Former Las Cruces City Council member Gabi Vasquez and Dr. Darshan Patel, a rural physician and labor union leader, are vying for the Democratic nomination in the congressional district on June 2. Whoever wins the primaries will face US First Vice President Yvette Herrell, RN.M. , in the general election this fall.
While CD2 has traditionally been a red seat, it was highlighted as a more likely Democratic district by the Cook Political Report after redistricting last year.
The Sun News I asked the lead candidates about their positions on a number of key issues in the video interviews.
The candidates differed on what they expected to be the country’s most pressing element in their upcoming terms in Congress, if elected.
Patel cited the legislative deadlock, which he said has stalled the passage of bills and blocked compromise on issues where there is general consensus, as the biggest issue that needs to be addressed. Vasquez said inflation and the economy are likely to be the biggest issues going forward.
When asked if there were any issues that the candidates were not willing to compromise on — to the point where they break with the party leadership — Vázquez said a compromise should always be on the table, no matter what. He said lawmakers become “enemies of progress” when they reject compromise and should be open to even “additional steps.”
“There are things that I feel incredibly strongly about, but I also know what it means to make progress,” Vasquez said.
Patel said Democrats need to be prepared to speak out against their party when they think it’s right and cited his candidacy as an example.
“I guess in many ways, my nomination is that, right?” Patel said. “The leadership of the party in New Mexico and the nation loudly supports my opponent.”
Both Patel and Vasquez support universal health care, and have cited the high costs of health care as a problem, but they differ on their preferred policy solution.
Patel supports a single payer system where the federal government is the only source of Americans’ health insurance, sometimes referred to as “Medicare for All.” Vasquez supports a public option, under which Americans can choose between a private insurance plan or a government-run insurance plan.
“I think people should be allowed to continue with their health care plans and not be mandated to have a certain type of health care,” Vasquez said. “For people who do not have health care, they should have the option of being able to get health care. So I am a complete supporter of universal health care. But I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all option at this point.”
“(One payer) is what addresses the costs and actually insures the people we need insurance,” Patel said. “Public Option is basically adding another insurance plan to all the other plans, and then dealing with public option support, when you really can’t control the costs, I think it would just be an expensive alternative without solving the actual problem.”
Battle and Vasquez, both first-generation Americans, run in an area that includes 180 miles of the US-Mexico border. Both said they support immigration reform that would include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers – people who were brought illegally to the United States as children. Both also said they support a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.
While both Vásquez and Patel said they support a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, they agreed that they expected the congressional negotiation process to limit those eligible for that path. One limitation, for example, could be the length of time someone has lived in the United States
Climate and Energy
Both men said it would be important for them to pursue climate policies if they were elected in November.
Patel said he supports an agenda that would significantly reduce global carbon emissions by 2030. This would include bold investments in clean energy infrastructure, retraining and a financial safety net for workers in the oil and gas industry, he said. He also said he would support grant programs to help families with the cost of transitioning from oil and gas to renewable forms of energy. Finally, Patel said he believes fossil fuel companies can lead the way in the transformation.
Vasquez said he would seek to hold oil and gas companies responsible for what he described as “price gouging at the pump”. He also said he opposes burning, venting and leaking methane, opposes taxpayers paying to cover the cost of cleaning up abandoned oil wells, and favors subsidies for renewable energy to encourage a more robust transition. Vazquez also favors a higher royalty rate on oil and gas production.
Gun control is on people’s minds after a high-profile mass shooting last month. While Patel and Vasquez have similar political positions regarding tackling gun violence, they differ in one key area.
Both men believe in universal background checks, the ban on ghost weapons, and red flag laws. While Patel said he supports a ban on assault rifles, Vasquez has not adhered to that or any ban on certain types of guns.
“I personally think I should learn a lot about the different styles of firearms that can be used for self-defense and for hunting purposes,” Vasquez said. “I know for sure that an AR-15 is not a weapon you should use for hunting, for example. But I want to be someone who comes to the table and talks about it in a way that reflects New Mexican values and culture, while at the same time keeping our children safe.”
Since the Supreme Court is likely to severely restrict abortion access nationwide as it prepares to overturn Roe v. Wade, both candidates said they support federal legislation to protect abortion access. Both men also said they did not believe states should be allowed to place any restrictions on when a person can have an abortion.
“I think the decisions that women make about their reproductive rights, and about decisions about starting a family, should be left 100 percent to themselves and their medical providers, never to politicians, never to Congress,” Vasquez said.
“It’s a complex and fraught issue for the patient and the provider, but the government needs to walk away from this conversation,” Patel said. “Government does not regulate any other health care issue so much as it regulates abortion, and abortion is an essential health care procedure for a variety of different reasons for women.”