clean energy and the need to invest in infrastructure, especially broadband.

The most difference in opinions expressed came during discussions about the transition to clean energy. On one side, Marco Serna said he does not support the Green New Deal because it would devastate New Mexico's economy. Instead, he supports measures like the Energy Transition Act that provide a 30-year transition path. On the other side, Teresa Leger Fernandez said she does support the Green New Deal because it asks the question of how the United States will move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewable or clean energy sources.

Meanwhile, all the candidates supported increased investment into broadband infrastructure. John Blair said federal legislation to help the country emerge from the coronavirus pandemic should include something similar to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal solutions and put people to work rebuilding roads, dams and the electric grid.

Candidates discuss high proportions of COVID-19 among Native Americans

The candidates were asked about the disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases in Native American communities.

Leger-Fernandez said the Indian Health Service has not been fully funded and doesn't have the means and coverage to address the needs.

"The federal government has a trust obligation," she said. "It is called a trust obligation. That means that they have said 'in exchange for all the land that we have taken, we promise that we will provide education and we promise that we will provide health care. And that is what that trust obligation is and they have failed."

Blair said tribal communities, including the Navajo Nation, face extra bureaucratic red tape and the different set of rules facing the tribes make it more complicated to provide assistance during the pandemic. 

"We need to clear out that red tape and make it as seamless to get them the funds they need for Indian Health Service, for any other support we're giving them, but it needs to be faster," he said.

Valerie Plame highlighted the high number of cases on the Navajo Nation and said "clearly that's due in part because already health has been compromised." She agreed with Blair that the "red tape" needs to be cleared away. 

"Everybody needs the same services," Serna said. 

He said everybody needs to have the same resources to fight the pandemic.

Laura Montoya spoke about Sandoval County's coronavirus cases. She said multiple families live together and they're all getting sick.

"We could lose the history of people who know the traditions and the culture," she said. "That's more than a crisis that we're working on now."

Kyle Tisdel said COVID-19 does not discriminate on who it will infect, but it disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable people in society.

"These are the folks that were already living at the margins, who were least able to adapt to any sort of change, any sort of impact that they were experiencing," he said.

He said African American communities in Detroit and Navajo Nation communities have outsized cases due to entrenched inequalities.

Joseph Sanchez, who is a state representative, said he has been advocating for infrastructure investments for the Navajo Nation for years.

"They don't have electricity, they don't have running water, they've been left behind in these issues and now they're being left behind on this issue," he said. "And what we lack is somebody to go be a champion for them."

Howie Morales speaks about coronavirus response

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales attended, and spoke at the start and end of the roundtable.

Morales discussed the coronavirus pandemic and its related restrictions.

"What we do know is that we don't have a playbook," he said. "We don't have a guide that tells us step A, step B because we've never been through this before. What we do have is we have each other."

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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