Power plant a concern for both candidates in District 4 House race

Anthony Allison, Mark Duncan face off in general election

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Anthony Allison
  • District 4 covers the entire northwest corner of the county, while a dogleg section of it extends east to Farmington.
  • Incumbent Anthony Allison was first elected two years ago and is seeking his second term.
  • Challenger Mark Duncan is the San Juan County treasurer and former mayor of Kirtland.

FARMINGTON — It comes as no surprise that the two candidates vying for the District 4 seat in the state House of Representatives — Democratic incumbent Anthony Allison and Republican challenger Mark Duncan — both point to the future of the San Juan Generating Station as one of their primary concerns.

After all, the plant is located in the district, and many of the people who work there — and at the nearby San Juan Mine, which supplies the power plant with coal — are voters in the district. The plant's primary owner, the Public Service Co. of New Mexico, has announced plans to abandon it in 2022, but the city of Farmington has been engaged in plans for the last couple of years to partner with Enchant Energy to retrofit the plan with carbon-capture technology to keep it operating.

Allison says he spent more than 37 years in the coal mining industry, and he understands how important the plant and mine are to San Juan County. He supports the effort to retrofit the plant with carbon capture technology to extend its life span. But he also believes that renewable energy is the future, and he said a plan that relies on both those elements during a transition period is the best way for San Juan County to emerge from the old era with a minimum of economic disruption.

"While one (industry) is halfway down, I'd like the other to be halfway up," he said.

Duncan, who is no stranger to politics despite mounting his first campaign for the Legislature, doesn't share that perspective. As the San Juan County treasurer and former mayor of Kirtland, he has been watching the process by which PNM abandons the power plant with a growing sense of concern.

"Probably the main concern I have is the votes that have taken place to get rid of the power plant and our tax base," Duncan said, explaining that he fears that same process is being repeated statewide.

Mark Duncan

"I'm trying to save jobs," he said. "To me, this is a paycheck election. If you like your paycheck, then you ought to vote differently. If you don't like your paycheck, keep voting for the same party."

Allison pointed out he has a son-in-law working at the San Juan Mine, and he said he has no desire to see the power plant close next year. He said the transition plan that is being developed will allow the plant and the mine to "continue to part of the game for a while before they start to close. That gives us a little bit of leeway."

He said the availability of coal-generated power in the area also will help the region avoid a total reliance on renewable energy, which he believes is not 100 percent reliable yet, citing the issues with brownouts that California has experienced.

"I wish (the transition to renewables) was a lot quicker, and I wish we were seeing more results now," he said. " … But technology is always improving, and renewables will get there."

Duncan said the way Allison has voted on energy-related issues is the reason he has decided to run for the Legislature now. He blames Democrats for squandering a $2 billion reserve for state government and said some tough decisions will need to be made early in 2021 when lawmakers gather at the Roundhouse to begin the new session.

"Less government," Duncan said, explaining what he thinks the answer is to the state's financial woes. "We just cut back."

Duncan didn't offer any specifics on where those reductions would occur, but he did say he would be opposed to cutting funding for public safety agencies.

"We’ve had a windfall for several years, but that windfall's not here anymore," he said, referring to the plunge in oil prices and the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 shutdown.

Infrastructure needed

Allison, first elected in 2018, said it is imperative for New Mexicans to follow the governor's public health orders, whether they like them or not, if the state's economy is to get back on its feet. But he said he recognizes the fact that following those orders is easier for some people than others.

"I live in Fruitland, and I see some of my (neighbors) on the Navajo Nation having a very hard time keeping with those restrictions," he said.

The lack of running water and electricity on parts of Navajo territory make it difficult for residents to wash their hands frequently or limit their trips to the grocery store because they can't refrigerate perishables, he said.

"I'm really pushing for infrastructure, expanding water and power lines," Allison said.

The incumbent also is concerned about Navajo schoolchildren being left behind during the pandemic because of school closures. He said the lack of adequate Internet service on the Nation means that remote learning has been far less successful there than it is in more urban areas.

Allison related that he regularly sees many Navajo students doing their schoolwork at area fast food restaurants because that is the only place where they can access reliable Internet service. That's not an issue most students who don't live on the reservation have to worry about, he said.

Keeping families together

Duncan said he is deeply worried about the hundreds of businesses across the state that have had to close because of the pandemic and the downturn in the oil market, and he said he will be dedicated to doing anything and everything he can as a state lawmaker to save jobs.

He said many New Mexicans are being forced to leave the state to find work, and a lot of those folks are parents. They're leaving their children behind to be raised by their grandparents, and Duncan said reversing that trend needs to become a priority.

"Any job we can save to keep families together, that's what we need to do," he said.

Both candidates believe it is likely the Legislature will deal with bills related to recreational marijuana and abortion this session, but there is little difference between them on either issue. Allison noted he was one of only four Democrats who voted against the recreational marijuana bill in the House last winter, and Duncan said he is adamantly opposed to any such measure.

State Democrats are expected to make another attempt to repeal the state's  decades-old law prohibiting abortion that was superseded by the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. But such an attempt would not find any support from Allison or Duncan, both of whom said they remain staunch foes of abortion.

District 4 covers the entire northwest corner of the county, while a dogleg section of it extends east to Farmington. It includes Shiprock, Waterflow, Kirtland and west Farmington.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.