This story has been updated.
It’s a pivotal year for New Mexico, with a high-interest midterm election ahead in November. New Mexico is likely to see big changes in state government after eight years of Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, and the national debate has been supercharged with both support and opposition to the Trump administration.
With the stakes this high, the New Mexico Pediatric Society and New Mexico Voices for Children last week launched the voter-education website You Decide NM to share responses from candidates for governor, Congress and the State Land Office on a wide range of issues such as education, access to health insurance, energy policy and the environment that they believe will affect child wellbeing in the state. The groups also plan to run an internet advertising campaign to drive New Mexicans to the site.
“Unfortunately, children are not necessarily a topic of conversation when it comes to elections. People talk about jobs and the economy, which are all very important to child wellbeing, but there are other issues and we wanted to get some of those out there,” said Sharon Kayne, communications director for NM Voices.
Beyond education funding and priorities, their questionnaire asked governor candidates Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce what they’d do about gun violence and teen suicide rates among Native Americans.
Lujan Grisham said she’d address the state’s high death rate for children by guns by “passing child access prevention laws, strengthening background checks, and banning anyone convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun.”
Pearce would take a law enforcement and prevention approach to dealing with gun violence. He said the state needed to provide young people more opportunities and job training for work rather than turning to crime and that “first time and non-violent offenders need to be kept away from hardened violent criminals. The worst criminals need to be kept in prison without parole.”
Both Pearce and Lujan Grisham said they’d work to rebuild the state’s mental health system after the closure of many community providers under Martinez.
The groups also sent questionnaires to the candidates for U.S. House and U.S. Senate, as well as to candidates for the State Land Office, which despite being a lesser known race has the most direct impact on education in New Mexico — most of the money generated by state lands goes to fund K-12 education and public colleges and universities.
“The state land commissioner in particular has a very important job that impacts child wellbeing,” said Kayne. Beyond money for schools, “there’s the issue of environmental health — methane flaring, air and water purity, that sort of thing, and that’s what we wanted to get at.”
All candidates were given a chance to include a short biography and photograph, and were limited to 250-word responses per question. Some candidates did not respond to the groups’ questionnaires, but Kayne said the website would be updated if they received late responses now that the site is up and running. In particular, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson only recently joined the race for U.S. Senate against Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Mick Rich, and NM Voices and the Pediatric Society have reached out to his campaign.
The website will remain live until Election Day on Nov. 6.
Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce’s answer on dealing with gun violence. He did not tie together stolen guns from vehicles and gun deaths.