Alibi V.28 No.10 • March 7-13, 2019 

News Interview

The Valid Contrarian, Part II

Apodaca dishes on statewide issues

Jeff Apodaca
Jeff Apodaca
Eric Williams Photography

Before we bring you part two of a very engaging interview with Albuquerque political observer Jeff Apodaca it’s important to note some of the circumstances surrounding the resulting documents.

Yeah, dude lost last spring’s primary election to Michelle Lujan Grisham. Both parties had harsh things to say about that heavyweight bout, but in the aftermath, Apodaca didn’t just fade away.

It’s hard to know what’s in a man’s heart, but after spending just a few minutes with Jeff, it’s clear that all of what he has to say—and that’s expansive, primos—comes straight from his heart. And his heart is in New Mexico.

I recall telling my editor that I wanted to interview Apodaca, after hearing Jeff and TJ Trout discourse on what had been, until recently, a radio hotbed of conservative, even Trumpian talk, 770 KKOB Radio. Of course the chief was on board with my idea, he also felt that by providing a variety of compelling ideas to our readers, we may empower them to make their own decisions on just about everything, from what show to check out to what bubble next to what name to fill in at the next ballot box they encounter.

Other colleagues weren’t so sure. They felt that Apodaca represented a bifurcation in the Democratic party that we shouldn’t play up. After all, unity must be maintained if the White House is to turn blue in 2020, they reckoned.

Meanwhile members of and advocates for the state Democratic party—who were never keen on our interactions with Mr. Apodaca—seemed to frown on the idea and spoke of things like qualification and contrariness. I’m quite sure that even some of them were surprised by the well-reasoned arguments presented by Apodaca in our interview.

That’s just fine; we told the Democrats we love them but it’s still our responsibility to hold their feet to the fire. That’s the essence of independent journalism: reasoned critique matched with a duty to uncover the truth without having to lean on any political establishment for credibility.

This year, the donkeys came to the helm with big promises and a lot of work to do. We support that work, but reserve the right to be critical. We also support open discussion and the tossing around of Democratic ideas, as it were. It’s not like you’re gonna be reading an interview with La Tejana or Hanna Skandera in the next issue, for Chrissakes!

With those premises in mind, we present part two of our long conversation with Jeff Apodaca, New Mexico citizen and acute political observer.

Weekly Alibi: Why did you come back to New Mexico?

Jeff Apodaca: I moved here to die, to retire. Whether I lived in New York or LA, I would always say New Mexico is my home. We came back here, but it seems like everyone else, everything else is leaving the state.

What do you mean?

The resources, the technology, the tech transfer we do in our state, we allow everything to leave our state. The thing that saddens me about what’s going on right now in the Legislature is that they want to increase our taxes an average of 155 percent, across the board. Now, I don’t think a lot of those tax increases are going to get through. But there are proposed budgets and bills and plans to do just that. I’m against that. We can increase the gas tax, sure, if 100 percent of that money goes into roads. But can we afford to increase taxes on people that make $23,000 per year. Think about it. I don’t think we should.

That’s a lot of New Mexicans when you look at it that way.

That’s 95 percent of New Mexicans. Why are we raising income taxes? We gave a 32 percent tax break, I believe, to the wealthiest people in New Mexico under Governor Bill Richardson. Now, I’m okay increasing that tax on the wealthiest people in the state.

That’s fair, me too.

I’m okay raising the minimum wage too, to a certain degree. But I’ve said that we should have a plan to stagger increases—$11 to $15 per hour may work in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. But August, that is not going to work in Española or Chama, or Belen and Los Lunas, Grants, Gallup, our small communities. It will put small businesses there out of business.

What do you mean?

The average small business—small businesses are about 95 percent of our economy in New Mexico—pays well above minimum wage. It’s the big businesses that aren’t contributing. When I say big businesses I mean major retailers, fast food outlets. Sixteen percent of our workforce works in the service industry. With the legislation being proposed many in the service industry—restaurant workers—will make less then they are making now.

What’s your proposal then?

My proposal—and the progressive Democrats attacked me for this—I want to get rid of the corporate tax in the state of New Mexico.

What does that have to do with the minimum wage?

Well listen to this: The corporate tax in New Mexico is 5.8, let’s say 6 percent per year. But there are 308 exemptions in the New Mexico tax code regarding the collection of that tax. When you look at the revenue that’s coming from that corporate tax, it’s only about three percent of our state’s overall tax revenue. But who pays that? Well, 92 percent comes from small businesses. The big guys have exemptions, they don’t pay corporate tax. I’m not saying all of those exemptions are bad things and some do encourage growth.

But my point is, hey let’s raise the minimum wage, but as we do so, let’s eliminate the corporate tax. Two things: We then tell the world that there’s no corporate tax in the state of New Mexico. Number two: You are now giving a six percent increase in the margin, a six percent tax break, to small businesses. In addition if we increase commercial property tax by just two percent, then we have a situation that’s affordable for small businesses and can be passed on to workers via their wage.

But what about big businesses that never paid corporate tax? How would they contribute to the state’s revenue?

Those billion-dollar corporations pay property tax; they would get a two percent increase.

So it seems like a win-win situation for the state, for taxpayers and for workers, ultimately.

Exactly. And if you talk to small businesses with profit margins between 6 and 12 percent, you have now helped them cover the costs for providing minimum wage. I got booed and my opponents attacked me on that plan when I presented it in Las Cruces, in Santa Fe and in Taos. They said, here’s a Democrat that wants to kill corporate taxes. What I really said is that I want to help small businesses be able to afford the wages workers need to live.

Of course a lot of what you maintain comes back to the economics of the state. What’s your prediction about marijuana legalization this year?

It’s not going to happen. A thought on that: I’m very disappointed in Governor Lujan Grisham. She’s been very quiet about this issue since she’s taken office.

She certainly hasn’t been very passionate about legal cannabis.

Right. At the beginning of the primary season she was against it. She said we need to do more research. Meanwhile, I had an economic plan [that included cannabis legalization as a plank] that included hemp and cannabis. That was 10 percent of my economic plan. I think hemp’s going to be bigger than cannabis. When you look at the numbers, with legalization, you are looking at 6,000 to 10,000 new jobs. With hemp expansion, you’re talking 16,000 to 20,000 new jobs!

How about the Senate legalization bill that calls for state-run retail outlets?

That’s the Republican side of things and I’m glad to see Senator Mark Morris, who happens to be my state Senator, working on the bill. They told me that it’s eventually going to happen, and they might as well do it their way, the right way. So I’m happy to see them propose a bill, but I am totally against it being run and operated by the state, that sets us up for more corruption.

My main concern, though, is the governor and several key legislators. They’ve been awfully quiet. I think it’s going to die in the Senate. My sources tell me that the governor wants it to die in the Senate, so that the bill doesn’t end up on her desk.