Former Congressman Steve Pearce faced a lively, energetic crowd of about 36 persons (including six children) at a gathering at the Mesquite Fire Station this morning.
In response to a question and several pointed remarks about the failure of the state to use the Spaceport project to bring jobs to Southern New Mexico (most contracts go to out of state firms or Albuquerque even though Dona Ana County taxed itself $35 million after being promised thousands of jobs) Pearce drew on the board a map of White Sands, the Texas border, and El Paso. He had learned when in Congress that virtually all of the jobs on a $200 million project at White Sands were going to El Paso and Texas firms, instead of to New Mexico, and he described the struggle he went through to ensure contractors (and local firms) did everything possible to get New Mexicans their fair share of jobs. "I can't promise perfect success," he said, "but I will scrap hard" to make sure Southern New Mexicans get access to the good jobs available from the expansion of Ft. Bliss and the stimulus and other federal funds.
Earlier Pearce emphasized he was from a very small community 35 miles South of Hobbs, and that he understands just what it is like to be "left totally out of the loop." From comments today and in previous gatherings this pretty much summarizes the way people in the South Mesilla Valley feel about their current interaction with government and government officials.
Two women who did not speak English (but have been citizens for over twenty years) complained bitterly about a "hole" that surfaces when a young couple goes to college, unable to qualify for food stamps, but cannot make ends meet to pay the bills and rising tuition, leaving the parents to try to fill that hole. "We just don't have enough money to plug that hole," said one of the women. Mesquite had a per capita income I have estimated at about $9379 compared with the U.S. per capita income of $36,031 in 2008. The other woman complained about widespread corruption through which "we always end up getting the cleaning-lady jobs," in federal projects, which Pearce agreed was significant in scale, enough to hurt the economy.
County Commissioner Karen Perez (the only elected official there) complained about needless delays in getting stimulus money activated, due to overlapping requirements by state, local, and federal agencies for similar information. She called for (and Pearce agreed) stronger cooperation between different levels of government to streamline projects. In his initial remarks Pearce suggested waste and corruption "don't probably filter down to here," calling this a Washington problem. Perez was pointing out these were not just Washington problems.
In response to a question I asked about jobs, Pearce jumped to his feet and sketched out on the blackboard a series of links between education, employment during a recession, waste-fraud-and-deficit spending, and bringing good manufacturing jobs back from China: bottom line: jobs will come back when waste and fraud are truly eliminated and when government policy encourages U.S. manufacturers to come back to the U.S. from China. He also said he would have allowed the banks to fail instead of bailing them out so they could lavish themselves with bonuses. There appeared to be strong agreement with Pearce on this last point.
I asked Espy Holguin what her estimate of the crowd composition was between Republicans and Democrats. "Casi todos son puros Democratas," she replied: all but one or two are Democrats.
I've been following the South Mesilla Valley pretty closely. Citizens are skeptical, listening carefully to what they are told by politicians, asking tough questions and telling them what they expect in the way of performance. And they should. After all, the numbers suggest the race between Pearce and Teague might be decided right here, in the South Mesilla Valley.