When I announced my candidacy for Congress on April 25, 2019, I traveled to every county in the 3rd Congressional district. The four days that I spent traveling to every one of the 16 counties left a deep impression of the size and diversity of the Congressional district I hope to represent.  From the farming communities to the Pueblos to the oil fields to the many wind farms sprouting across the landscape, I took the opportunity to meet with hundreds of citizens from every walk of life. I listened to many people who had lost faith in our political system—many expressed their concern about the growing divisions within our country. The primary concerns voiced were focused on the current state of our economy and how climate change is altering our world. 

The greatest diversity of opinion is found within the rural part of the 3rd Congressional district. Having lived in New Mexico all my life, I have always known that Northern New Mexico is a special and unique place. No other place in the world has the culture and social fabric of so many diverse communities. My tour of the 16 counties in the congressional district opened my eyes to many of the problems facing rural New Mexico and reinforced my passion for civil service. 

Rural America is our forgotten community and neglected by most politicians. In the words of FDR, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” This is why I decided to offer my opinion on how I think we can improve the living standards of our rural neighbors.

Over the course of the last 100 years, rural America has undergone dramatic demographic changes. More than 90% of the U.S. population was rural in 1790. By 1920, that number dwindled to just under 50%. Today only 15% of the population resides in rural counties and the 

rural population is growing older. A number of factors contributed to this decline, including economic opportunities in urban areas coupled with automation and farm consolidations.

One cannot discuss rural New Mexico without mentioning our Native American neighbors. “Almost a third (31%) of the Native Americans in New Mexico live on incomes below the federal poverty level. Jobless rates contribute to this challenge with 16% of Native Americans in New Mexico unemployed,” according to a 2014 study by New Mexico First and nationally, “the migration of Native Americans away from reservations in urban areas continue to increase with 70% of Native Americans living in Metropolitan areas. Less than 50% of New Mexico’s Native population is working and living in federally recognized tribal areas.”

Notably, there is a cultural, social and economic divide between urban and rural America. For instance, many rural Americans are skeptical that the federal government is fair or effective at improving the middle class’s economic situation. In a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from 2017, 56% of rural residents say the federal government does more to help people in urban than rural areas. In terms of living standards, the National Rural Health Association recently issued a report detailing the problems associated with rural health care.

According to the 1910 US Census, the rural population of New Mexico was 85.8% while in 2010 the rural population declined to 22.6%. The most recent census data suggests that of the 2018 estimated population of 2,095,428 people in New Mexico – 686,089 are living in rural New Mexico. As such, the difference between urban and rural New Mexico is like night and day. This is especially true of residents in Northern New Mexico.

When I first made the choice to run for Congress, I decided that in order to bring meaningful change to my community, I must be the most informed candidate in the race, which begins with identifying the issues facing your community. In traveling extensively through the rural counties of New Mexico, I learned that much has to be done to assist our rural neighbors. This is especially true for economic development, health care, education and the care of our elderly!  I firmly believe that voters want to know where their candidates stand on these issues, and while they may not always agree with all of my positions, at least they know that there is a rational basis for my beliefs.

My hope is that we can use this position statement as a discussion outline to provide a detailed action plan for rural New Mexico. 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

The economy of Northern New Mexico is based on mineral extraction, agriculture, and tourism.  For the future, it appears that climate change initiatives will have a severe impact on two of the cornerstones of Northern New Mexico’s economy. In the last legislative session, the “Mini Green New  Deal” was passed into law. It will eliminate all coal-fired electric generators in the state by 2045. Nationally, many Democrats including Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey have proposed a National Green New Deal. At least three of my opponents in the Democratic primary have endorsed this proposal. The fourteen-page resolution calls for a “ten-year national mobilization” that would do the following:

  • Eliminate all fossil fuel production including not only oil but also natural gas;
  • Eliminate all coal-fired plants; and
  • Targets agriculture which is responsible for 9% of the nation’s greenhouse gasses. 

On September 14, 2019, I released a detailed position paper on Climate Change. In it, I outlined my position and explained how I would address the issue of technologies like wind, solar, nuclear and renewable energy. I supported the Mini Green New Deal passed by the legislature last year because it has a realistic timetable and provided funding for economic diversification and retraining for coal miners involved in the energy industry. I oppose the national Green New Deal because the 10-year mobilization timeline is far too short of a timeline and is lacking many details. My greatest concern is the effect that the Green New Deal would have on our education budget and the lives of many energy workers in rural New Mexico. As written, it would have a devastating effect on our state’s budget and especially on the economy of Northern New Mexico. 

Outside of opposing the Green New Deal, I believe that the 3rd Congressional district needs to elect a representative who understands their problems and is willing to fight for their future. First and foremost, I believe that Northern New Mexico is especially vulnerable to the national climate change movement. We need to accept the fact that alternative forms of energy are the wave of the future and start investing in solar, wind and renewable energy. It is not enough to simply oppose the Green New Deal, we must be proactive and be on the top of the wave of change before it comes crashing down. 

I also believe that technology is the key to our future! The US Chamber of Commerce issued a 2019 report titled, “Unlocking the Digital Potential of Rural America.” The study outlines recommendations for how the private and public sectors can help small businesses through technology. On a national scale, the study projects that “greater adoption of digital tools in rural America could add $140 billion to the US economy by 2021.” It predicts that businesses across rural America could create more than 360,000 jobs in the next three years!” Currently only one-in-five business are digital, but they generate at least 80% of the overall rural small business revenue by selling their products and services online. To start this economic revival in rural America, we need to first increase funding for high-speed broadband in rural areas. It’s shocking that rural Americans are over 10 times more likely than urban residents to lack quality broadband access, and I refuse to allow this to continue. 

In a study conducted by New Mexico First, “Broadband access matters because of the changing job opportunities available to people in rural areas. There are more opportunities than ever for companies to reach a workforce virtually. For example, 45 percent of IBM’s workforce now operates remotely, often from communities of their choice.” I believe that one of the keys to the future of rural New Mexico is in virtual office employment. 

Lastly, our nation needs to invest in our future and support infrastructure legislation that will rebuild our nation’s bridges and roads. Just this year, the American Society of Engineers issued an “infrastructure report card” for our country on a state by state basis. Many of their findings for our state are troubling:

  • There are 407 dams in New Mexico, of which 219 are high hazard potential dams;
  • Of the 3,999 bridges, 6.3% were structurally deficient since 2017;
  • Over the next 20 years, the state will need to invest $1.36 billion in infrastructure water needs;
  • There is a $407 million gap in estimated school capital expenditures;
  • Our park system has over $239 million of unmet needs; and
  • Over 31% of the 77,205 public roads in the state are in poor condition.

Surely we can all agree that New Mexico does not currently have the resources to repair our decaying infrastructure. To start the process, we need a Congress that is more interested in solving our domestic problems than giving $1 trillion tax breaks to the rich. I will work tirelessly to pass an infrastructure bill in the US Congress and make sure that Northern New Mexico gets its fair share. 

Finally, as a lifelong resident of Northern New Mexico, I am committed to improving the economy of our rural communities. In Congress, I plan on serving on the House Agriculture Committee, and the Energy & Commerce Committee. These two committees will have a significant influence on public policy that will most affect rural America.

HEALTH CARE:

The National Rural Health Care Association recently issued a report detailing the problems associated with rural health care. They include:

  • Rural communities have more uninsured residents, as well as higher rates of unemployment, leading to less access to care;
  • Rural areas have more frequent occurrences of diabetes and coronary heart disease than non-rural areas;
  • There are chronic shortages of mental health professionals as mental health providers are more likely to live in urban areas;
  • The patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people compared to 53.3 per 100,000 in rural areas;
  • There are 30 generalist dentists per 100,000 residents in urban areas versus 22 per 100,000 in rural areas; 
  • People who live in rural America rely more heavily on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program than metropolitan households;
  • Rural residents have greater transportation difficulties reaching health care providers, often traveling longer distances to reach a doctor or hospital; and
  • Most rural Fire Departments and EMT Services are underfunded and lack suitable equipment and training. There is a significant difference between civilian fire deaths and casualty loss based upon the size of the community.

I believe that the way we solve the problems of health care, education and employment in rural America is to improve economic development and increase federal funding. Too often many rural communities are short-changed because they either do not have access or expertise in applying for grants and aid assistance programs for federal funding. I plan on having staff members specifically assigned to assist our rural communities in grant writing and locating other avenues for resources. I am also a strong supporter of Obama care and will work hard to expand and improve it. I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege! I am also very concerned about the closure of rural hospitals, clinics and nursing homes in rural areas. It is estimated that nearly one out of every three rural clinics are at risk of shutting down. The statistics listed above reflect a crisis in the making. We need to elect leaders who understand the problems facing rural America and will fight to preserve their future. 

EDUCATION:

According to the non-profit Rural School and Community Trust Fund, “New Mexico is tied with Arizona as having the highest percentage of rural children living below poverty levels.” It is estimated that over 25% of rural children live below the poverty level. 

Although this report is dated, it does reveal the challenges Educators face in providing quality education to our rural students. In discussing the issues afflicting educators in Northern New Mexico, there is a common complaint:

  • It is difficult to staff highly qualified teachers in rural areas. It is even more difficult to retain them over a period of time. We must provide incentives to help recruit and retain highly qualified teachers to serve our rural children. 
  • Class size in rural schools is a problem. In almost every case, class size in rural schools exceed the state-wide average.
  • The ethnicity gap between students and teachers is large. Since teachers in many cases act as role models to their students, similar ethnicity makes a difference.
  • Students with special needs are underserved in many rural schools.

Although education is normally a local and state-wide concern, there are areas where the Federal Government can have some influence. In the last three years, I have been very disappointed with the direction of the Department of Education under Secretary DeVos. Under her leadership, we have taken several steps backward! I believe that we should increase the budget for Pell Grants and aid to rural schools. 

CARING FOR OUR ELDERLY:

I believe that rural America has been left behind by the governing elite in Washington, DC. Many politicians look at the world in global terms and forget that many citizens prefer to live in rural communities. This situation is exacerbated for the baby boomer generation whose needs increase as they age. I am deeply concerned about the lack of broadband internet in rural communities. I am also concerned about the economy that is disproportionately affecting farming and mining communities.

For things to change, rural America needs to elect a fighter who will put their interests above if not equal to urban areas. In that regard, I hope to:

  • Boost funding for rural hospitals;
  • Increase telehealth options to rural citizens;
  • Support and improve the Affordable Care Act;
  • Revamp trade policies to boost imports;
  • Increase investment in rural broadband;
  • Work to reduce the cost of prescription drugs; and 
  • Defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!

As a lifelong resident of Northern New Mexico, I understand the needs of our communities. More than anything else, I understand that Northern New Mexico is different and has issues that are unique to the rest of the country. As First Judicial District Attorney, I have worked tirelessly to solve many of the problems facing our communities. I hope to continue to work on behalf of our community in Washington, DC.

In conclusion, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes from the French poet Anatole France, “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.” I believe that together we can improve the lives of all of the residents in Northern New Mexico.

Many Thanks,

Marco Serna

Candidate for Congress,

District 3, NM