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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   October 2008


The Bizarro Senate Race

You couldn't find two more opposite candidates than Udall and Pearce. Here's how to know which one agrees with you.


Unlike most daily newspapers, we won't be telling you how to vote in the election next month. We believe that's for you to decide, and don't delude ourselves into thinking our endorsement would make much difference, anyway. But we also believe it's vital that your voting-booth decision be an informed one. It's unlikely that you'll agree with any candidate on every single issue, but if you aren't informed about a candidate's positions you can't make the best possible match.

This is especially important in this year's wide-open races for the US Senate and House of Representatives here in New Mexico. Whatever judgments you might make about a candidate's character, the essence of representative democracy is that your senators and congressman cast votes on your behalf in Washington, DC. A candidate who's a huckuva nice guy, loves his mom and is kind to animals nonetheless does not merit your vote if his actions in Congress markedly depart from what you would do in his place.

Happily for New Mexicans faced with the decision of whom to elect to replace Sen. Pete Domenici, both candidates have extensive voting records in Congress. We need not speculate on how they might represent us, nor rely on campaign promises or the distortions of candidates' TV ads. The positions of Rep. Steve Pearce and Rep. Tom Udall are in black and white — and about as diametrically opposed as in any election anywhere in the country this year.

An excellent resource for researching these voting records as well as understanding each piece of legislation is the nonpartisan Project Vote Smart (votesmart.org) Don't take our word for any of the positions summarized here — go check it out for yourself, in depth.

To get you started comparing Pearce and Udall, we've briefly extracted their votes on a range of recent legislation; the synopsis of each bill is based on Project Vote Smart's writeup, and the parenthetical note at the end indicates how the House as a whole voted. You might quibble with our choices, but our space is of course limited. And we've sought to emphasize votes on which the candidates differ — of which there are many.

Here is a sampling, then, of legislation that Tom Udall supported but that Steve Pearce opposed:

HR2675: Increase alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemptions, paying for them by raising taxes on oil, investment and credit companies. (passed)

HR6003: Reauthorize funding for Amtrak. (passed)

HR2642: Expand the GI Bill's education funding, extend unemployment compensation, establish moratoria on Medicaid cuts. (passed)

HR5351: Extend renewable energy tax credits and increase taxes on oil companies. (passed)

HR3963: Reauthorize and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) through 2012. (passed)

HR6: Increase fuel economy of motor vehicles and require an increase in the production of renewable fuels. (passed)

HR2419: Extend agricultural program deadlines until 2012, appropriate funds for the development of biofuel studies and increase nutrition in domestic food assistance programs. (passed)

HR1338: Revise the enforcement of prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages. (passed)

HR1108: Authorize the FDA to regulate tobacco products. (passed)

HR6049: Provide tax incentives for the production and use of alternative energy sources. (passed)

HR2768: Increase the number and scope of safety regulations for mining operations. (passed)

HR3685: Prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation. (passed)

HR3915: Standardize licensing requirements for mortgage-loan originators and require the maximum costs of a mortgage loan to be stated in the contract. (passed)

HR2262: Establish royalty payments and require permits for mining operations, impose penalties for environmental violations. (passed)

H Amdt 674: Keep the Justice Department from interfering with states that allow medical marijuana. (rejected)

HR3159: Mandatory rest period between soldiers' deployments to Iraq. (passed)

HR2929: Ban on permanent US bases in Iraq. (passed)

H Res1031: Establish an Office of Congressional Ethics. (passed)

HR5818: Assistance to states for purchasing foreclosed homes. (passed)

HR5749: Emergency extension of unemployment compensation. (passed)

HR2: Increase federal minimum wage. (passed)

HR2560: Ban human cloning. (failed)

HR3: Allow embryonic stem-cell research. (passed)

HR1591: Amend the federal definition of a hate crime to include gender identity and sexual orientation. (passed)

Just to be clear: Every single one of the above measures was supported by Udall but opposed by Pearce. Conversely, the measures listed below represent votes on which Pearce voted yes but Udall voted no. Because these are so much fewer in number, in some cases we've gone back as far as 2006. Pearce supported and Udall opposed:

HR6099: Require abortion providers to "fully inform" women about pain felt by a fetus 20 weeks or more in development. (failed)

HR5638: Reduce estate taxes and increase estate-tax exemption to $5 million beginning in 2010. (passed)

HR5672: Prevent funds from being used to enforce a law requiring guns be sold with trigger locks. (adopted)

HR6095: Grant state and local officials inherent authority to act against undocumented immigrants. (passed)

HR6061: Authorize construction of an additional 700 miles of border fence between US and Mexico. (passed)

HR2389: Prohibit courts from hearing cases questioning interpretation or constitutional validity of the Pledge of Allegiance. (passed)

HR4839: Restrict off-reservation Indian gaming. (failed)

H J Res 88: Constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages. (failed)

You may feel that the task of evaluating so many different pieces of legislation is beyond you, and prefer to rely on various interest groups' ratings of the candidates. Here, too, the differences between Pearce and Udall are vast.

These interest groups gave Udall a positive rating of at least 50 points higher than Pearce in 2007 or 2006:

NARAL Pro-Choice America (Udall 100, Pearce 0)

American Civil Liberties Union (100-0)

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (93-13)

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (96-32)

Association of Community Organization for Reform Now aka ACORN (100-33)

Human Rights Campaign (75-0)

American Association of University Women (100-16)

National Association of Elementary School Principals (100-0)

National Education Association (100-0)

Environment America (100-0)

Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund (100-0)

League of Conservation Voters (100-0)

Children's Defense Fund (100-20)

Council for a Livable World (92-7)

Peace Action West (100-0)

US Public Interest Research Group (95-0)

American Academy of Family Physicians (100-0)

Children's Health Fund (100-0)

AIDS Action Council (100-0)

AFL-CIO (96-13)

Service Employees International Union (100-21)

Americans for Democratic Action (100-0)

Alliance for Retired Americans (100-0)

Secular Coalition for America (90-0)

Population Action International (100-0)

National Organization for Women (94-14).


These interest groups gave Pearce a positive rating of at least 50 points higher than Udall in 2007 or 2006:

National Council of Agricultural Employers (Pearce 100, Udall 0)

Sportsmen and Animal Owner's Voting Alliance (100-0)

Americans for Tax Reform (100-10)

Business-Industry Political Action Committee (100-0)

National Restaurant Association (100-10)

American Conservative Union (96-0)

Club for Growth (82-0)

American Wind Energy Association (100-0)

American Land Rights Association (100-9)

Family Research Council (100-6)

Citizens Against Government Waste (71-6)

Gun Owners of America (100-50)

US Border Control (83-8).

As these numbers dramatize, it would be difficult to pick two more disparate candidates. To put it in comic-book terms, if the candidate you prefer is Superman, his opponent is Bizarro.

So when you go into the voting booth next month, there's really no excuse for flipping a coin — at least not when it comes to New Mexico's next US Senator. This is not a race that should be decided by which candidate has the best haircut, wears the sharpest suits or kisses the most babies. When the next Congress convenes in January, if your candidate wins, your voice should be heard in Washington, loud and clear.

Second District Fog

Seeing a bit more clearly in the Teague-Tinsley race for Congress.


Making an informed choice in the race to succeed Steve Pearce in representing New Mexico's Second Congressional District is more challenging, because neither candidate has a voting record on the issues he might face in Washington. We're largely left to divine their positions from campaign ads, patriotic platitudes and comments from their pals and employees about the candidates' character. To the extent that issues infiltrate the campaigns at all, it's mostly either as distortions about their opponents or "motherhood" statements about their own support for such unassailable principles as "strong energy policy" or "the interests of working families."

Neither Harry Teague nor Ed Tinsley responded to Project Vote Smart's "Political Courage Test" to declare their positions on a set of key issues. (Neither did Pearce or Udall, but they can't hide their votes.) So no help there for confused voters.

The candidates' Web sites — Teague's at the folksily URLed www.harryforcongress.com (what about all those other guys named "Harry" who might want to run elsewhere?) and Tinsley's www.edtinsleyforcongress.com — aren't much better. Sections on "the issues" occupy only one-sixth and one-seventh, respectively, of the sites' navigation menus. Clicking there brings you to still more platitudes and personal testimony: Teague's position on energy and the environment begins, "I went to work in an oil field for $1.50 an hour when I was 17. . . .," and his healthcare policy also starts with his teenage years ("At the age of 17 my father became ill. . . ."). Voters wishing to learn how Teague's views have evolved since the tender age of 17 must drill deeper. Eschewing personal anecdotes, Tinsley boldly proclaims in the third person, "Tinsley believes it's every American's duty to do their part and be proper stewards of the earth and its natural resources." Below that, in case you've been living under a rock for the past 20 years, Tinsley informs voters, "Illegal immigration is a growing problem in the United States." And so forth.

A close parsing of these Web sites, clicking beyond the truisms and teenage tales, teases out a handful of substantive differences between Democrat Teague and Republican Tinsley — none terribly surprising given their party affiliations. (Those party labels, tellingly, never seem to get mentioned in either man's campaign commercials. Presumably Teague wants to broaden his appeal in a GOP-leaning district, while Tinsley hopes to avoid identification with an unpopular Republican president.) While again we encourage you to seek for such substance on your own, we've done some of the homework for you.

The candidates directly disagree on only a handful of issues. On illegal immigration, while both support increased border security, Teague favors a path to citizenship for those already here illegally; calling it "amnesty," Tinsley opposes a path to citizenship as part of any comprehensive immigration reform plan. Tinsley also opposes government benefits and driver's licenses (technically, a state issue) for illegal aliens, on which Teague states no position.

On energy, while both support research on alternative energy, Teague specifically calls for tax credits for wind and solar power; Tinsley specifically supports nuclear-power research. Only Tinsley calls for reduced regulation on domestic oil and gas producers, along with opening more federal lands for drilling. Tinsley also opposes government-mandated energy conservation, which presumably would include further upping the CAFE standards for automobile fuel economy. Teague praises Congress' 2007 efforts to boost energy independence (including raising CAFE standards) and cut carbon emissions, along with the (blocked) push to require utilities to generate 15 percent of their power, over time, from alternative sources.

On the war in Iraq, Teague supports bringing home troops from Iraq "as soon as possible" while beefing up forces in Afghanistan. Tinsley opposes any "timetable" for withdrawing troops.

Each candidate also details a number of positions on issues that his opponent simply does not address, although the opponent's party in some cases has generally taken the opposite view. For example, Teague supports:

  • Increasing the federal minimum wage to keep up with inflation.
  • Eliminating the "punitive aspects" of No Child Left Behind.
  • Allowing Americans to buy healthcare coverage through the same plan that members of Congress enjoy.
  • Expanding Medicaid and SCHIP for lower-income families, while increasing the cutoff for family coverage to 25.
  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug costs and individuals to import prescription drugs from Canada and Mexico.

Teague opposes private-school tuition vouchers, which many in the GOP have backed.

Conversely, Tinsley supports these tax policies that Democrats have generally opposed:

  • Making President Bush's 2001 tax cuts permanent.
  • Repeal of the estate tax.

Tinsley also calls for reform of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), but does not state whether he would join fellow Republicans in opposition to paying for this fix in part by raising taxes on profits from hedge funds.

While far from complete, this crib sheet can at least take some of the guesswork out of your Nov. 4 voting-booth decision. However you vote, it's vital to keep in mind that the winner will be casting his own votes in Congress — perhaps, given the power of incumbency, for many years to come. Don't let your dislike for Teague's Texas-y drawl or your grudge over that time your steak was overcooked at one of Tinsley's K-Bob restaurants color your decision. Don't be swayed by either man's professed patriotism or the relative depth of their New Mexico roots. Both are New Mexicans who love and want to serve their country — but only one will be your proxy in the nation's capital.

David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.

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