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New Mexico House District 38 candidates’ questionnaires

by Kathleen Sloan | October 16, 2020
14 min read
Rebecca Dow (left) and Karen C. Whitlock

The Sun asked Republican incumbent Rebecca Dow (left) and her Democratic opponent Karen C. Whitlock (right) to answer in writing a set of six questions, each tailored to the candidate’s background and experience.  Only Dow responded by our deadline.

Her answers are published verbatim, without copyediting. The questions that Whitlock declined to answer are published exactly as presented to her.

Questions for Rebecca Dow

Rebecca Dow will have served two two-year terms as a New Mexico House Representative, District 38, by Dec. 31. There are no term limits for the seat.

Dow, a resident of Truth or Consequences, ran unopposed as the Republican Party’s candidate in the June 2 primary. Her Democratic general election opponent is Karen C. Whitlock, a resident of Mimbres.

Dow “holds an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood from Tulsa Community College and a bachelors in Business Management from Oral Roberts University,” according to her campaign website, rebeccadow.com

She “is the founder of AppleTree Educational Center, one of Sierra County, NM’s largest private employers,” the website states.

Dow Technology, described on the website as “a multifaceted technology firm,” is owned by Dow and her husband Aaron.

1.  You are sponsoring legislation that will limit the governor’s power to institute an executive order to protect people from health emergencies, such as COVID-19. After the first 30 days the order is in effect, the governor would have to seek legislative approval to extend it.

How would an extensive legislative process provide health protection in a crisis?

Along with Democratic and Republican legislators, I have expressed the need to reevaluate and revise New Mexico’s 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act in order to restore the balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government. Democratic Representative Damon Ely was quoted in an Albuquerque Journal Editorial column stating that “Legislators have ceded too much authority to the executive branch across the country.”

Additionally, revisions to the 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act are needed to ensure that democracy remains a participatory sport in New Mexico. The foundation of well-crafted public policy and health policy solutions rely on public participation. Meaningful involvement of legislators that represent communities and constituents from all walks of life will help to ensure that the decision-making process gives full consideration to multiple stakeholders and perspectives.

Finally, revisions are needed to the 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act to ensure that all decisions regarding public health policies are conducted in a transparent manner. Currently, the Governor’s Economic Recovery Council and other advisory councils are not subject to New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act.

A recent Legislative Survey released by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government revealed that 88 percent of candidates that responded to the survey answered that advisory committees and task force groups should be subject to the open meetings act, which guarantees that public bodies conduct public business in the open.

The 2003 Public Health Emergency Response Act should be revised to ensure all communities have a mechanism and a voice to provide input and ask questions, as well as to ensure that all decisions are made in a transparent and open manner. A more inclusive process will support the creation of better public health responses and improved public health outcomes.

2. In 2019, you voted against House Bill 51 that would have abolished a law passed in the 1960s that made the performance of an abortion a fourth-degree felony.

When abortion is legal, why do you think this law should remain on the books?

During the 2019 Legislative Session, I co-sponsored the Women’s Health & Safety Act, which would have repealed Sections 30-5-1, 30-5-2 and 30-5-3 of our New Mexico Statutes, which criminalize abortion, but are presently unenforceable due to Roe v. Wade. The bill also included protections for women, health care providers, and the unborn fetus.

At nineteen years of age, I experienced an unplanned pregnancy. Fortunately for me, the state I lived in provided a free ultrasound and comprehensive consultation on my options. What I thought was an impossible circumstance was doable after I learned my options. Keeping my daughter was the hardest and one of the most rewarding decisions of my life. My third pregnancy ended with a second trimester miscarriage. The procedure to protect my life was performed by my OBGYN, with his team of health care providers in a hospital surgical room.

3. In 2019, you voted against House Bill 426 to make it New Mexico law that insurers cannot discriminate based on pre-existing conditions. In 2020, you voted against House Bill 278 to create a healthcare affordability fund that would help uninsured New Mexicans purchase health insurance.

Please explain the reasons for your “no” votes against bills intended to expand access to healthcare.

During my service in the Legislature, I have had the opportunity to work on several healthcare policy initiatives as a member of the House Health & Human Services Committee, the Interim Legislative Health & Human Services, and the Interim Behavioral Health Subcommittee.

As a result of my work in the legislature over the last two years, I have been honored by two statewide healthcare advocacy organizations for my work to ensure the most vulnerable populations have access to affordable healthcare services, especially in rural communities. In 2019, I received the Legislative Service Award by the New Mexico Academy of Physician Assistants for my work promoting programs to help rural communities recruit and retain health care providers, ensuring patients with health challenges have access to desperately needed care in their own communities.

In 2020, I was honored as the 2019 Legislator of the Year by the New Mexico Association of Home and Hospice Care for championing provider parity pay legislation for all Medicaid providers. This is an important piece of legislation that was co-sponsored by Chairman of the Senate Public Affairs Committee Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D–Albuquerque) that sought to ensure that the State of New Mexico stands by our commitment to provide accessible healthcare services to our state’s most vulnerable populations, including our elderly and our children, by properly funding Medicaid providers.

Leading into the 2020 Legislative Session, I conducted a constituent survey and asked several questions related to healthcare in New Mexico. One specific question I asked was what “do you believe is the biggest problem in our healthcare system?” The number one issue cited by over 70 percent of constituent respondents was the “cost of insurance premiums.”

That is why I have made it a commitment to look deeper than the title and talking points of every bill and analyze the contents of each proposed piece of legislation with an eye on how it will affect the cost of insurance premiums, which will also affect access to health care providers.

Using that lens, let’s discuss the bi-partisan actions of Congress to repeal the Health Insurance Tax as a much needed tool to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums (a goal I support) and how House Bill 278 would have reimposed a similar tax on health insurance premiums potentially denying employees and seniors relief from skyrocketing health insurance premiums.

Last year, in a rare successful bi-partisan effort, Congress permanently repealed the Health Insurance Tax, which was intended to provide a reduction in health insurance premiums for all small business owners and their employees, seniors, and other consumers. The bill received support from all five members of the New Mexico Federal Delegation, including Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Representatives Deb Haaland, Ben Ray Lujan, and Xochitl Torres Small. I stand with and commend New Mexico’s Federal Delegation in the repeal of the Health Insurance Tax as a win for all New Mexicans.

In fact, after passage of the bill by Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said in a statement that Congress was “protecting the quality, affordable health care of millions by permanently repealing health care taxes.”

However, House Bill 278 sought to reimpose health care taxes and would have denied the full benefit of the relief to individual New Mexicans and small businesses, who are struggling under the weight of rising healthcare insurance costs. House Bill 278 would have increased New Mexico’s health insurance premium surtax over 200 percent. This would have set the stage to potentially increase the cost of health insurance for small businesses and their employees by more than $400 million over the next five years.

I voted “no” on House Bill 278 because it would have increased the cost of health insurance for small businesses and their employees, denying communities access to affordable health insurance in New Mexico.

Additionally, you reference my vote in 2019 regarding House Bill 426. However, House Bill 426 relates to a Renewable Energy Transmission Authority Study, so I am unsure how answer the question as it does not relate to ensuring access to quality and affordable healthcare in New Mexico.

Editor’s Note: Dow is correct. House Bill 426 covers renewable energy. House Bill 436 prohibits insurer’s discrimination against persons with pre-existing conditions. We apologize for the typo that confused Representative Dow.

4. Your campaign promotes you as a champion of small business. In this summer’s special legislative session, you spoke out against, and then voted in committee against, the creation of the New Mexico Small Business Loan Fund. You were marked “excused” when the enabling legislation came up on the floor of the House for a vote. Senate Bill 3 ultimately passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The fund is now providing $400 million in loans to small businesses and not-for-profits to aid in their economic recovery from COVID-19.

What are voters to make of your initial opposition to the fund, and why are you now promoting yourself as its proponent?

Earlier this year, I received the National Federation of Independent Business’s (NFIB) highest honor by being named a Guardian of Small Business for my leadership on small business issues in New Mexico. I was delighted to be presented the award by local NFIB-member business A&B Drive-In, a family-owned and operated establishment since 1994.

NFIB’s press release, which also noted my perfect 100-percent pro-small business voting record stated, “every elected official claims to be a friend of small business, but NFIB’s congressional and state legislative voting records separate the doers from the talkers.”

When the Small Business Recovery Act was presented to the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee during the recent Special Session, I expressed my concern that the legislation lacked clear logistics on the process, that the bill lacked a mechanism to ensure the loan funds were dispersed equitably to small businesses, and that the complicated process would prevent small businesses that truly needed financial assistance the most from receiving the funds.

After the legislation passed I promoted the small business loan program to small businesses within House District 38 to do my best to ensure that despite the complexity of the program and the lack of defined logistics in the legislation that small businesses in our district would be able to access the funds if needed.

Unfortunately, a Santa Fe New Mexican article published last month revealed that many of my concerns regarding the bill have come to fruition. The article notes that “40 percent of the small businesses that have applied for loans under the program have had their applications rejected.” Additionally, the article quotes Marquita Russel, the New Mexico Finance Authority’s chief executive officer as saying the requirements of the bill are “a little unforgiving.” Then in a recent article, the Albuquerque Journal wrote that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that “at least one business relief program this year largely missed its mark.”You’re right to encourage your small-business constituents to register for the webinar, where they can learn about how they may borrow two times their average monthly expenses up to a maximum of $75,000.

5. Your opponent, Karen Whitlock, recently filed a complaint against you with the new State Ethics Commission, accusing you of using your elected position to drive and gain state and federal grant/contract awards to your self-created not-for-profit AppleTree organization. Whitlock claims you and your family have financially and personally benefitted from these grants and contracts. According to documents submitted by Whitlock to the Ethics Commission, AppleTree has received 25 state contracts worth about $5 million since you took office in January 2017.

Couldn’t you have avoided an Ethics Commission complaint by acknowledging and explaining how you are not personally benefitting from or using your position as a legislator to get these state and federal contracts and grants each time one has been awarded? The Government Conduct Act requires that you be that transparent, does it not?

During my tenure in the State Legislature, I have faithfully fulfilled every requirement regarding both financial disclosure and transparency involving my employment relationship with AppleTree. To further ensure that I was following both the spirit and the letter of the law, I consulted with the Legislative Council Service (the legal advisor to the entire Legislature) prior to completing and filing all required documents and I strictly followed the advice I was given.  The complaint made by my opponent is false, baseless, and politically motivated and it is worth noting that the complaint was filed less than 60 days prior to the November election. I want to assure every citizen in District 38 that neither my family nor I have personally benefitted from any of state contracts AppleTree has received, and that all of those contracts were awarded to AppleTree based on the outstanding personnel and services that this vital non-profit provides to our community. Finally, I am in the process of taking the necessary steps to request this complaint be dismissed as it has no merit of any kind. 

Editor’s Note: On Oct. 2 Dow issued a press release announcing that she had filed a motion to dismiss the complaint with the commission.

6. AppleTree, on its website, states that it is a “faith-based” organization.

What have you done to ensure none of the public funds it has received are used for religious purposes, which would be a violation of the separation-of-church-and-state clauses in the New Mexico and U.S. Constitutions?

Each grant received by a non-profit (including faith-based) is the result of a competitive bidding process and goes through an extensive procurement process before implementation. This includes assurances of compliance to a scope of work and program guidelines. The organizations I have helped, have followed their scope of work and as a result remain in good standing and eligible for future funding. None of the public funds received by AppleTree have been used for religious purposes. 

To exclude faith-based organizations from participating in funding that performs a public good would be a violation of state and federal law. In fact, it would be discrimination of a protected class.

Questions for Karen C. Whitlock

Karen Whitlock is the Democratic candidate for the New Mexico House District 38 seat. She is opposing incumbent Republican Rebecca Dow for the second time.

Whitlock ran against Dow in 2018, losing by less than 1,000 votes. The total vote count in that race was 12,227, according to Ballotpedia. Whitlock also ran in 2016, but lost to Democrat Mary Hotvedt in the primary. Hotvedt lost to Dow in the general election.

The candidate’s website, karenwhitlock38, includes the following credentials:

  • Graduated from American University in Washington, D.C., with a bachelor’s degree in political science
  • Graduated from Western New Mexico University with a master’s degree in social work, with honors
  • Worked in the environmental field for 16 years
  • Worked as an educator and social worker
  • Works as a legislative lobbyist for the National Association of Social Workers. Advocates for social workers and their clients, particularly the underserved
  • Serves on the board of Community Partnership for Children-Grant County.

Whitlock and Dow were sent the Sun’s questionnaires on the same day and given nearly two weeks to respond. Both candidates were informed the questions would run without answers if they chose not to reply. Whitlock did not meet the Oct. 9 deadline. Here are the questions we asked her to answer.

1. You have experience in environmental compliance. You worked for the State of Arizona’s Environmental Quality Division and Transportation Department, representing the government’s interests. You worked for Phelps Dodge, Tyrone Mine and HDR engineering firm, representing private business interests.

Do you think New Mexico’s existing laws are sufficient to control the effect of oil and gas drilling and fracking on water use?

2. Studies have shown that fracking is an extremely expensive way of extracting gas and oil, sustained by ongoing loans to stay ahead of the small profit margins. These profit margins went into negative numbers during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The state allowed companies to shut down wells with no provision for environmental cleanup in the event the company remains shuttered. The state also capped the companies’ public-land lease payments at $2 an acre.

The federal government modified the Main Street Lending Program to allow oil and gas companies that were already heavily in debt before the crisis to benefit from emergency-support loans and grants. The federal government also set up credit facilities that allowed the federal government to buy risky bonds from heavily in-debt gas and oil companies. 

Do you support the gas and oil industries being bailed out by the state and federal government?

3.The state received 40 percent of its revenue from the gas and oil industry, pre-COVID-19.

What are the financial and environmental impacts of our budgetary dependence on fossil fuels?

4. If the New Mexico Copper Corporation is able to acquire water rights to support the use of 7,000 acre feet a year for its estimated 12-year operation, do you think the state should provide the needed permits?

5. You state New Mexico needs to “fund education first” because it is 50th in the nation.

Since New Mexico is among the four states getting the most federal funding for education and is 17th among the 50 states in the amount of state money spent on education, where would the money come from? And how exactly would you spend it?

6. Your campaign site says Sierra Vista Hospital is “in dire straits” and should get more state funding.

How much more funding, for what purposes and with what measures of governmental oversight?

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Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at kathleen.sloan@gmail.com or 575-297-4146.

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2 Comments on “New Mexico House District 38 candidates’ questionnaires”

  1. Editor’s Note: We did not send the Libertarian candidate a questionnaire. We should have, and next time we do candidates’ questionnaires, we will send one to every candidate in the race whose name appears on the ballot.

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