Alibi V.27 No.38 • Sept 20-26, 2018 

News Interview

A Progressive Engineer

Energy and education are priorities for Democrat Abbas Akhil

Abbas Akhil
Abbas Akhil (D), candidate for N.M. House District 20
courtesy of the candidate
While America used to mythologize its future, brightly, unboundedly or cynically as well as bleakly, I’m sure many citizens currently wonder where our nation is going—in whatever terms, poetic or profane they are comfortable adopting. That questioning of the current order is good for the republic. We must consider the path the US took, though we’re nearly two years into the journey. And citizens must make corrections as necessary. By voting.

Here at Alibi HQ, that’s our ultimate aim. We urge you to take a look at the candidates and issues from local races to national ones. Yet, it follows that we will support the Democratic party in this election. We certainly are not a mouthpiece for the Democrats and we will always be transparent about our praise as well as sharp in our criticism.

But the fact remains. The Republican pParty supports a president whose fitness many citizens question. In order for substantive oversight from the legislative branch to come into play regarding this and related matters, Democrats need a majority in the US House of Representatives. So voting in that race, here in US Congressional District 1, is very important. But so are all the other races. Voting blue in November 2018 means that you feel enough is enough, that you’re mad as hell and you aren’t going to take it anymore. And you are going to be part of the solution that sees the Trumpian nerds booted from office by voting.

With that agenda in mind, Weekly Alibi offers its readers insight into another of the important local races. Recall that mastering local political structures allows the progressive agenda to get roots, grow and flourish at a variety of levels from your local school board to the White House.

In New Mexico House District 20—a region of our town that comprises Four Hills and adjacent areas, Carnuel, N.M. and a chunk of the far Northeast Heights near Supper Rock (think Copper and Tramway)—Abbas Akhil, a former Sandia Labs engineer and energy expert, is running an insurgent campaign against Republican Jim Dines, whose website, clean as a whistle, fails to mention or even refer to three very large elephants in the room.

This election should rightly be a referendum on the failures and dangers of the Republicans currently in charge of things. Susanna Martinez, Donald Trump and the GOP itself all represent those failures and dangers, but from his online presence you’d never even guess that Dine is a fellow traveler in that circus.

With those very issues in mind—from the current cultural vibe to specific progressive policy proposals—Weekly Alibi met with candidate Akhil last week. Here’s a transcript, voters.

Weekly Alibi: Why do you feel uniquely qualified to run for the state Legislature?

Abbas Akhil: I moved to Albuquerque almost 40 years ago. My wife and I raised our children here. I’ve lived in District 20 for over 30 years. One of the reasons I really got involved now is because, in the last eight years, under Susanna Martinez, we really haven’t seen too much progress in our state. I feel that I can bring a different skill set to the legislative process. I’m an engineer by background; I’ve always worked on solving problems and finding solutions. If you look at the state legislature now, there is really no engineering expertise in the body. And if you look at the issues, moving forward into the future, we need someone with scientific expertise to help move us all forward.

What are those issues to which you refer?

Creating infrastructure for renewable energy options, creating and sustaining living-wage jobs in the technical sector, improving public school, vocational and college education; those are some of the topics on which I’m focused. My own experience was that my own children had trouble finding jobs in the state. That’s a fear many parents here have when their children become educated but still have to move on from the city or state to find careers. We have the potential to create a solid work-force.

Do you have any specific proposals about how we might address the issues you brought up?

When we talk about jobs, I think the conversation has been too narrowly focused. We need to expand that conversation. We have resources in this state, but there isn’t enough vocational training going on in New Mexico. We’ve been emphasizing college education. It shouldn’t be a one size fits all solution. Not every child needs to go to college. We need to balance our approach to education, offer vocational training programs to grow our state’s workforce.

What about companies that come to New Mexico, how do they fit into the picture?

Only 43 cents out of every dollar generated by such companies stays in New Mexico. Why doesn’t the state Legislature act on the idea that more of the profits should be invested in New Mexico. Why not reinforce the idea that at least 50 percent needs to remain here. This is one of those cases where we are impoverished, despite the resources we have. As it stands, there are large groups of investors that want to do work here, but let’s not sell off our resources to the cheapest bidder; this particularly applies to renewable energy resources.

Senator Martin Heinrich thinks that a lot of these future jobs will be in building solar infrastructure and wind power infrastructure, something which will also provide a means for this state to manifest the future. What’s your thinking on that subject?

That is certainly a major part of the equation. But the other part is—for example the blades for wind turbines are manufactured out of state—building and maintaining our own production facilities. New blades must be regularly replaced. We shouldn’t have to import these items from Texas. Blade manufacturing is not unapproachably high-tech. If our state incentivizes such activities, if we manufacture some of the components in state, it will enrich our economy. As that industry grows, and we foster it, we support it with a trained workforce and tax incentives, we could start a whole trend. We don’t want to just train technicians, but to take a broader view. We should own this industry. We could and should be exporting our renewable energy products to other states.

Why do some people in the state, notably Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce, still think oil and gas revenue can make a sustainable impact on New Mexico’s economy?

Americans are used to certain fuel sources. The fact is, that while oil and gas has been good to our state, it has also been really bad. Right now we are in the boom part of the cycle. But the market will inevitably change. We need to balance that. I’m not saying we should completely eliminate oil and gas revenue, or that we should only rely on renewables. But if we strike a balance, then citizens won’t have to go through the perpetual boom and bust economy associated with fossil fuels.

What other kinds of incentives could be provided to get folks turned onto a new energy source, to renewable energy?

Mayor [Martin] Chavez had a program where users could park a hybrid vehicle anywhere in the city for free. Why have small incentives like that gone away? It’s a great idea and an affirmation by those in charge. We have two national labs in the state but our leaders are still taking a retroactive view on energy. If citizens want alternatives to oil and gas, wind power will be good for the state. At the same time, cities and counties should look at what they can do to encourage greater use of renewable resources. There are small things, like the state didn’t use to charge an excise tax for electric vehicles.

What happens in the nightmare scenario where Pearce gets elected?

He won’t, first of all. But there would be broken relationships with mayors in our two big cities; if Grisham gets elected, and if citizens elect forward-thinking members to the state Legislature, the government will finally be in sync and we can finally start addressing the issues we need to address to get New Mexico back on track.

How will improving education services in the state help with that process?

One problem we have now is that we are teaching to the test [per the N.M. Department of Education]. That’s detrimental to the educational process in many ways. But it also reflects on teachers’ evaluations; we’re evaluating teachers on how students do on the test! That’s wrong. One solution to the latter problem could be averaging several years’ worth of test scores to get a real idea of teacher performance. We also need to develop STEM education to be competitive with the rest of the world. Early childhood education is also a must for any progressive society. That appreciation for those types of education have not been a priority during the past eight years [under Governor Martinez]. My opponent voted against more early childhood education, against next generation science standards. There is something disturbing about the anti-intellectual feel of the Republican party, about the denial of science. But when you’ve got a good vision for education in the state, progress will surely follow. That’s the real difference between Republican and Democratic thinking.