Q&A: Congressional Candidate Teresa Fernandez

Congressional District 3 Candidate Teresa Leger Fernandez

By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post
caclark@ladailypost.com

Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series in which the Los Alamos Daily Post presents the same set of questions to each of the candidates running for Congressional District 3, which serves the northern half of New Mexico.

Democratic candidate Teresa Leger Fernandez provided the following answers:

POST: Why do you believe you are qualified to represent New Mexico in Congress?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: I have spent the past 30 years working with and on behalf of our communities in Northern New Mexico – listening, bringing people together, and getting things done. I’ve worked across this district to promote tribal sovereignty, raise renewable energy issues, secure hundreds of millions in federal funding and financing to help build schools, rural health clinics, businesses and critical infrastructure. I’ve fought for and won voting rights cases for our communities. I know what it takes to make real progress here. I also know the Washington that matters to New Mexico. President Clinton appointed me as a White House Fellow. I served as a Special Assistant to the HUD Secretary and helped put together the first White House Conference on Housing. Because of my environmental and cultural preservation work, President Obama appointed me as Vice Chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which consists of various Federal agencies who advise Congress and the Administration. In Congress, I will be a strong, passionate, and informed voice. I will bring my on the ground experience on key issues and my connections to Northern New Mexico to the fight for the health and vitality of our families, communities, planet, and values. 

POST: What is your overall governing philosophy?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: I believe in building healthy, thriving communities. At its core, this Nation’s aspirational foundation is about the pursuit of happiness and a more perfect union, which I think is achieved through building vibrant communities. Government has a key role to play in providing the foundation and key services necessary to attain sustainable, interconnected, and supported communities and to ensure commitment to justice, equality, and harmony. From health care and housing, to infrastructure, education, and economic vitality, safety and security, and protecting our environment, government should work to remove barriers, tackle challenges, and create opportunity. 

POST: What would you do to promote the interest of Los Alamos National Laboratory in Washington?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: We must continue to recognize and remember the crucial role of Los Alamos National Laboratory, both in terms of our national security and the economy of our state. I will advocate for federal funding and support for LANL to ensure it remains a critical hub for not only innovation and scientific advancement, but also jobs for our New Mexico families and communities. I will also work to make sure that the necessary environmental protections and compliance mechanisms are put in place to provide for the safety of our surrounding communities and ecosystems. Finally, I will work to help ensure that LANL continues to evolve with the changing global landscapes. Climate change is a significant national security threat, and we should marshal our existing national scientific resources and labs to tackle this crisis. 

POST: How would you balance arms proliferation with national defense?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: We must recognize that while nuclear weapons are a key component of our national defense, so is limiting nuclear proliferation. We must recommit to international treaties and processes to help safeguard against the spread of nuclear capabilities to rogue nations and terrorists, and to ensure that we do not spark a reckless arms race. We must rebuild our diplomatic presence and recognize the important role that diplomats and scientists must play in developing new agreements. We must reinstate the constitutional checks on a President’s power to act unilaterally without congressional oversight as we just witnessed with this President’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement and assassination of General Suleimani. 

POST: In general terms, what would your foreign policy goals be?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: Following the destabilizing actions of the current administration, we must work to rebuild our international relationships and credibility. We must re-prioritize diplomacy, recruit and improve the morale at the State Department, and recommit to being a global leader on securing international stability, protecting and promoting human rights, and tackling issues like climate change that impact our global community. Solving the climate crisis can only be done in concert with the international community – acting collectively and urgently. 

POST: What do you think should be done about the growing income inequality in the United States?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: Congress has an obligation to address our unjust income inequality, and to promote economic growth and stability. I fully support raising the federal minimum wage. We must reverse the tax cuts that primarily benefited the ultra-wealthy and mega corporations. Our tax system is inequitable and has exacerbated this income inequality. We must protect Social Security and Medicare, support small businesses by creating access to capital and providing tax incentives, and invest in education and job-training programs. I support eliminating tuition at public colleges, universities and vocational training for most students, so that our workers are not left with crippling debt years after they complete their schooling. We must also enact paid family leave and ensure affordable child care for our families. Finally, it is unacceptable that women make less than their male counterparts doing comparable work. In New Mexico women make 85 cents for every dollar paid to men. Hispana women make even less, taking in 56 cents for every dollar paid to white men. In Congress, I will be an advocate and a powerful voice standing up for equal pay for equal work.

POST: Do you have a plan for increasing access to healthcare in the U.S.?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: In Congress, I will fight to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. The Medicare for All principles I support would ensure quality, affordable access to healthcare for all. This means eliminating the bankrupting co-pays and deductibles. We all know someone who we care about who hasn’t gone to the doctor to get something treated because they couldn’t afford the deductible or copay, even though they had insurance. We must bring down the cost of prescription drugs through negotiation, careful review of patent practices and manufacturing. Americans cannot be discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions. I’m a cancer survivor and have lost family members to cancer – our families deserve care regardless of medical history. Here in Northern New Mexico, it’s also essential that we address access to health care in rural areas. I have helped build rural health clinics, and I’ve seen what it takes to create access to basic care in rural areas. We need adequate funding for clinics in rural areas, and better incentives for doctors, nurses and health workers to practice in rural areas. Finally, we must fix those aspects of Medicare that are not working and ensure that the transition to universal access to health care addresses unintended consequences. 

POST: Where do you stand on increased regulation of firearms?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: It is long past time for gun safety measures to be enacted at the national level. Every single day, we are sacrificing 100 American lives to gun violence – and hundreds more are injured. This is a national epidemic that occurs every day across the country – because Republicans, Mitch McConnell, Trump, and the corporate gun lobby have blocked progress. Americans overwhelmingly support gun safety. In Congress I will vote for background checks on all gun sales, a red flag law, reinstating the assault weapons ban, and repealing PLCAA, which gives the gun industry unprecedented legal immunity. I would champion the House version of the Violence Against Women Act, which closes the boyfriend loophole and addresses the jurisdictional vacuum that leaves Native American women vulnerable to gun violence, rape and murder. 

POST: What programs do you support on immigration to deal with the situation at the border?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: We must honestly and compassionately apply our asylum laws to those seeking refuge from persecution. Our laws (and international consensus) state that a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution has a right to seek refuge in our country. Under this administration, we have failed to honor our own laws, failed to provide adequate adjudicators and failed to ensure that these victims are treated humanely at our borders. Our abuse of families, children and refugees at our borders is not an honest reflection of the values and humanity that I believe our country and communities believe in. I strongly support comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., which would include the DREAM Act so that our dreamers and their families are secure as they build their future here. Immigrants are an essential and important part of our economy. In fact, studies estimate that comprehensive immigration reform would result in $1.5 trillion in additional GDP over ten years. Finally, we must honor and acknowledge the talent, energy, and multi-cultural values that immigrants bring to this nation. I have seen this firsthand through my work helping to start and run an immigration clinic, through my service on the board of MALDEF, and by being an active member in our diverse New Mexican community that fosters and celebrates multiculturalism. 

POST: What would you do to combat climate change?

LEGER FERNANDEZ: Here in New Mexico, we know how important the land is to who we are as a people. We know that climate change is an existential crisis. We must act to protect our land, our water, and our air for future generations by reducing carbon pollution, rejoining the Paris Agreement, and investing in renewable energy resources like wind and solar, as well as clean energy tax incentives.  We must transition away from fossil fuels and provide economic assistance to those parts of the country, those communities that have borne the brunt of our fossil fuel consumption. In Congress, I will promote the Green New Deal and work to help bring clean energy jobs and investment dollars to Northern New Mexico so that we can put our abundant wind and solar resources to work. I would support USDA funding for regenerative agriculture so our ranchers and farmers could stay on their land, provide us with locally grown food and capture carbon. I would apply a lens to all of our funding and subsidies granted through our federal agencies and tax code – ​does this subsidy, tax break or program help solve our climate crisis and create opportunities, or does it contribute to global climate disruption? I have a history of working on renewable energy projects and of fighting environmental degradation: from fighting the proposed Fence Lake Coal Mine, lobbying in support of community solar, and protecting community water access as an Acequia commissioner. My decades of environmental and cultural preservation work brought me to the attention of the Obama White House, and President Obama appointed me to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation — later elevating me to Vice Chair of the Council. In this role, I led the effort to make our preservation and historical work more inclusive and our programs and policies more reflective of our racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity.